Saturday, February 4, 2017
Diary of 18th century sailor provides fascinating insight into life below decks in Nelson's navy
A unique record of the British navy between 1790 and 1833 that was compiled by a sailor has emerged in the US.
The diary of George Hodge shows the "below decks" view of life at sea during a crucial time for Britain's senior service.
The self-educated seaman begins the journal with the words: "George Hodge, his Book
Consisting of Difrint ports & ships that I have sailed in since the year 1790. Aged 13 years."
A unique account of life below decks in Nelson's navy has come up for auction
He recorded the ladies of leisure with whom he associated, painted stunning pictures of ships and flags as well as a self portrait.
Images of ordinary seamen from the time of Nelson's navy are very rare.
Hodge lists one or two skirmishes, but many entries cover the mundane activities of life on board vessels from this era. There are also words to sea shanties that the men sang.
The journal is about 500 pages long and includes lists of ships and how many guns they have, lists of crew, and a list of flag formations that number 192.
These include: "1. An enemy is in sight. 2. Prepare for battle. 3. Sail by divisions... 5. Engage the enemy (If red penant shown engage more closely) ... 10. Enemy retreating at full speed." It also shows that danger was ever present for crews, even when the ships were not in battle.
George Hodge's self-portrait, who spent 43 years at sea from 1790 to 1833
On December 26, 1812, an entry reads: "A fresh breeze a strange sail in sight. Empl painting quarterdeck. Fell from the for top mast Mathew Donelson and was drownded."
Another entry reads: "July 19 light breeze at 5am picked up body of John Carter and buried him on the Isle of White."
On Christmas Day in 1806 he writes: "Employ'd in wartering ship and seting up the riger ... fish for dinner."
He began his career at sea as a cabin boy in coaling vessels between Northumberland and London.
In 1794 he travelled to a Russian Baltic port and on the way back was captured by the French, but was then sent home in a cartel sloop.
He was captured again in 1797, but was returned home and then spent months on the run from press gangs.
One of Hodge's sea shanties that forms part of the 500 page account of all his adventures
But in 1798 he was caught and joined HMS Lancaster, which had 64 guns. For the next nine years he served mainly along the west African coast. But he also went to Ceylon and the East Indies.
In 1808 he joined HMS Marlborough, 74 guns, and spent the years until 1812 mostly on blockade duty around Europe.
At Cadiz in 1812 news of the war with America reached his ship and she sailed to Bermuda. The Lancaster then served in the blockade of the Chesapeake and raided several towns.
Hodge was then sent to serve on the lakes in north America and was assigned to a gunboat.
In 1814 he took part in raids on Oswego, New York and blockaded the US Naval base at Sackets Harbour.
Hodge's account of dismasted HMS Tremendous
Finally, in 1815 he returned to Britain and at Greenwich was paid for 17 years, four months, two weeks and two days service with the Royal Navy.
After that he rejoined the merchant navy where he had started and finally ended his career at sea in 1833.
An addition made after his death shows that he did have children.
Hodge writes that he was born "In the Parish of Tinmouth in the County of Northumberland" and that his career began under "Capt Edger" who commanded the "brig Margerey."
The opening page of Hodge's diary
Peter Coccoluto, from Northeast Auctions in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, US, is selling the item which has an estimate of 30,000 pounds.
He said: "It is very unusual because the man appears to be self-educated which is why he spells as the words sound.
"You do get Midshipmen's diaries that they had to keep and show sextant readings, weather conditions and diagrams of ports.
"But this is much different because it is from below decks and it is never clear what rank George Hodge had.
HMS Mary at South Shields
"The diary does not cover every day and there are bits missing and other pages go in reverse order.
"There are wonderful water colour paintings of ships and flags and various other subjects are depicted.
"It runs to about 500 pages and covers his career from 1790 to 1833. But there is some information added afterwards and shows he had a family.