Saturday, 6 March 2010

Sepia Saturday: 'Old Jack'

This picture of my 2 x great grandfather, John Hodges, has literally come into my possession in the past week. I have to thank my distant cousin Jean for that.

Captain John Hodges (1848 - 1940)

I already knew that John Hodges married Sarah Marsh on 22nd June, 1873, and was the father of four children (one of them, my great grandfather, John Robert Hodges).

 Sarah Marsh (1850 - 1918)

I also knew he was the Master of a ‘pilot’s cutter’ on Southampton Water, but the following tribute published in a local daily newspaper, at the time of his 91st birthday, sheds a good deal more light on his life.

‘Many Happy Returns of the day to Captain John Hodges, affectionately known in port circles as ‘Old Jack’, who celebrates his 91st birthday today.

Captain Hodges, a sailor-man of the W.W.Jacobs type, retired in 1924 after being in the service of Trinity House for 57 years, and his numerous friends and acquaintances will be delighted to learn that he still enjoys good health.

Son a of a seafarer – his father sailed in the first Atrato of the R.M.S.P. Co. – Captain Hodges started work as a labourer at Northam, but after a short while, he transferred to Stockham’s Yard, and then in 1867 joined the pilot cutter ‘Deerhound’ in the capacity of cook. Quickly gaining the requisite knowledge for the post of skipper, he subsequently held that position for 34 years in the ‘Deerhound’, and afterwards for a lengthy period in the ‘Jessica’, stationed off Hythe.

Captain Hodges has many striking recollections of early days in the port. He can, for instance, recall the arrival of the famous ‘Great Eastern’ in Southampton Water, the pilotage of the vessel being in charge of the late Mr James Bowyer. He also remembers the launching of Hamburg Amerika Line’s ‘Alpina’ and the P. and O. Co’s Serrat, at Northam – reminders of the time when many famous liners were built in the port.’

 'Old Jack' in his later years (seated), with his seafaring friend, Otto Blow

More Sepia Saturday participants HERE

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges


  1. Wow, nice history! I could sit and listen to this man talk for hours about his experiences.

  2. Wonderful to think of rising from cook to skipper! Good for Old Jack!

  3. Fabulous photos and details of your great great grandfather, Martin. I know Hythe and Southampton, so it was easy to visualize where he must have been.
    The photographs look almost like pencil sketches, don't they?


    (What a great name for a sea-farer: Otto Blow!)

  4. A Great Find ! From A Time When Britain Ruled The Waves.He Looks A Very 'Organised' Man.Even In The Photos His Eyes Seem To Be Gazing On The Sea.

  5. Isn't it amazing that, now that you're documenting some of your family's history on your blog, you keep finding pieces of that history and they just fall into your possession? Amazing photos, and what a time in history Captain Hodges lived in!


  6. I have loved doing genealogy for some years now and am happy to be involved in SS. I love your story and pics. Did you watch "Who Do You Think You Are?" Friday night. I think Sarah Jessica Parker had Hodges in her lineage. She found out one of her great gm was charged as one of the Salem Witches. They told me at the Historical Society it is an addicting hobby.

  7. Agreeing with Silver Fox on this one! Looks quite distinguished, especially in that last photo :)

  8. The photos are wonderful, so much behind their eyes, and who could make up the name Otto Blow? Great story to accompany the pictures, Old Jack must have had some stories to tell.

  9. Well done, Martin! Very interesting history! Old Jack sounds like someone in a great novel! Now I will have to find out more about W. W. Jacobs too. His "THE MONKEY'S PAW" is one of my very favorite short stories to read and to teach!

  10. Your ancestors are all such distinguished looking people. I've just watched on iplayer one of the David Dimbleby programmes which your current read is based on. Great stuff.

  11. What a great piece of history you have! Isn't it sad that we can't somehow sit down and interview them about all the little details of their lives? I'm sorry no one did that with my great-grandparents.

  12. What a great collection of photos of Martin. It is such an interesting read. Thanks for sharing.

  13. These are wonderful photos. So interesting to think how well he must have known the "Deerhound," every inch and corner of it!

  14. Hi Martin

    you are so lucky to have photos that go back so far...Being a New Zealander my forebears are Scottish and English but we have very little info on them. The great grandparents came to NZ in the late 1800s. One day I might hire someone to do the ground work.

