The Story of


          ‘shipwright and marriner

born in this Town’                   





On the south wall of the nave in St. Michael’s parish church, Cumnor, there is a monumental tablet. It is dedicated to ‘Norris Hodson, shipwright & marriner born in this Town on the 14th  of June 1716.'   The church register shows that he was baptised two weeks later, his parents being John and Mary Hodson. He was baptised 'Norris', a name associated with the aristocratic family and a former lord of the manor. The register of St. Mary Magdalen in Oxford records the marriage on 27th Febr. 1712 of ‘John Hodson of Comner and Mary Norris of Northmoor.’ There were no Norrises recorded in the Northmoor registers. Was Mary the 39 year-old daughter of Sir Edward Norris of Weston-on-the Green? Was she the 16 year-old daughter of Thomas Norris, an Oxford tradesman?


John Hodson was a tailor but he evidently had social pretentions. He had acquired  the freehold of two local farms: ‘Franklins’ (later known as Rockley Field Farm) and ‘Cutts End’, though he borrowed money to do so.  He also acquired  a freehold cottage property in the High Street, now known as ‘Viamead’. It may be only coincidence, in view of his son’s career, that he bought it from a Southwark waterman. 


John died in 1724, aged just 32, leaving his estate to his widow Mary.  Norris was only eight years old.  John’s will was  witnessed by his father, Norris’s grandfather, Richard, a maltster, and by John Quainton, senior & junior, who were neighbours by the village pond. Significantly, the younger neighbour was described as a ‘brewer of Westminster’.


Norris's mother Mary died in 1730, when he was 14. This was the age for apprenticeship and it was  probably the route taken by Norris - in his case to Westminster to serve a seven year apprenticeship with a shipwright. The apprenticeship was not recorded in the national register - the evidence comes from one of a series of deeds concerning the cottage in Cumnor, where in 1738 Norris is described as ‘of Westminster, shipwright.’ Why did he undertake this improbable training? His prospects in Cumnor, as the only son,  were probably limited by family debt. The answer may lie in the close relationship with the Quainton family. John Quainton senior was a New College chorister and graduate, an expert on sheep; his son John, 20 years older than Norris, was, as already noted, a 'brewer at Westminster'. Norris may even have lived in premises held by the Quainton family rather than in the home of his master. London in the 1730s was an unruly city, with no police and districts where strangers dared not go. It was crowded and polluted. London Bridge was the only river crossing. Westminster was adjacent to the city and the Thames locked them in trade and commerce. Places like Islington and Hammersmith were still country villages.


In 1738, when he would have finished his apprenticeship as shipwright, Norris sold the mortgaged Cumnor cottage in his possession to John Quainton, having settled certain differences before the Justices at Westminster.  Little over a year later, we find Norris as a crew member, a ship’s carpenter, on the ‘Gloucester’, due to sail to ‘the great  South Sea’, the Pacific Ocean. Did he volunteer from a curiosity to see the world? Was he ‘pressed’ into service against his will?  Or was he lured by the prospect of riches from the shared  prize money to be won by the capture of  enemy merchant ships? In the Muster Book for the ‘Gloucester’, he is recorded as entering service on 4th April 1740, the reason given as ‘Adventure’.


But this story also begins in Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire, the seat of William Anson. His second son, George, joined the navy at 14 as a volunteer, starting as a midshipman.  George Anson was of serious disposition, a firm but fair disciplinarian, for whom ‘discipline’ meant primarily good training in seamanship. It was said 'he never dances, nor swears, nor talks nonsense'. He was fond of music and when later in command, he, like many of his contemporaries, had a fiddler on board ship. Music helped to relieve the monotony of long weeks at sea.


By 1739 George Anson was in command of the warship 'Centurion', returning to Portsmouth after patrolling the Guinea coast. It was at this time that an infamous event occured. A merchant ship, under the command of a Captain Jenkins, was captured by Spaniards customs officers, who cut off his ear and returned it to him, saying 'Take it home and present it to your King!'


