Lt. George Hodgson, RN

A lot of my original research began from the work of the wonderful Drac on Tumblr, who was the first to track down a veritable hoard of details about Hodgson’s family back in 2019.

A recap of their amazing research: 

  • Born in 1817, youngest of 7 by 5 years. One sister predeceased his birth, another older brother died in 1832, the year George entered the Navy after having spent two years at Eton.
  • His father was Robert Hodgson, the Dean of Carlisle and the rector of St. George’s Hanover Square. 
  • The family lived at 15 Grosvenor St in Mayfair (which according to a friend who visited recently has been converted to offices). 
  • His great-great-uncle was Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London and an early abolitionist who his father wrote a biography of and also named his older brother after. 
  • His older sister was Henrietta Mildred Hodgson, the great-great grandmother of Elizabeth the Queen Mother and therefore a direct ancestor of the Queen. 

Here is a page with a biography and a photograph of Henrietta aged 56, and here is an earlier portrait of her and her husband, probably around the time of their marriage: the closest thing we have to a picture of George.

My original research began with trying to find out more about his time after joining in the Navy, as well as farther back into his family background.

Robert Hodgson, George’s father, had been born in Congleton, Cheshire. The senior Robert Hodgson, George’s grandfather, has a probate will available on the National Archives website that details his property & holdings in the area at the time of his death, incl. Priesty Fields, where a coin hoard was found in 1992.

According to this page, Robert Sr. was elected mayor of Congleton twice, and lived at Moody Hall.

From this book on the history of Congleton published in 1970, I found out a little more about Moody Hall, including its later owners.

It’s a listed building, but as recently as last year it was unfortunately deep in disrepair with no sign of rescue. Looking up the spot on Google maps, I spotted Lawton St. quite close by…..

Something really interesting I discovered while reading B.R. Burg’s excellent book Boys At Sea was that the last-ever court martial in the 19th-century Royal Navy for a sexual offense was held on board the HMS Pembroke, stationed at Malta.  

I recognized the name of the ship from Hodgson’s official Naval Biographical Dictionary entry (which is a great read on its own)—he had served on the Pembroke until 1840 under the same captain that oversaw the court martial, Capt. Fairfax Moresby, but the date he began service was not listed.

The proceedings began January 2, 1838. Therefore it’s possible Hodgson was present, but I can’t know for sure until I get to the National Archives in London and check out the physical records.

His time in the China war and subsequently on the Wanderer was described in passing in Glenn M. Stein’s paper “Scattered Memories and Frozen Bones” which was mainly concerned with Peglar, Gibson, and Armitage:

Per the bibliography, the sources cited there in citation 38 are Rutter, O. 1986. The Pirate Wind: Tales of Sea-Robbers of Malaya and Course, Capt. A.G. 1966. Pirates of the Eastern Seas.

Unfortunately neither was available online, which is why I went digging in the archives—and that’s how I got sent to the find that led me to my Peglar discovery.

The full transcript of the document I made is here, it’s 10 pages long and a wild ride from start to finish! Hodgson isn’t mentioned by name, but from the document you get a real sense of what life on board the ship was like for the foremastmen, and what the actions consisted of. There are also some great sea-yarns, and even a song written about the voyage.

When Hodgson’s commission on the Wanderer ended, according to his biography entry, he went back to the HMS Excellent, where he’d been posted before the war. This was the floating gunnery-school at Portsmouth where many of the Franklin Expedition’s officers trained, including Fitzjames and Le Vesconte. The fact that Hodgson returned there after having completed his training, and put it to use in the China war, may indicate he was hired as an instructor.

This happened in late November 1844, about a month and a half after the death of his father, who died on October 10 of that year.

His brother Beilby Porteus Hodgson had been the vicar at Hillingdon since 1840, a position his father had previously held:

Someone else who was on the Excellent in late ‘44 was Lieutenant John Irving, who joined for the first time about a month after Hodgson had returned, according to his biography entry. We might reasonably assume that the two met for the first time around then.

Irving described his experience on the Excellent in a letter to his sister-in-law:

And then this rather upsetting-in-hindsight description in the subsequent letter:

Since according to William Battersby, Fitzjames’s late biographer, we’re not sure how Fitzjames knew of Irving when he hired him for the expedition, it’s possible that he was recommended by Hodgson, who Fitzjames knew from the Cornwallis and had even mentioned by name in his excruciatingly mediocre poem:

That’s all I have for now on Hodgson, but hopefully there will be more to come.

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