    Happy days

  15. Captain Hodges is striking in that first photo, and looks surprisingly modern, don't you think?

  16. Silver Fox

    Thank you. Yes it would be nice to talk to Old Jack and hear his stories. His youngest granddaughter recently passed away, aged 92. She was probably the last living relative who had a conversation with him.


    He was born in just about the poorest area of Southampton. In fact there was a cholera outbreak when he was just a year old. It claimed 240 lives. He was obviously determined to haul himself out of the mire.


    Yes, if I say he worked off Spit-head, you'll know where I mean. The photographs are a little grainy. They have been passed around, copied and scanned a few times though.


    By all accounts, he was a very single-minded individual. I suppose when you're piloting vessels in and out of a major port, you need to be.


    You know, in all the time I've been researching my family tree, I can't believe the number of coincidences that have occurred. These photographs came into my possession by pure chance. On another day, I might have missed them completely.


    Sadly I didn't see that episode of 'Who Do You Think You Are?' But the people at the Historical Society are right. Family history is addictive. Once you're on the trail of someone, it's hard to stop until you get to know all you can about them.


    Thank you.


    Yes, can't you just imagine him sat with his seafaring chums, swapping stories of the sea?


    I confess I knew nothing of W.W. Jacobs until I read this reference in the article. I've since downloaded 'The Lady of the Barge' from Project Gutenberg. I plan to read 'The Monkey's Paw' this weekend.


    As you can see from my profile picture, the distinguished looks ran out before they got to me! Glad you like Dimbleby. It's probably not very fashionable to say so, but I am a fan. His programmes are always pitched just at the right level. Wonderful history and entertainment rolled into one.


    It's surprising how well you can get to know your ancestors through research. A picture slowly builds up over time, and while it's not the same as talking to them in person, you get a flavour of what they were like and of the lives they led.


    So glad you enjoyed the post. I'm still excited about having the photographs. A real treasure.


    That's a good point. Over 34 years he must have got to know the Deerhound intimately. I wonder how he felt about giving her up for the Jessica?


    I am lucky beyond words. I don't have that many photographs from the 1800s, so these are extra special. With a little groundwork, it's surprising what can be discovered. I hope you undertake that investigation one day.


    I suppose he does. Or have we seen so many faces from the past on Sepia Saturdays, that the gap between us and them is closing? Perhaps it's that; a kind of familiarity.

    1. Interesting to read this I am related to capt James t bowyer who piloted the great eastern penny holloway nee bowyer

  17. Going from cook to skipper! Amazing.

    And he certainly looked like a skipper!

  18. What great photos, and how wonderful that you have a newspaper accounting of his life. One of the problems that I've encountered is that a lot of the anecdotes and tales that accompany the photos are "heresay." I have no way to confirm most of the good stories. You're fortunate to have such a great find.

  19. Barry

    That was some achievement, wasn't it?


    I am, indeed, fortunate. I know what you mean. Family stories, passed down, are fine and entertaining, but sometimes we would feel better about what we're told, if it could be verified in some way. Until I had the information about John, in my possession, I could only imagine.

  20. How great that you received the photo just this week. An interesting life too. I like the fact that his friend is named Otto Blow - you can't make stuff like that up.

    I'm finding that to get the facts straight for my contributions I'm spending an inordinate amount of time fact checking - but I love it.

  21. Clever Pup

    I thought the same way about the name Otto Blow, but it really suits the look of him doesn't it?

    Fact-finding and checking is time consuming, but worth every minute. Not only is it a labour of love, but to know that your story is 'watertight' is so important.

  22. wonderful story - I am so happy for you that you got the picture from your cousin

    and he must of been a really good sailor to live to tell about it after 51 years of it

  23. Rhonda

    Thank you. I still can't believe I've made this connection. Since having the photographs and the newspaper clipping, I'm beginning to realise what an established character he was, around the port of Southampton.

  24. Great photographs - and to have such a rich history to go with them.

  25. Alan

    It's quite rare to get this lucky in family history research, as I'm sure you know. Glad you enjoyed the photographs.

    Good to see you back. Hope you had a good trip.


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