This outrage moved even Prime Minister Walpole, whose peaceful years were typified by his remark: ‘Let sleeping dogs lie.' There followed what was known as the 'War of Jenkins Ear' but Britain was not well prepared after many years of complacency.


The Admiralty decided to send a naval force to the South Seas 'to distress the Spaniards in that quarter' and Commodore George Anson was chosen to command it. Anson received his official orders from George II:


'Instructions for our trusty and well-beloved George Anson Esq., Commander-in-Chief of our ships designed to be sent into the South Seas in America. You are ordered to sail to Cape Verde, then to the Isle of St Catherine, round Cape Horn or through the Straits of Magellan, as you shall judge most proper.


You are to use your best endeavours to annoy and distress the Spaniards, either at sea or on land, to the utmost of your power by taking, sinking, burning or otherwise destroying all their ships and vessels that you shall meet with’. 


Further orders  referred to ciphers to be used for secret correspondence. The instructions continued: ‘You may go north to look out for the Acapulco ship which sails from that place to Manilla at a certain time, and you may return via China or Cape Horn.' The Acapulco galleom was renowned for its rich cargoes.


The naval squadron was meanwhile being fitted out and  victualled. It comprised, first, the flagship, the 'Centurion', a warship of 60 guns (muzzle-loaded 32 pounders with a range of one mile) and a crew of 300 men. The guns were on two lower decks.  Light artillery was on the main deck. The second in line was the 'Gloucester', carrying 50 guns and 300 men, among them young Norris Hodson. The 'Gloucester's' captain was Richard Norris. Just a co-incidence?

The other ships were the 'Severn', with 50 guns and 300 men, the Pearl with 40 guns and 250 men, the Wager with 28 guns and 160 men, the sloop Tryal with 8 guns and 100 men, and two merchant ships, hired to carry merchandise to trade for provisions.


When Norris joined the ‘Gloucester’ in April 1740, it was moored at Sheerness in the Thames Estuary, taking on crew and supplies.  Like all recruits, Norris joined a particular ship; he did not join the Navy as such. It is possible that he volunteered for the ‘Gloucester’, responding to a recruiting poster, because the captain was named Richard Norris. A bounty was paid to volunteers on joining ship. Wages were good, at least compared with labouering jobs ashore, and meals, though the food was not fresh at sea, were regular. Most of the seamen joining ship were, like Norris, in their early twenties.


Norris Hodson became a member of the carpenter’s crew. The ship’s carpenter, a non-commissioned officer, was responsible for the care and preservation of the ship’s hull, masts, bulkheads, yards and cabins, all made of timber. During a sea battle the carpenter and his crew patrolled the lower deck and hold, ready, with boards and wooden plugs, to repair any leak caused by enemy shot. They were therefore excused duties on the ‘watch’, and were regarded by the rest of the ship’s company as ‘idlers’. But they were, in effect, responsible for keeping the vessel afloat in all situations and weathers.


On 23rd May, Captain Norris entered in his log: ‘Weighed anchor and sailed from the Nore in Company with his Majesty on board the ‘Caroline’. We saluted His Majesty with 21 guns at his passing by’. On 2nd June the ‘Gloucester’ moored off Spithead, near Portsmouth, and the Captain called his crew together to read them the Articles of War.


The squadron  assembled at Portsmouth but problems remained. The Admiralty and the government were keen to avoid high costs. They decided that the squadron should carry only 96 marines, 'and instead of land forces, their place should be supplied with 500 invalids, collected from the out-pensioners of Chelsea College'.  Five hundred Chelsea pensioners were thus ordered to march from Chelsea to Portsmouth for embarkation. Only 259 arrived in Portsmouth! The rest had ‘disappeared’ en route. The ‘Gloucester’s log referred to them as ‘invalids’. The C-in-C Portsmouth, Sir John Norris, refused to provide extra men.  The marines were used during voyages to guard the stores and the officers’ quarters, but in sea battles they were ‘sharp-shooters’, firing from the ship’s upper rigging or the quarter deck. They played the leading part in any landing force. The ‘Gloucester’s crew was joined by 54 ‘invalids’ and 20 marines.


