Today we continue with the reprinting of R. Alain Everts biographical article about the life of William Hope Hodgson. As mentioned in the last post, this comprehensive article has not been seen since the last reprint in 1987. We are providing it here as a helping resource for those wanting to learn more about Hodgson’s life and, hopefully, wish to use it in their own research.
This particular portion contains some very sobering facts regarding the type of life that Hodgson’s family faced after the death of the Reverend Samuel Hodgson in 1892. Except for some grammatical corrections, this article is being reprinted as it appeared in the 1987 Soft Books edition.
SOME FACTS IN THE CASE OF WILLIAM HOPE HODGSON: MASTER OF PHANTASY
By R. Alain Everts
The Early Years, Part Two
In 1895, Hope qualified as a seaman, and shortly thereafter he became an office in the Merchant Marine. At this time, he indulged in a lifelong hobby—photography—taking pictures not only aboard ship at sea, but also at home of his mother and brothers and sisters. He also commences building his physique—this a lifelong interest to the remainder of his days. As a friend reported:
When one day he saw the first mate knock down one of the crew, Hodgson, then senior ‘prentice, made up his mind that no man should do that to him without getting as good as he gave. From that time onward he started training, and not only trained himself to become a first-rate boxer, but fired all of his junior ‘prentices to follow suit, so that the whole crowd were conspicuous for their physique and splendid general health. To a landsman this many sound an easy thing to do; but to a sailorman it means much. It means the sacrifice of much that makes life bearable on board.
During his service in the Merchant Marine, Hope sailed three times round the world, and between trips he continued his schooling—either attending the Blackburn technical school at this time, or later after his return from the sea, and meeting there his future wife, Bessie Farnworth, who sketched his face for the class—and once off Port Chalmers, New Zealand, Hope dived into the shark-infested sea in order to save a fellow sailor, on 28 March 1898. The report to the Humane Society read:
Salvor: William Hope Hodgson, Aged 20.
Saved: A. Seaman.
6.30. pm. 28th. March 1898
Port Chalmbers, New Zealand.
Summary: The man fell overboard from a height of 120 feet 600 yards from shore, 50 feet deep strong current and water infested with sharks. Hodgson jumped after him and with the aid of a life buoy held him up for 25 minutes till they were picked up by a bot.
Honorary Award: Bronze Medal.
For this act of courage, Hope received a medal from the Royal Humane Society. Mary recalls the police coming to the house and taking Hope away (around 1899), and the entire family was worried and puzzled, thinking Hope was in trouble. But no, it was to be presented the medallion of bronze from the society. However, Hope’s mother and the remaining children were not having things quite so easy. In early 1896, the destitute Mrs. Hodgson applied to the Clergy Orphan Corporation in London to try and obtain entry for her daughter Lissie—for at this period, any children of deceased cleargy could apply for free schooling at the Corporation equivalent of the High School and Junior High School years (in America). Lissie not yet 10 years old, was attending a day school on London Road in Blackburn, several blocks from the Hodgson house. It was on one of Hope’s leaves from the Merchant Marine that Mary recalls Hope walking the children home from the day school that Chris, Mary, Lissie, Bertha and Eunice were attending, through the Corporation Park and reciting the tale of the statue with the monster beneath it. This scared the children so that they were never able to set foot in the park again—the story appeared later in The Strand Magazine entitled “The Goddess of Death”. Chad, who had graduated from Westminster prior to his father’s death, entered the British Army in April 1895, much against his Mother’s wishes—he was soon to marry also against his mother’s wishes and was rarely ever seen again at home. Hope of course was away to sea for many months at a time—while both Frank and Hillyard were attending the Orphan’s School which their mother had successfully enrolled them during 1893.
In January of 1896, Mrs. Hodgson had no income, and nothing had been left to her or to her family by her late husband. She and the children were completely at the mercy of Church charity—the family had in fact been given several donations–£15.0.0. in 1886 and another £15.0.0. in 1893 from the Rochester Diocesan Society—while friends in Blackburn, at the death of Reverend Hodgson, collected £30.0.0. for her family. Mrs. Hodgson’s brother, the Reverend T.L. Brown wrote to the clergy Orphan Corporation:
Mrs. Hodgson is my sister, therefore I can speak with certain knowledge as to her circumstances.
Mr. Hodgson left her without a penny – he was not assured – we have done what we can. My mother is a widow – and I am married and therefore our means are small. I paid my sister a visit a few hours last August and was appalled to see the struggle for the bare necessities of life for herself and the children remaining at home. Out of nine there is not one bringing in a farthing towards their maintenance, there are the two lads in the C.O.S., a girl at Belper, one boy, apprenticed at sea and the eldest has enlisted in the Line—in a York regiment. There are now the four younger ones at home. She tells me she had not more than £25.0.0. per annum to live on.
The case is a hard one and needs help, and if your committee can possibly see your way clear to accept the child, Lissie Sarah, as a candidate I think it will be a real charity.
And Mrs. Hodgson, who [was] by this time an ordained Deaconess—who did not preach, but rather administered to the poor—bringing them food and medicines, wrote from her new address of 16 Henry Street, on February 8, 1896:
I am sorry your letter was not answered earlier. I overworked and had to pay the penalty of doing the very least possible for a week or more.
I did not see in the petition, any questions as to occupation or salary, I am sorry I omitted any answers I ought to have given. And to answer is difficult and painful. I am no in a situation: you will know how impossible it is for a gentlewoman between forty and fifty years of age, with a family of young children to get a situation. Had my dear children been older I perhaps would have become matron in a School or Institution—but my precious children! I would have just gone on from day to day, working away, doing my best, and trusting my heavenly Father’s promise to provide, and He has never let us want. Friends kindly send me yard and old clothes, out of which I clothe the children and myself. I sell what I do not use. I buy articles wholesale, and retail them. I make articles of clothing which I find a ready sale; I conduct meetings and have a class for women and girls to learn useful sewing. It is impossible to say what my small earnings amount to—they vary much, and I have not time to keep a proper account. Of course since last April I have found it harder, not having my eldest son’s wages, which were 17/- a week. Our God very wonderfully undertook for us at Christmas and bought us through the extra expense of the dear boys home from Canterbury. A friend paid their railway fares; another sent a load of coal,another a load of firewood, and ten dear friends sent money in sums from 3/- to £2.0.0.!! (in all nearly £10.0.0.), besides food.
Forgive my troubling you with so much detail; but you will more clearly see my position.
I daily praise God for His dear care in opening the doors of the C.O.S. to my boys. I exult in it; for how otherwise could they have been educated! If your committee are lead to alloy my little girl to become a candidate, my heart will indeed sing for joy. She is the brightest of my four little girls, and I did so long for her to have an education.
Pardon such a lengthy epistle.
To be Continued in Part 3
[I do not know if Lissie was accepted into the C.O.S. but, based on these two letters, it would seem very likely.–Sam Gafford]