The Reverend Charles Vere Hodge was a passenger onboard the ROYAL CHARTER on her last fateful voyage. The ship was wrecked near Moelfre during a hurricane on 25-26 October 1859. The Rev Hodge's journal was washed ashore and extracts were printed in the Pontypool Free Press and other newspapers such as the Aberystwyth Observer to notify and encourage his relatives to come forward.
The extracts provide insights into some of the social activities on board the ROYAL CHARTER, but also the character of this country vicar who was torn between giving up his parish in England for new commercial pursuits in Australia.
For example, from his journal we learn that it was Captain's birthday a few days before the ROYAL CHARTER reached Ireland, and that the passengers financially contributing to the cost of a special dinner with a band of musicians to play accompaniment. The Captain was presented with a testimonial (financial reward) in recognition of his service to which the Rev Hodge contributed. The Rev Hodge was so well regarded by his fellow passengers for his kindness that he too received a testimonial reward of £30.
However, it is in the journal entries relating to some of the commercial enterprises of new settlers in Melbourne that we get a glimpse of the dilemma he was facing in his private life. For example, Hodge notes the success of Rev Edward Puckel of Stanley Street, North Melbourne, who raised £800 to build his church by begging. He had been helped by his supportive, energetic wife who organised a bazaar and raised £500.
Hodge notes other moneymaking possibilities, such as renting a sheep run with 1000 ewes for £150 - the profits from the annual crop of lambs becoming the financial gain on which the tenant would make their living.
He also gives an example of the profit to be made from land purchases - a block of land owned by a Mr Black previously thought worthless was now producing £6,000 per year in rental income.
Charles Hodge was facing a very difficult decision - should he relinquish the secure income from ministering to his parish in Nottinghamshire to embark on a more risky way of earning a living?
Poignantly, he wrote 'I am wracked with anxiety, having lost most of my little store* and not seeing how my wife and children can be otherwise than pinched in their outward circumstances the moment I die! I feel very much on this score, and it makes me doubt how far it might be justifiable in me, even at this eleventh hour, to relinquish the ministry for some secular employ.
*The reference to 'my little store' probably relates to the 50 Sydney sovereigns he lost contained in a carpet bag with other possessions. The carpet bag was missed on Wednesday 27 July 1859 and was reported to the local police. It is possible that this story became known to his fellow passengers and was perhaps an additional prompt for donations to his testimonial.
Rev Hodge's decision was made even more difficult because he had a wife and 7 children to maintain. His wife had left him in 1844 to visit distant relatives in Australia, and then had gone on to New Zealand, leaving him to look after their children. She had returned home for a few years, but finding life intolerable in England had left again. This time he had accompanied her with all their children after obtaining a 2 year leave of absence from his Bishop. Now his Bishop had sent an edict ordering him to return. As his wife had refused to leave Australia, he was returning alone to make his choice known to the Bishop.
What he had finally decided, as the ROYAL CHARTER reached to within a few hours of her home port on that fateful night, we may never know. The Rev Hodge's only brother, Rev Henry Vere Hodge, Perpetual Curate of Middleton, near Tamworth, identified his body amongst those recovered from the wreck.
Aberystwyth Observer, 5 November 1859, pg 2, Welsh Newspapers Online (http://papuraunewyddcymru.llgc.org.uk/en/page/view/3037239)
Pontypool Free Press available on microfilm at Gwent Archives,Steelworks Road Ebbw Vale Blaenau Gwent NP23 6DN, d2262/1/1, March 1859 - Dec 1860, Microfilm FP/1
In his journal, the Rev Charles Hodge noted that there were 335 passengers and 110 crewmembers on the ROYAL CHARTER's last voyage. In the many newspaper accounts of the wrecking event and its aftermath, many small insights into the lives of individuals are given. Use the newspaper accounts available online or at your local archive/library to compile a list of the passengers and crew, and any background details of their lives.
Real people, real lives, forever bound together in tragedy.
Creative Writing Activity:
There are several famous shipping losses (e.g. the White Sta Line's TITANIC in 1912) which have been used as the settings for novels, plays, TV movies and popular films. You might wish to select one of the real life characters from the ROYAL CHARTER and create a more extensive 'background story' for them from the details in the newspapers and from your own research into Victorian period - imagining where they were born and grew up, what they looked like, their families and friends, what a day in their life might have been like at home or at work... and so on. This character might then feature in short story or a play.
Perhaps your character might attend the Captain's birthday party in the 1st class passenger saloon - this would provide the setting.
Perhaps you could write a play drawing on conversations taking place around the supper tables and between the stewards serving, which brings out the character traits and back story you have imagined....
Here are some suggestions from the 1st class passengers:
Mrs S A Foster - wife of John Foster, owner of Shakespeare Hotel, Manchester. John Foster had left hotel in hands of his wife and spent 4 years in colony establishing 2 new hotels; he had left hotels in hands of 2 nephews and had returned home; his wife had made the voyage out to Melbourne to sell some land was now returning home after month with the proceeds.
Mrs Woodruffe - Mrs Foster's companion, married to one of Mrs Foster's nephews a hotelkeeper in Melbourne. Handsome, from Stockport, travelling with her child. Greatly admired by Captain Withers (below) and by Captain Adams (second class passenger) who had lost his ship called RED JACKET in collision off Buenos Aires.
Captain Withers - admirer of Mrs Woodruffe, having lost his ship, the VIRGINIA, in the South Pacific; he endured the severest privations at sea in an open boat for about three weeks, till he arrived in the Fuji island, whence he afterwards conveyed to Sydney.
Henry Carew Taylor - New South Wales magistrate travelling with his daughter and her nurse, Mrs Faber.
Sophie Davies - one of two grown-up daughters, travelling with her parents, Mr and Mrs Davies travelling, her sister and two younger brothers.
Jane Fowler - 17 year-old daughter of Mr and Mrs Edwin Fowler travelling with her parents and her 5-year -old sister, Ida, and Ida's nurse Emma Calf.
James Watson - (or Mr G Watson in some newspaper accounts) of Rochdale, son of Thomas Watson, of the firm of Watson and Healey, silk manufacturers. The family were also ship owners, according to entries on the Port of Chester Shipping Register. James had formed a company to exploit the gold diggings and was bringing home samples of nuggets, which he showed to James Russell. With his new found wealth and security, he felt he was now in a position to propose to a young lady in Prestatyn.
Is it likely that the third class or steerage passengers celebrated the Captain's birthday in the same way? After so long on the voyage in the more cramped conditions of steerage, some close friendships as well as tensions would have developed. How might these have manifested themselves in the preparations to, say, celebrate the birthdays of the 12 year old son of Mr and Mrs Lyon and one of the children of Mrs Ross?
What feat of Herculean strength might John Judge, a large Irish Man, have performed to the amazement of all?
What popular music of the day might have been played by the Prussian musician Carl Bartel, who had just completed at concert tour of Australia?
There are several creative art forms specially associated with mariners - carved scrimshaw being but one example. But what are the others?
What special present might have been made from materials readily available onboard a ship at sea by one of the seamen, say, Henry Evans of Caernarvon, or quartermaster William Thomas from Amlwch, for each of the children?
Archives Network Wales
National Library of Wales: Welsh Newspapers online
British Library British Newspapers online