Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Life Below Decks

Yesterday we talked about sailors and their personal possessions, generally kept in the veritable sea chest.  

Today, I want to talk about one of those possessions, in particular. Some common sailors, if they could write, and not all could, sometimes kept a diary or journal of their travels and life at sea. There are not many journals left today that tell their stories, as most were probably lost, but one exists, telling in great detail, the life of a particular 18th Century sailor, George Hodge.

Hodge was part of Lord Nelson's Navy from 1790 to 1833, and he not only wrote about his daily life and adventures, but he was also an artist! He includes many water color drawings along with his accounts. He was self-educated and starts his journal with the words:

"George Hodge, his Book Consisting of Difrint ports & ships that I have sailed in since the year 1790. Aged 13 years."

The book is 500 pages long, and contains all kinds of accounts. He recorded the ladies of leisure with whom he associated, lists of crew members, lists of flag formations, records of how many guns were on board and what type, painted stunning pictures of ships and flags as well as a self portrait (shown above).

A typical daily account read:

"1. An enemy is in sight. 2. Prepare for battle. 3. Sail by divisions... 5. Engage the enemy (If red penant shown engage more closely) ... 10. Enemy retreating at full speed." It also shows that danger was ever present for crews, even when the ships were not in battle.

Some tales were sad: On December 26, 1812, an entry reads: "A fresh breeze a strange sail in sight. Empl painting quarterdeck. Fell from the for top mast Mathew Donelson and was drownded." 
 "July 19 light breeze at 5am picked up body of John Carter and buried him on the Isle of White."
On Christmas Day in 1806: "Employ'd in wartering ship and seting up the riger ... fish for dinner."
In 1794 he travelled to a Russian Baltic port and was captured by the French, then later sent home in a cartel sloop. He was captured again in 1797, but was returned home and then spent months on the run from press gangs.

In 2008, this book came to auction at Northeast Auctions in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA, and it was hoped to garner 30,000 British lbs, ( or $47,0000).  It sold for $100,000, to an un-named collector! It's out there somewhere, keeping the stories of life below decks alive and well!

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