Most of the seamen at this time were volunteers,  though some were forced to transfer from merchant ships. The crews included a number of boys, some aged twelve or younger. This was normal practice. For skilled crew, or officers (who began as midshipmen), the arts of seamanship required a long apprenticeship.


The larger ships carried a chaplain, surgeon and a schoolmaster to provide instruction in mathematics and navigation for the boys.  It was a chaplain, Richard Walter, who witnessed the embarkation of the pensioners on their arrival from Chelsea:  'Indeed it is difficult to conceive of a more moving scene than the embarkation of these unhappy veterans; they were themselves extremely averse to the service they were engaged in and fully appraised of all the disasters they were afterwards exposed to.'   Not one pensioner was to survive the voyage.

Conditions on board the ‘Gloucester’, as on the other ships, were hard for ordinary seammen. They slept on hammocks close together between the gun berths on the lower deck. As the portholes here had to be shut in rough weather, being near to water level, the air was often foul. They ate usually in a ‘mess’ of six or eight men, their table suspended from the low ceiling. Food was limited on long voyages to a type of porridge with meat or fat, salt meat, pease pudding, cheese and ‘ship’s biscuit’. The latter was often in such a condition that when sailors tapped it on the table, it crumbled and weevils, even large, black-headed maggots, crawled out. They tasted bitter. When in port, bread was baked. Ships often carried livestock and poultry, for the officers’ table, though the surgeon could prescribe any such luxury for sick men.


The ship’s water supply, in casks stored in the gravel ballast in the hold, could  soon become slimy and foul-tasting. It was intended chiefly for cooking. For drinking, men relied on beer, consumed in large quantities, and a daily issue of ‘grog’, a mixture of rum or brandy and water. There were no washing facilities and little water was available for laundrying. Clothes washed in sea water tended to remain damp and this was avoided. The only lavatories were the ‘heads’ near the ship’s bow, over the water.


The start of the campaign was dogged by bad weather. Three times the ships set sail and had to return, driven back by westerly gales. Eventually, in September 1740, the squadron rendezvoused in Torbay with a fleet of 160 merchant ships bound for America or the Mediterranean, and the great convoy set sail. What a magnificent sight it must have been!


After some days the merchantmen bound for North America broke away westward. Near the Straits of Gibraltar the other merchantmen sailed east. Anson's ships continued SW towards Madeira, a Portugese possession, friendly to the British. Anson sent a report back to the Admiralty:  'After a passage of 40 days I arrived here with the Squadron of H.M. ships under my command, during which time we buried two of the invalid captains. I have given leave to Captain Norris of the 'Gloucester' to return to England for the recovery of his health.' 


The Pearl's captain, Mathew Michell, was transferred to the 'Gloucester'.  An experienced officer, he had begun his naval career at the age of eight. He began his log: ‘Nov. Mon 3rd.  I took the charge and Command of His Majesty’s Ship Gloucester in the Room of Capt Richard Norris, who quitted on my comeing on board...This day deserted Andrew 2nd Lieutenant & his servant John Gray mid, Hugh Macky, mate & Thos Clark, coxn.’

Tues 4th. Gales and cloudy. Tarr’d ships sides...Edw Gore, invalid, departed this life’

Wed 5th  ... John Stewart, invalid, departed this life’.


Desertion was a serious offence in the navy, especially in wartime, though deserters were often treated leniently so as not to discourage recruitment. Most deserters were ‘pressed’ men in their first year of service - Mitchell’s loss was unusual. Desertion, after conviction by a court marshal, could be punished by hanging but this usually only resulted if other capital offences were involved.


