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Saturday, October 30, 2010


Follower Lee Blakey has commented on a long-ago post about a sailor's diary from Nelson's time.  He wonders about the ultimate fate of the journal kept by George Hodge, who boarded his first ship in 1790, aged 13, going on to write about his adventures from the highly unusual perspective of the lower deck.

A marvelous creation, totaling about 500 pages, Hodge's diary contains lively, primitive color paintings, including a wry self-portrait, and records his amours as well as his daily life at sea.  Partly memoir, it notes that he was born "in the Parish of Tinmouth in the County of Northumberland," and that his first ship was "brig Margerey," commanded by "Capt Edger."

The journal was held by the family until sometime before the 1980s, when it was bought at a rare book shop in London by an American who founded a maritime museum in Pennsylvania, J. Welles Henderson.  For some reason, when he died it was not endowed to the museum, but instead sold at auction by Peter Coccoluto, of Northeast Auctions in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  Expected to attract bids up to 30,000 pounds (about $50,000), on August 16, 2008, it sold for $110,000.

But to whom?  Or what?  That is the question.  Apparently it was bought by an agent on behalf of an anonymous collector.  The rest is veiled in mystery.  As Lee Blakey suggests, it would be lovely if it were published.  Probably the best one can hope for is that it is in some repository where researchers can read it.

I did, however, find a number of beguiling quotes from the journal, courtesy of the London Telegraph.

Dec 25, 1806. Employ'd in watering ship and seting up the riger - fish for dinner.

July 16, 1807. On shore at Point [in Portsmouth] at 3pm returnd onboard from liberty brot a girl onboard MAK [initials of girl] at 5pm the girls orderd of the ship.

July 19, 1807. Light breeze at 5am picked up body of John Carter and buried him on the Isle of White

July 20, 1807. I receved prize money from the brige Ben Sprance taking of the Isle of ... 13.6.

July 24, 1807. The Donnegal mand the yards and fired a Salute the Donnegal saild clear or lighter of wine and bread.

Dec 26, 1812. A fresh breeze a strange sail in sight. Empl painting quarterdeck.  Fell from the for top mast Mathew Donelson and was drownded.

All the newspaper stories about this diary make wondering comment about the "ill-educated" spelling.  Obviously the writers have not read many early nineteenth century sea journals -- or those written by James Cook or Joseph Banks, for that matter.  If the transcriptions are correct, Hodge's spelling is amazingly accurate for an apparently self-taught seaman, considering his background, his job, and his era.

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