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DateOriginal Topic
26th May 2004John Hodgson
By Stephen Coan
I am trying to verify details of the life of John Hodgson who died in 1935. He claimed to have been a British officer, to have fought at the battle of Ulundi and later became a "district commissioner" in the Eshowe area. He was an alcoholic who eventually sought refuge in the Drakensberg, living in a small hut as a semi-recluse where he carved curios that he sold to tourists at the Champagne Castle Hotel. During this stage of his life he became known as the "Old Man of the Berg". This much can be gleaned from Harry Klein's Land of the Silver Mist (circa 1951). Another source states Hodgson was the son of William Hodgson of Mooi River. Which suggests he might have been in one of the colonial units rather than a British one. Can anyone confirm his service in the Anglo-Zulu War?
26th May 2004John Young

The Army List of 1879 only lists two officers with initial J. , and the surname of Hodgson, but their forenames are James & Joseph, that somewhat discounts one theory.

Six men who were awarded the bar 1879 had the surname Hodgson, however none of those had the forename of John.

So I regret I cannot confirm his supposed service in the Anglo-Zulu War.

Is there any connection to Thomas Hodgson of 'Hodgson's Peak'?

John Y.
26th May 2004Peter Ewart

I also wondered about Hodgson's Peak(s) although didn't know of Thomas.

Are you trying to verify only the claimed AZW involvement or any other aspects of his life? Does Klein's book give a very full account of Hodgson's life?

I was wondering when, roughly, he was supposed to have been a "district commissioner" - any idea? The Anglican missionaries, especially bishops and archdeacons, frequently had to liaise with the local civil servants such as Commissioners, Secretaries and Under-Secretaries for Native Affairs. The CNAs and magistrates of the various divisions, such as Dick Addison or Mr Boast (the Isandlwana reburials chap) sometimes came up in the missionaries' correspondence and reports, as well as in the various anecdotes mentioned in their memoirs. I've tried a few missionary autobiographies tonight without seeing Hodgson mentioned but so many of these publications, being mere reminiscences, are not indexed and a cursory skim could miss it.

Does the commissioner claim stand up or is it seriously doubted? I would think it could be verified or not, if necessary, in the KZN archives. When embarking upon their long diocesan tours, which involved a lot of rough riding until well after the turn of the century, the missionaries often stayed with or visited the commissioners & magistrates, so their reports and letters named names. A timescale would therefore suggest to me which missionaries' correspondence to investigate.

27th May 2004Stephen Coan
Thank you John and Peter for your replies.

There is a possibility that Hodgson's first name was James. The archives in Pretoria have a "Record of conduct and service of James William Hodgson discharged free at own request" The "Begin date" is 1901 and the "End date" 1903.

Klein gives a lot more detail but it is all highly romanticised. I'll have another look at it and post any further relevant details.

And no, he has no connection to Hodgson's Peak.

27th May 2004John Young

The full name of the officer listed in the Army List is James Owen Hodgson, a Lieutenant attached to the 10th Brigade, Royal Artillery. 10th Brigade's Depot was in Cork.

I'll endeavour to establish where the batteries of 10th Brigade were in 1879. Thus far I have established that 6/10, 9/10 & 10/10 Batteries were Garrison Batteries based in the Channel Isles. 7/10, 8/10 & 11/10 were again Garrison Batteries manning forts in Ireland. 12/10 were based in Portland.

In all honesty it is not looking good for your man's claims!

John Y.
1st June 2004Stephen Coan
John and Peter

Have re-read the material I have on Hodgson and there is little that is concrete there. He states "I was a District Commissioner before things went wrong for me." Reading between the lines that seems to have been between 1906 and 1920. But that's a guesstimate.

With regard to missionaries Hodgson is quite outspoken: "I don't like missionaries. They may be good chaps, courageous and all that, but they upset happy people." The "happy people" he is referring to being Zulus following their traditional beliefs. He goes on to make his point by telling the story of a young man who comes to a sticky end as the result of being Christianised by missionaries.

Have contacted an expert on Natal civil servants. Will let you know if anything comes of that. Thanks to both of you for your help.