A DIARY kept by a sailor in Nelson’s navy was offered for sale in a US auction earlier this month. Given that diaries kept by ordinary sailors are exceptionally rare, there was huge interest in this visually striking document from both sides of the Atlantic with institutions, the trade and private collectors vying for the journal.
Competed past its $35,000-50,000 estimate, it sold in the room
at $110,000 (£61,800) to an American trade buyer, bidding for a
Born in Tynemouth, Northumberland in 1777, 'ordinary seaman'
George Hodge began his diary in 1790 when, at the age of 13, he
first went to sea aboard the Brig Margery.
He kept it until his retirement in 1833, when it had grown to
500 pages with 20 watercolour illustrations.
With his erratic self-taught spelling and naïve pictures, Hodge
records his service in Nelson's navy, seeing action in the
Napoleonic Wars and the American War of 1812, sailing from the West
Coast of Africa to New York and Ceylon.
He was held twice as a prisoner of war by the French and was
press ganged back in to the Navy after his second imprisonment.
He includes matter-of-fact accounts of deaths of fellow sailors,
such as his entry on December 26, 1812: "A fresh breeze a strange
sail in sight. Fell from the for top mast Mathew Donelson and was
The 7 1/2in (19cm) high journal remained in Hodge's family until
the 1880s, but its whereabouts after that is unknown until it was
bought by J. Welles Henderson, an American lawyer, from a London
book dealer 20 years ago.
Mr Henderson, who founded a maritime museum in Philadelphia,
died last year and over 600 items from his collection were sold by
Northeast Auctions in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on
By Anna Brady
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