On the 5th November the squadron set sail. Rumours abounded of a Spanish squadron under admiral Pizzaro, intent to intercepting them. The sloop was sent out to look for it but sighted nothing.


With fresh water  (though the ‘Gloucester’s company was restricted to two quarts a day) and other supplies, the squadron set sail for the Portugese settlement of St. Katherine's, on the coast of Brazil. They now began to experience tropical heat. Many men fell sick. The death of an invalid on the ‘Gloucester’ became almost a daily occurence. They crossed the equator and those who had not crossed it before were subjected to the ceremony of 'bottle and pound', having to provide a large bottle of brandy and  a pound of sugar. The alternative was to be ducked in the ocean five times.


 To improve ventilation, holes were cut in the ships' hull. The men 'were filled with extraordinary joy’ at the discovery of the coast of Brazil on 15th December.


At St. Katherine’s, the Portugese governor lent a pilot to take the squadron to a good anchorage, though Anson and his officers were concerned that they lay near two armed forts. They took on board tropical fruits: pineapples, oranges, lemons, melons, apricots, peaches, grapes, plantains. The local water was 'as good as the Thames'! Each ship erected two tents on shore, one for the sick and the other for the surgeon and his assistants. There was annoyance at the 'muscatoes' and the sand flies 'which made a mighty buzzing'. The ships were 'cleansed, smoaked, and every part well washed with vinegar'. Capt Michell was concerned that some of the barrels of pitch and tar they opened to paint the hull were half empty and believed they had been short-changed by the storemen at Sheerness.


On 18th January 1741 they set sail southward but soon ran into storms. The sloop was damaged, losing her mast, and was taken in tow by the 'Gloucester'. One of the merchant ships decided to leave for Barbados; the supplies that had to shared between the other ships made them lower in the water, hindering ventilation in the heat. In the first storm the 'Pearl' lost contact and actually came close to the Spanish squadron, mistaking it for their own before retreating hastily. On returning, the ‘Pearl’ nearly fired by mistake on the 'Gloucester'.


The Gloucester’s log for  Fri., 29th January: ‘191 leagues from St. Katherine. Lat 37  5 S.    Long 53  12 W.  Saw the Magellan clouds..... a great number of birds sitting on the sea, very much like those we see going into the English Channel.’   The Magellanic clouds were a group of stars visible only in the southern hemisphere. The next day brought ‘thick foggy weather’ and Anson ordered his men to fire a gun every hour as a signal to keep the squadron together.


Scurvy made its appearance and as men fell sick, old wounds reopened. They had been at sea for some twelve weeks. There was great relief when they reached St Julian's Bay in Patagonia. Here there was no jungle but cold, windy grassland, where wild black cattle of Spanish origin were hunted by Indians, and where vicunna were sighted. The ships anchored to make repairs and practice gunnery.   Commodore Anson ordered carpenters and blacksmiths from all ships to join the ‘Gloucester’, where new masts and ironwork were being made for the ‘Tryal’.  Norris Hodson was no doubt  very busy. 


When they set sail on 27th February, the 'Gloucester' ran into difficulties:  ‘Commodore made the Signall to weigh anchor at 10 & the rest of the Squadron weighed anchor & made sail.  We could not purchase our Anchor with both capstans. At Noon cut the cable & put out to sea, left the best Bower Anchor & a third of the cable behind, lost sight of the Squadron.’  The squadron was not sighted till next morning.


On 6th March, amid gales and squalls that caused damage to the sails, Captain Michell sighted ‘the mountains of Tierra del Fuego, a stupendous height & entirely covered with snow.’


The squadron passed the Straits of Magellan. Anson had decided not to enter the Straits but to proceed south of Cape Horn, sailing through the Straits of la Maire. On the ‘Centurion’ they perceived 'the dismal prospect of Terra del Fuego', the land of mysterious fires seen by earlier mariners, ' a dismal scene', 'a land of desolation'. The wind and tides seemed to assist their ‘prodigious fine passage’. Their good luck did not hold. The ‘Centurion’s chaplain noted:  ‘The morning of this day in its brilliancy and mildness gave place to none we had seen since our departure from England, ignorant of the dreadful calamities which were then impending and just ready to break upon us, ignorant that the time drew near when the squadron would be separated, never to unite again. This day of passage was the last cheerful day that the greater part of us would ever live to enjoy.'


