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William Hodges - Accidental Death or Suicide?


At the last CCSU auction (number 8) I was fortunate enough to purchase a book called "The Golden Haze" by Roderick Cameron. Although I have read many Cook books over the years, this one was the first to mention that William Hodges, the official artist on Cook's second voyage (1772-1775), subsequently went to live in South Devon where he opened a bank in Dartmouth in 1795.

Since Dartmouth is situated only about four miles from where I live, the fact that Hodges lived close by, inspired me to find out more about the man. At the local library I found out that Hodges actually died in Brixham in 1797, Brixham being approximately two miles from where I live. The only church of any consequence at that time in Brixham in 1979 was (and still is) St. Mary's, the church having been there for several hundred years. Looking through the microfiche film record of the Burial Register of St. Mary's Church in 1979, I soon came across the following entry:

Mr. William Hodges was buried March 13th 1797

Since that discovery I have spent many hours looking through the churchyard for Hodges' gravestone but, unfortunately, up to the time of writing without success. Most of the gravestones of the period have not weathered very well, due to the type of stone used, and for all intents and purposes are now practically illegible. Each deciphering of the year 1797 has led to either a different name or an illegible one. Maybe one day I will be able to report back to members of the CCSU with better news.

With partners, Hodges opened his bank in Dartmouth on the 24th August, 1795, and the following is an extract from the Exeter Flying Post dated the 1st October, 1795:

"The public are hereby informed that on this day Bank was opened at Dartmouth in the county of Devon under the firm of J. Seale, Hodges, Gretton and Ful where business will be transacted with the greatest punctuality. Dartmouth, 24th August, 1795."

From practically the very first day of operation, the name of the bank was changed to the "Dartmouth Bank" and incorporated the Arms of Dartmouth on a shield on its notes. John Seale was a very influential person in Dartmouth at the time, holding extensive property and land both in and around Dartmouth. Thomas Gretton was a practising attorney in the town. Not unlike many other banks of the period, there appear to have been problems from quite soon after the bank's inception. I have still not been able to ascertain how the partnership evolved, but do know that subsequent to Hodges' death in March 1797, the Exeter Flying Post of the 13th September, 1798, has an official notice relating to Thomas Gretton's personal bankruptcy. John Seale, however, appears to have come out of this affair with his reputation unscathed as both he and his descendants remained very influential in the area throughout the 19th century.

Hodges died at 10.00 a.m. on Monday, 6th March, 1797. The cause of death, as rumour would have it locally, was through an overdose of laudanum, which Hodges used as medication to treat his stomach gout. Whether the overdose was accidental or deliberate we shall probably never know for certain. However, we do know that he was under severe stress at the time caused by his own parlous financial situation and the impending collapse of the bank, both of which appeared intertwined.

In spite of his financial problems, he nevertheless appeared to be liked and well respected, both locally and farther afield. As a young man, both Cook and Wales enjoyed his company during the three years that he spent on the Resolution on Cook's second epic voyage, and Cook greatly admired the young painter's sea and landscapes of the voyage. The "Gentleman's Magazine" reported of his death in 1797 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."

Hodges left his wife and children in great want. However, many of his friends soon rallied around to try and ease their burden, and for this, and other information relating to events soon after his death, we have the "Farrington Diaries", written daily as events unfolded. Joseph Farrington R.A. (1747 -1821) studied as a pupil under Richard Wilson R.A. at the same time as Hodges and later both became fellow Royal Academicians. They appear to have remained life long friends.

An entry relating to the disposal of some of Hodges' personal possessions was written some years later on the 3rd October, 1809, when Farrington was journeying through the West Country and visited Brixham:

"_____ told us that after his death there was a sale at his house and that many articles, particularly valuable books, were sold for almost nothing. But that she understood that the most valuable part of his drafts (drawings) as she called them were reserved by Mr. Carr (Sir John), and that though some were sold they were those of the least value."

