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William Hodges (174x-1797)


William Hodges travelled in Resolution as the artist on Cook’s Second Voyage to paint landscapes, portraits, and to draw coastal views.  His true lineage has not been determined.  Traditionally, it has been reported that Hodges was born on 28 October, 1744, in London, where his father, supposedly named Charles Hodges, was a blacksmith in St James’s market, off Piccadilly.  However, I believe these people are not our William Hodges and his father.  Rather, I believe William was the son of Thomas Hodges and Ann Richards, and the date of his birth is uncertain.1


William Hodges was trained at William Shipley’s drawing school in London,2 before becoming, at the age of fourteen, the pupil and assistant to the landscape painter Richard Wilson,3 from 1763 to 1765.  Other pupils of Wilson at the time included Johnson Carr, Thomas Jones, and Joseph Farington.  Farington remained a close friend of Hodges,4 and Hodges may have married Carr’s niece in 1785.  Hodges also attended the drawing and sculpture classes of G.B. Cipriani, and Joseph Wilton at the Duke of Richmond’s sculpture gallery.


On leaving Wilson, Hodges resided in London.  From that year until 1772, he exhibited several landscape paintings at the Society of Artists.  He also went for a time to live at Derby, where he painted some scenes for the theatre.  In Derby, Hodges met, and became friends with, the artist Joseph Wright, and the clockmaker/scientist John Whitehurst.  Hodges would later marry Lydia Wright, Whitehurst’s niece, who was probably also the niece of Wright.  John Whitehurst had married Elizabeth Gretton in Derby in January 1745.  Hodges travelled around the Midlands, making paintings of buildings, and ventured into southwest Wales, possibly visiting his mother’s family.


In 1772, not having much success in London as a painter, Hodges took advantage of the opportunity offered by Lord Palmerston to join Cook’s Second Voyage as the artist.5  He may not have been the first choice for the position.  Thomas Jones, one of his colleagues as a pupil of Wilson, later claimed in his memoirs that he had been offered the position, but his parents had refused their consent.6  Hodges joined Cook at Plymouth on 30 June, 1772.7  During the voyage, he made many studies, including some portrait drawings, and a few finished oils.  Upon his return in 1775, he was employed by the Admiralty to finish his drawings, and to supervise the engraving of them for the published account of the voyage.  A set of 24 oils from the voyage has been the property of the Admiralty since they were painted, and are now on display at the Queen’s House at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.8  


Hodges first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1776, when he submitted a view of Otaheite, followed over the next two years by some views of New Zealand and elsewhere.  On 11 May, 1776, Hodges married Martha Bowden Nesbit, the daughter of William and Jane Nesbit, at St George’s, Hanover Square, London.  The couple settled in Pimlico.  They undertook a tour of Wales and the Midlands, during which they visited Derby, where Joseph Wright painted a portrait of Martha Hodges.  Sadly, Martha died within a year, possibly during childbirth.


Having finished his work for the Admiralty, and with the death of his wife, Hodges was free to travel.  So, in October 1778, he obtained permission from the East India Company to visit India.  In early 1779, with a letter of introduction to the Governor-General of Bengal, Warren Hastings, Hodges sailed for India.  He arrived in Madras in 1780, and commenced travel around India, painting extensively for the next four years.  It was not until early 1781 that Hodges would meet Warren Hastings at Calcutta.  Hastings’ patronage and friendship would prove most important for Hodges, who was able to accompany Hastings, recording scenes of interest, landscapes, and architectural landmarks.9  


Hodges left India in November 1783, in Worcester.  This ship was nearly wrecked at St. Helena, but reached Britain in June 1784.  Hodges is reputed to have returned a rich man, and settled in Queen Street, Mayfair, where he built himself a studio.  He brought home with him a son, James.  Hodges’ mother looked after her new grandson in a house in Tunbridge Wells, which Hodges purchased.


William Hodges began preparing a collection, Select Views in India in the Years 1780–1783, that included a series of forty-eight aquatints adapted from sketches drawn in India.  On 16 October, 1784, again at St George’s, Hanover Square, Hodges married his second wife, Lydia Wright.  Lydia was the niece of John Whitehurst from Derby.  Unfortunately, she too died after only a few months of marriage, possibly from alcoholism.


In December 1785, Hodges married for a third time.  It was to Ann Mary Carr, a talented pianist, and the oldest of the five children of Benjamin and Elizabeth Carr.  Her parents were already deceased when she married Hodges.  At about the same time, Hodges was listed as the guardian of Ann Mary’s brother, John, later a famous travel writer.  They would have two daughters and three sons together.  Hodges was elected a member of the Royal Academy in 1789, and continued to exhibit there until 1794.  After experiencing financial diffi-culties, he made an unsuccessful trip to seek patronage in Russia in 1792.  On his return, in February, 1793, Hodges published his account of his time in India, entitled Travels in India in the Years 1780, 1781, 1782 and 1783, illustrated with plates derived from his drawings.


In December 1794, Hodges held a private exhibition of 25 of his pictures in old Bond Street, London.  Remarkably, it received no subscription, and made no sales, forcing Hodges to close it by 26 January, 1795.


Crucially, at the heart of the exhibition were two contrasting “moral” landscapes, Effects of Peace and Consequences of War that were used as the basis of two satirical cartoons critical of the Duke of York, who had the exhibition closed.