Rounding Cape Horn, a midshipman recalled, the weather turned to 'the prospect of immediate destruction. From this day they struggled for almost three months with such dangers and distresses as are scarcely to be paralleled, and had a continual succession of such tempestuous weather as surprised the oldest and most experienced mariners, who confessed that what they had hitherto called storms were inconsiderable gales compared with the violence of these winds, which raised such short and such mountainous seas.'


By the 9th, Capt Michell was reporting ‘fresh gales, hazy, large swell from the SW.’  Next day there was a hard gale, snow. Some four men in the maintop lost the use of their fingers for a day or two.’


The 'Centurion' 'grew loose in her upper works, let in water at every seam and scarcely any of the officers ever lay in a dry bed.' After sixteen days of storms, she lost her top mainsail. On the ‘Gloucester’ too the upper deck began to leak badly. This led to great discomfort as it was not possible to keep clothes dry.


Capt Michell’s log:  ‘Sun. 15 Mar.  A great sea from the SW. Our men continue very sickly.     Tues. 24 Mar. Hard gales & violent squalls of snow, hail & rain, & a very great sea.    Wed. 25 Mar.  A mountainous sea from the WNW, shipped several seas insomuch that we  were  obliged to scuttle our boats, the sickness daily increase amongst our men. Timothy Garth, seaman & John Ferrell, invalid, dyed.’


The death of a seaman traditionally led to an auction ‘by the mast’ of the dead man’s clothes. A column in the ship’s muster roll recorded the amount taken. As it was an act of charity, the money eventually being sent, with any other assets, to the deceased’s next-of-kin, the sum was often disproportionately high. A typical sum of £1 15s was more than a month’s wage. The high death rate on this voyage however must soon have led to the custom being waived.


The storms were followed by still conditions, and thick fog, so that the 'Centurion' had to fire a gun every half hour to keep the squadron together. The 'Gloucester' too was damaged and carpenters had to be sent to assist the crew. Norris Hodson’s skills were now in even greater demand. The 'Tryal' had trouble with her hand pumps and the Purser noted: 'Sometimes lying to, at others flying to windward under our courses, pinched with cold, having no refreshments even for our sick men then but salt meat, which in many of the ships could not be Boiled for many days together, but a quart of water for one man a day. Our men almost all sick, and those that were dying as well as many of the rest almost devoured by vermin insomuch that I have frequently seen by a modest computation above a peck of Lice on a Man even after he was dead.'


Scurvy was now commonplace,. Symptons included large coloured spots on the skin, swollen legs, putrid gums, extraordinary lassitude, shiverings and tremblings. No cure for it was then known. Some surgeons did believe there was a dietary cause; others thought it was due to ‘foul air’.


After four weeks, thinking the squadron to be well westward into the Southern Ocean, the crews were surprised to see land two leagues off. It was recognised as Cape Noir, an island at the westerly point of Terra del Fuego!  Capt Michell wrote: ‘Cape Gonzales bore S 58 42,  appeared like two black towers of an extraordinary height.’ He recorded the death of three more men.


 Mariners at this time still had no effective way of calculating where they were; the inaccuracy of clocks prevented them from calculating longitude accurately.


'Our seamen', wrote a midshipman, 'are now almost Despairing... only Envy those whose good fortune it was to die first.' About 8 men were dying daily. 'Severn and Pearl far astern .. they seemed to to lag designedly .. and from that time we saw them no more.'  In fact both these ships mutinied by turning back and sailing for Brazil.