Sir John Carr, 1772 - 1832, was a native of Totnes (approximately eight miles from Brixham) who for health reasons frequently travelled abroad and wrote books on his travels. I have been unable to determine whether he was related to Hodges' third wife, Anne Mary Carr.

As we know, Hodges was employed by the Admiralty on Cook's second voyage and all paintings and drawings of the voyage therefore belonged to them. However, he apparently also repeated some for commercial purposes and in view of recent events relating to the discovery in Ireland of Hodges' missing Cook portrait (see pages 507, 535, 610), one wonders whether other exciting discoveries are still waiting to be found in this area!

Gordon Crompton

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 894, volume 16, number 1 (1993).

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Summer McDermott. I have only just picked up your message re Val H's laptop. I am still interested in the Australian Hodges family if the papers have revealed any links I may have. My ancestor also William Hodges, born 1799 in Sherbourn, Dorset, lived in Newman Street, London where Oziah Humphrey had lived. It was Oziah Humphrey who drew a portrait of Ann Mary Carr for the cover of her Songs for Children book published after Hodges' death to raise !money to support their children. I still want to know what happened to the son Hodges 'brought back from India'. Good to know that there is a memorial to Hodges in St Mary's Church Brixham. Would love to see a copy.
By Deirdre O'Neill ( Hodges) on 10/7/2019 12:10:31 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Angie, thank you for your kind offer, I will contact you directly about it.
By Cliff Thornton on 4/18/2019 4:02:20 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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William Hodges was interred inside St Marys Church Brixham,. Possible explains why nobody has found his tomb before. I have a photo of his memorial if people would like to email me, I am unable to enter the picture onto this page.
By Angie Tims on 4/17/2019 9:25:37 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Diedre, I had lost your email from Val's laptop. Papers are still packed re- Hodges family in Australia.
By Summer McDermott on 4/21/2015 1:42:04 AM Like:1 DisLike:0
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A child, Thomas William Hodges, was born to William and Martha Hodges August 24th 1776, and was registered at the Church of St Sepulchre. As William Hodges was living in Pimlico at the time of his first marriage, it is possible that that this could have been his first child. We hear that his wife, Martha died in childbirth. William's uncle (the brother of William's mother, Ann Richards) was the curate at St Sepulchre at the time, We are not told of this child although there is reference to William Hodges R.A. having had seven children. Five from his marriage to Ann Mary Carr, another one 'brought home from India', which leaves us with the query of what happened to Thomas Henry. Was he looked after by his grandmother and brought up in Tunbridge by William's mother.? It says somewhere that William bought his mother a house there, presumably to look after the child he brought back from India,, and possibly of the first child born to Martha.
I don't know whether anybody else has come up with this theory of mine.
By Deirdre O'Neill on 3/8/2015 12:19:56 AM Like:1 DisLike:0
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Ken, the most likely source of the information which you seek is in the Oriental Reading Room, which is one of the sections within The British Library. It holds genealogical information about people who were christened, married, buried in India, during the time of the Hon. East India Company. I will see if I can find any details when I next visit the British Library.
By Cliff Thornton on 8/7/2014 10:47:28 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Thank you Cliff for this information.
I am interested in the natural born son and would love to have his name and that of his mother
By Ken Hodges on 7/31/2014 4:09:00 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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According to Isabel Stuebe's biography of William Hodges "In December 1785 Hodges married Ann Mary Carr, a talented pianist, who was praised by Farington and William Hayley and ardently admired by Romney. The third Mrs. Hodges produced five children who survived, and Hodges also had a natural son born in India, who had been brought to England and lived in Surrey with a nurse."
By Ian Boreham on 7/29/2014 11:01:34 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Thank you Cliff for your reply.
I am fairly sure that William Hodges had other children
By Ken Hodges on 7/24/2014 10:27:45 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Ken, I have only the following information about Wm. Hodges. His son, Henry William Hodges was born 28 November 1788. William also had two daughters, Caroline Hodges and Selena Hodges, but I do not know their dates.
By Cliff Thornton on 7/23/2014 10:06:04 AM Like:0 DisLike:0

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