William Hodges, the only child of a blacksmith, was born in London in 1744.
He managed to gain some instruction in drawing whilst working as an errand boy in Shipley's drawing school, and it was here that he first came to the attention of Richard Wilson, R.A. Wilson took him to be his assistant and pupil, and during the three years that he studied under him (about 1763/1766) he made rapid progress. By 1772 his style was so close to his master's that it was very difficult to distinguish between the two and, in fact, Hodges probably became the most accomplished painter in fake Wilsons.
On leaving Wilson in 1766 he resided in London, and also for a time at Derby, where he painted some scenes for the theatre. Also this year he exhibited at the Society of Artists a view of London Bridge and another of Speldhurst, Kent, followed in 1768 with two views in Wales and other views in 1770 and 1771. In 1772 he submitted some views on the Rhine and Switzerland. However, not meeting with much success in London, when the opportunity arose that same year to join Captain Cook's second expedition to the South Seas, which was to dispel the existence of Dalrymple's Southern continent once and for all, he gladly accepted. Upon his return in 1775, he was employed by the Admiralty in finishing his drawings and superintending the engraving of them (by Woollett and others) for the published account of the voyage. Some of his paintings of the voyage are still exhibited at the National Maritime Museum for the enjoyment of the general public.
His first exhibition at the Royal Academy was in 1776 when he submitted a view in Otaheite, followed over the next two years of some views of New Zealand and elsewhere. This same year (11th May, 1776) Hodges married his first wife, a Miss Martha Nesbit at St George's Hanover Square, London but unfortunately, she died in child-bed within a year.
Shortly afterwards in 1778, he was persuaded to go to India under the patronage of Governor Warren Hastings. Returning six years later, after acquiring some money, he settled in Queen Street, Mayfair, where he built himself a studio and exhibited his views in India. It was in this same year on the 16 October, 1784, that he married a second time, a Miss Lydia Wright. Unfortunately, she too died after only a few months of marriage, and shortly afterwards on the 1st December, 1785 he married for a third and last time, a Miss Carr, much beloved and praised by Romney and other friends.
In 1786 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy and the following year became a full member, continuing to exhibit at the Royal Academy until 1794. He made a tour on the Continent in 1790, collected some sketches on the Rhine and also visited St. Petersburg. However, his best productions are the views he brought from India and a view of Windsor from the Great Park. In 1793 Hodges published an account of his "Travels in India" with plates from his drawings, and this was later translated into French.
A collection of 25 of his paintings were exhibited in Bond Street, which did not receive support and on its close he retired from his profession. Many of his works were then sold by auction but produced only an inconsiderable sum.
He attempted to retrieve his fortune, impaired by his publications, by establishing a bank at Dartmouth where he went in 1795. However, his own personal and world financial conditions at that time impaired his health, and he died shortly afterwards at Brixham, Devon, on the 6th March, 1797.
His death left his wife and children in great want and she survived him only a few months, dying at Tunbridge later that same year.
Dictionary of National Biography.
A Dictionary of Artists of the English School.
Painting in Britain 1530 - 1790.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 878, volume 15, number 4 (1992).