By 25th April, Capt Michell, himself now ill, wrote: All our sails split & in mine & my officer’s opinion made of bad canvas and rotten twine,  the ship’s Company extremely ill.’  He reckoned they were 283 leagues from Cape Gonzales, but they had lost sight of the rest of the squadron six days ago. Each vessel, now separated, headed north up the Chile's inhospitable, rocky coast to the island of Socorro, the next planned rendezvous.


The 'Wager' struck rocks off an island. The crew pillaged the ship and brought some supplies into a rocky inlet but mutinied, demanding to return south. It was in such circumstances that the attitude of ‘pressed’ crew members became defiant. Eighty of them took the salvaged longboat (only thirty reached Brazil), leaving captain Cheap with nineteen men on shore. Here they were helped by Indians in two canoes. With Cheap was the Jonathan Byron, later a vice-admiral and grandfather of the poet, and a surgeon, Elliot. After many adventures they were led to a Spanish settlement, where they were received kindly and were helped, through an exchange of prisoners, to make their way  back to England. Only 10 of the Wager's 160 crew survived.


Anson’s 'Centurion' reached Socorro island on 8th May 1741. In another lashing storm, lightning wounded three men, the fierce winds split almost all the sails, rigging broke, and stores shifted, causing the ship to list. No other ship was sighted so, after making repairs, they set sail for the next meeting-place : the island of Juan de Fernandez.


It was with tremendous relief that the island was sighted and a safe anchorage found on 11th June. It was a picturesque bay, with 100 foot waterfalls, but the bare hillsides offered little food. The first sorties returned only with seal meat and grass to eat. The fishing however was good, with cod and snappers abundant.  The only compensation for being on short rations was that the ship’s Purser was required to give credit, known as ‘pinch-gut money’, for food not provided.


There was an urgent need to erect tents ashore for the sick but so  few men were fit that the task took five days, with Anson and his officers helping. By this time only 4 of the 50 pensioners on the ship were still alive. More than half the crew had been lost. 


Activity on the shore increased. A forge was built to allow the repair of chains, and new sails were being made. A bread oven was built to improve the diet but most of the flour was in one of the missing ships. While these emergencies were in hand, the sloop ‘Tryal’ arrived. Captain Saunders reported that 34, a third, of his crew had been buried at sea and only 5 men were fit enough to work. Conditions on board, as on the 'Centurion', were extremely filthy and 'loathsome'.  The crew had taken refuge from storms in a coastal bay, where they were helped by an Indian family. The captain then worried about security if the family were left; they were brought on board. They escaped however and the crew, admiring their kindness and ingenuity,  left food for them on the shore. The ‘Tryal’s arrival at the island raised morale.


Meanwhile the ‘Gloucester’ had been struggling to make headway while making repairs. Sun. 10th May  This morning got the main yard across, which the Carpenters had but just finished by reason of the violent bad weather’ Two more men died that day.


‘Sat. 16th May.  at 4 saw land bearing ENE, 9 or 10 leagues, we supposed this to be the high land over the Isle of Nuestra Senora del Socora by our reckoning. Consulted with my officers & it was their Opinion that it was not safe for us to stand in nearer the shore, the Ship’s Company being Extremely weak and not able to work the ship, therefore resolved to make the best of our Way for the island of Juan Fernandez, in order for recovering the men & refitting our Sails & Rigging which are in a most deplorable condition.

Sun. 17th May.  Sickness increase, so much that all Officers & Servants are obliged to watch without Exception.’  Another five men were buried at sea that day.


They had been too late to rendezvour with the ‘Centurion’ at Socora Island and the coastline northward offered no respite, being a barren landscape of rocky capes, deep fiords and glaciers.


When the ‘Gloucester’s officers were able to calculate their true position, they found that the vessel was 87 miles off their reckoning, an error Capt Michel put down to unknown currents and not being able to make an observations for 8 days. Progress was however being  made. ‘This day’, wrote Capt Michel on Sat. 23rd May, I take my departure from the high land of Patagonia in the South Seas.’


