Thursday - 23 October 2014

Diary from ordinary seaman takes $110,000

26 August 2008Written by ATG Reporter

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 client.

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 drowned."

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 August 16.

By Anna Brady

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