Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Tell Us a Titanic Tale, Jack

I posted about 'Old Jack' before. He was my 2 x great grandfather, son of a seafarer, Benjamin, who died of yellow fever, on the island of St Thomas in the West Indies, in 1857. He had been the ship's baker on the Atrato.

John Hodges 1848 - 1940

John Hodges would have had a desperately difficult upbringing in the poorest quarter of Southampton. During the years of his childhood, it was recorded that as many as 70 people might share one toilet, and in his 17th year, an outbreak of cholera killed 165 of the population.

Little wonder that he took to the sea in 1867, and that was where he spent a large part of his life. He  was skipper of a pilot's cutter, 'The Deerhound', until the turn of the century, before taking on 'The Jessica', stationed off Hythe.

So, I think it's almost certain that 'Old Jack' would have witnessed the Titanic leaving the port on her ill-fated maiden voyage. What his impressions might have been, I'll never know. He died in 1940, aged 91, so I never knew him.

'Old Jack' (seated) and Otto Blow

But if anyone could have told a tale of how 882 ft 6 in of Olympic-class ocean liner looked as she left Southampton Water, 'Old Jack' could, with a little help from his old pal, Otto Blow, no doubt.

10 comments:

  1. Your ancestors sound a lot more interesting than mine! What a character he must have been.

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    1. Not an entirely nice man, apparently. But I'd find it hard to judge him over this distance of time. His early years would have been extremely harsh, and I guess that would have shaped him somewhat.

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  2. What a great tale! Living to 91 in those days was a feat on it's own (as is sharing a toilet with 70 other people - haha).

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    1. All but one of my grandparents were 90 or thereabouts, when they died. I suppose what didn't kill them, made them stronger.

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  3. What tales indeed, although I did read recently that the departure from Southampton was a fairly understated affair and was only blown up into prominence given what happened later.

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    1. I suspect you're right, Alan. It's perhaps a little odd that there is no mention of the Titanic in the piece carried in the local newspaper to celebrate Old Jack's 91st birthday.

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  4. How interesting to have a link to such a big part of history, even if we don’t know much about him, let’s just be content that he was somewhere in the vicinity and may just have had some awareness of the event - being a seafaring gentleman.

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    1. I think this is the best approach, Little Nell. I've pieced together a fairly good picture of Old Jack, through family history research. There is one particularly sad chapter, concerning his wife, Sarah, who died in 1918 in the county lunatic asylum.

      It took me two years to track down records of his father's death from yellow fever, in the West Indies. In fact, I must get myself up to the National Archives, where I believe there is a list of his personal effects, among other interesting information.

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  5. People from earlier generations were generally so much hardier and stronger than we are now - or so it seems. Perhaps they expected less and so were tougher?

    I saw a tv show about the effect of the loss of the Titanic on Southampton. I hadn't realised that so many people from the town were employed on the liner. They showed a map with red dots sprinkled all over - every few houses lost someone, usually the breadwinner.

    I really enjoy your family history posts Martin, thank you!

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    1. Glad you enjoy these little snippets, Christine. They are fun to research and write. I think you're absolutely right about earlier generations being hardier and stronger than we are, today. I wonder what future generations will make of us?

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