The History and Antiquities of Scarborough by Thomas Hinderwell. 1832
Of the early life of this brave seaman, nothing is known, more than that he was born at Scarborough, of poor parents, and sent to sea in early youth. About 1740 he with two companions, James Holland and William Spence, natives of the same place, entered on board the Sussex, East Indiaman, Captain Gosling, on a voyage to India. In the prosecution of the voyage, the ship proving leaky near the island of Madagascar, the Captain, after securing the treasure which was on board, prevailed upon some of the officers, and several of the crew to abandon her;(note 1) but Dean, Holland, Spence, and twelve other faithful and gallant seamen, resisted all entreaties, and resolutely determined to continue in her to the last extremity.
The Captain, exasperated at their conduct, basely and treacherously took away all the compasses and quadrants, and left them in a destitute situation. Holland, being a skilful navigator, undertook the charge of the ship, and conducted her into a port on the southern part of Madagascar. Afer some detention here, the leak was stopped, and they embraced the opportunity of a favourable wind and moderate weather to leave the place, with an intention to proceed to the Cape of Good Hope; but the ship unfortunately struck upon a shoal near the island, and was entirely lost. The lives of the brave men were, however, saved from the wreck; but Dean was the only survivor of the miserable hardships which they afterwards suffered.
The uncommon vigour of a robust constitution, aided by an invincible fortitude, enabled him to sustain the extremes of hunger and thirst, until he met with a party of the natives of Madagascar, who being engaged in a civil war, compelled him to join them against their opponents. Armed with a spear which they gave him, half naked and desperate, he rushed to the battle with a heroism that astonished the ferocious savages, and the enemy appalled by his courage and the novelty of his appearance, fled in dismay, leaving him and his party victorious.
After a variety of trying scenes and hardships, which his courage and constitution surmounted, his liberty was obtained by Captain Langworth, of the Prince William Indiaman, who called at Madagascar, on the passage to Bombay.
On his return to England, he was hailed as one risen from the dead, having been supposed to have perished, together with his companions, in the ship at sea. The information which he communicated to the India Company , respecting the conduct of the Captain in the abandonment of the ship, was of sufficient importance to induce them to commence a prosecution against that officer. The following circumstances which occurred on the trial, are extracted from the Gentlemen's Magazine:
"Monday, November 1st, 1742. Came on at Guildhall, before Lord chief justice Lee, the cause which has so long depended between the East India Company, and Captain Gosling, defendant, by which, the verdict for 30,000 l obtained by the plaintiffs was set aside, and a new trial granted."
"July 12th, 1743. Before the King's Bench was tried the cause between Captain Gosling and the East India Company ; and a verdict was given them for 25,000l - New Trial."
"Wednesday, 16th November, 1743. The court of directors of the East India Company agreed to allow John Dean, the only surviving person of the Sussex, an annuity of 100l, and 50l. to his wife should she survive him."
"February, 1745. John Dean, the only surviving sailor of the Sussex East India-ship, was appointed by the Directors of the East India Company, an Elder in the room of Mr Adams, deceased."
"December 17th , 1747. Died in the East India Company's hospital at Poplar, John Dean, the only survivor of the mariners who remained on board the Sussex Indiaman."
The portrait of John Dean is exhibited in the India-house , in memorial of his services, from which an engraving was taken. One of the prints is still in existence at Scarborough, but the pamphlet which was published respecting his adventures, the aurthor of this history has not been able to obtain
NOTE 1 : "Batavia , Sept., 1747. I here saw captain Gosling, of Sussex, who durst not appear in England, being charged with the crime of wilfully endeavouring to sink the ship not far from Madagascar, after taking out the treasure, by making a whole in the bottom." See Voyage to India by an Officer, 1746-7
NOTE 2 It is entitled "A genuine account of the ship Sussex, in the service of the hon. East India Company, from the time she was deserted by the officers and the greatest part of the crew, &c. with a narrative of what happened to the fifteen brave sailors who staid on board. By John Dean, the only one now alive." 1740, 8vo. pp 32