Totally disillusioned, Hodges retired from his profession, sold his London property, and moved himself and his family, in July, 1795, to Brixham and Dartmouth in South Devon.  There, he attempted to restore his fortunes by becoming a partner in a small bank at Dartmouth.  His partner was Thomas Gretton, a lawyer.  Also present in South Devon was Gretton’s brother, the Reverend George Gretton.  The Grettons were the nephews of John and Elizabeth Whitehurst of Derby, further evidence of the family connections with the town.


Banknotes, dated 24 August, 1795, exist, issued by Hodges and Thomas Gretton & Co., payable on demand in Dartmouth or at their London agents, Walwyn, Petrie, Ward and McGregor.  The bank would soon be known as the Dartmouth Bank.  In October, 1795, new partners were added, probably to inject new capital into the bank.  They were John Seale, a local landowner, and William Tult.  The ongoing war with France had severe effects on Dartmouth, and this, together with a stoppage of payments at the Bank of England, caused a run on the bank in March 1797. 


Hodges rode to Dartmouth on 5 March, in driving rain, to close the bank.  He returned to Brixham with a severe fever.10  After suffering an attack of gout, he died the next day on 6 March, 1797.  Thomas Gretton’s brother, the Reverend George Gretton, apparently blamed Hodges for the bank’s demise, and claimed Hodges had committed suicide.  There is no supporting evidence for this claim. 


William Hodges was buried on 13 March, 1797, at St. Mary’s Church, Brixham.  The Gentleman’s Magazine for 1797 reported Hodges’s death as follows,
Of the gout in his stomach, William Hodges Esq. R. A. of Brixham, Devon; a man of varied and considerable knowledge in his art.  If he did not rise to the summit of landscape painting, there were in general strength, correctness, and taste in his productions.  His paintings and drawings of Asiatic scenery are deservedly admired.  With a modesty that always characterizes worth and genius, he retired from the prosecution of his art, conceiving that his place would be filled by men of greater merit.  He had, therefore, with the profit of his labours in the East, taken a share in a provincial bank, which, with his attention, his integrity, and the many friends his virtues and talents had procured him, would probably have proved a prosperous undertaking.  His personal manners were easy, affable and communicative; and all he said was marked by good sense, truth and simplicity.  He has left to regret his loss a numerous train of friends and a widow, who is one of the most amicable and accomplished women in the kingdom, though the delicacy of her mind has chiefly confined the reputation of her merit and abilities within the sphere of domestic intercourse and enjoyment.


His death left his wife and children in poverty.  and she survived him for only two months, dying at Tunbridge Wells in May, 1797.  Various friends from the artistic community rallied round to offer support to the family.  The orphaned children, and their half-brother, James, were looked after by their uncle, John Carr, and their grandmother, Ann Hodges, until her death in 1806.


Marian Catherine Hodges, the oldest of these children, married John William Miles Fountain in 1825, at St. George’s, Hanover Square.  Her death was listed in 1866 at Kensington.  Warren Hastings, former Governor-General of Bengal, helped with Henry William Hodges’ education and career.  He went to Christ’s Hospital School in 1797, and was later given a cadetship in the East India Company in 1803.  He served as Assistant to the Collector in India from 1818 until 1831.  Ann Mary Hodges may have married John Besly on 28 August, 1810, at Kingston, in Surrey.  The youngest child, Serena Hodges, is recorded as living in Portman Street in London at the time of the 1851 census.  She was unmarried.  Her death was recorded in Marylebone in 1875.


There are at least two likenesses of Hodges.  There is a drawing, dated 10 March, 1793, by George Dance, engraved for publication by William Daniell.11  Another engraving, by Thornton, after an original by Richard Westall, appeared in The Literary and Biographical Magazine in May 1792, which also included Hodges’ “Biographical Anecdotes” about himself.12  Hodges also appeared in the painting by Henry Singleton of The Royal Academicians in General Assembly, 1795.13 


William Haley, a close friend of Hodges, penned a short tribute that appeared in his book about George Romney,

Ye men of genius, join’d to moral worth,
Whose merits meet no just rewards on earth,
Ye fair, who in your lot, tho’ lovely, find
To grace and fortune still is blind,
Sigh o’er the names recorded on this stone!
And feel for characters so like your own!
To active Hodges, who with zeal sublime,
Pursued the art he lov’d, in every clime;
Who early traversing the globe with Cook,
Painted new life from nature’s latent book;
Who with a spirit that no bars controul’d,
Labour’d in Indian heat and Russian cold.
Yet clos’d (with virtues by the world allow’d)
A life of labour in affliction’s cloud.14 


John Robson



  1. See page 46 in this issue. 
  2. Cook’s Log, page 33, vol. 27, no. 4 (2004). 
  3. Cook’s Log, page 878, vol. 15, no. 4 (1992). 
  4. Cook’s Log, page 895, vol. 16, no. 1 (1993). 
  5. Cook’s Log, page 14, vol. 32, no. 3 (2009). 
  6. Memoirs of Thomas Jones.  Walpole Society.  1951.  See also www.llgc.org.uk/pencerrig/
  7. Cook’s Log, page 1396, vol. 20, no. 2 (1997). 
  8. See page 47 in this issue. 
  9. Cook’s Log, page 39, vol. 28, no. 1 (2005).
  10. Cook’s Log, page 918, vol. 16, no. 2 (1993). 
  11. Cook’s Log, page 27, vol. 28, no. 2 (2005).
  12. Cook’s Log, page 10, vol. 29, no. 2 (2006). 
  13. Cook’s Log, page 24, vol. 28, no. 4 (2005).
  14. Haley, William.  The Life of George Romney, Esq.  1809.  Pages 260-261. 

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 40, volume 38, number 1 (2015).

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