It was now taking three hours for the few fit members of the crew to trim the sails and some five men were dying each day.

On Monday, 15th June, 1741, conditions were cloudy and dull with a drizzle and little wind, the sea heaving with a great swell from the SSE. Capt. Michel wrote in his log: ‘Norris Hodson, carpenter’s crew, dyed.’  He was in fact one of five men that had died that day as the ‘Gloucester’ left the ‘high land on the coast of Chile in the South Seas.   76W    30 S.’   The date appears to be a discrepancy as Norris was recorded in official papers as dying on the 14th. It was the naval custom however to begin the day’s watches , and the log, at noon, advancing the ‘day’ by twelve hours. He died on the afternoon or evening of the 14th, his 25th birthday.


On 21st June the ‘Gloucester’ came within sight of the island of Juan Fernandez.. Their troubles however were far from over. With no wind in their sails, the crew were unable to make headway. The daily water ration had been reduced to one pint per man. On the 26th Capt Michell made a signal of distress. A boat was sent out with water and fish but even with a few extra hands, the crew could not sail against the currents or tow the vessel. It was not until 23rd  July that Capt Michel recorded:


At an anchor at the N. side of the island of Juan Fernandez. We had but 10 men & the 3 lieutenants, master, purser, surgeon and myself & seven small boys that could stand the deck. We found great alteration in some of our Sick people by their eating fish and greens. Soon after we got them ashore & those that had no appetite died. I had the misfortune to Bury 254 men in my passage from St Julian’s to this day which was in 4 months & 24 days so that I had but 92 men & boys left and most of them in a miserable condition with scurvy....... Words cannot express the Misery that some of the men Dyed in.......  This morning I went ashore & raised a Tent for my sick men. I had not been ashore for seven months & eight days.’


The ‘Gloucester’ had left Madeira with a crew of 301, and ‘supernumeries’ comprising 20 ‘Robinsons’ and 54 invalids. At a muster on 20th July, there were 95 crew, 2 marines and no invalids.


Norris, our village mariner, thus shared the fate of a majority of his shipmates, tragically close to a haven at Juan de Fernandez, the island home of Alexander Selkirk, whose story inspired Defoe to write ‘Robinson Crusoe’. Ironically the fortunes of Anson’s squadron steadily improved on leaving the island, culminating in the capture of the Acapulco galleon off the Phillipines.  Anson returned with the richest ever booty, but with only a third of his crews. His success was not received well by his superiors in the Admiralty but after some years and further success at sea, he was created Lord Anson and made First Lord of the Admiralty.


An interesting coda comes from the 'Gentleman's Magazine' of 1749. The wooden lion that adorned the prow of the 'Centurion' was set up against an inn at Goodwood in Sussex, with an inscription:


            'Stay Traveller a while and view

            One who has travell'd more than  you,                                             

           Quite round the globe, thro' each degree,                             

           Anson and I have plow'd the sea:

            Torrid and Frigid Zones have past.

            And safe ashore, arrived at last,

            In ease and Dignity appear.

            He- in the house of Lords - I, here.'


And what of Norris Hodson?  John Quainton paid for his monument in Cumnor church, recalling that  he 'died on board of His Majesty's ship the Gloucefter in the squadron commanded by Commodore Anson on the 14th of June 1741 And was buried in the great South Sea in Hope of a joyfull Refurrection When the sea  shall give up her dead.'


            'Our life is ever on the wing

            And death is ever nigh.

            The moment we begin to live

            We all begin to die.'


            'This Monument was Erected at

            the Sole Expence of  Mr John Quainton.' 1743


The memorial was erected a year before Anson’s return. Dispatches were evidently sent home after the Centurion reached Macao. But how did Quainton learn the facts? Why did John Quainton go to this expense? Was it guilt because he had perhaps urged the impoverished Norris to seek his fortune on Anson’s expedition? What was his relationship with Norris, who was  20 years his junior?  At the base of the memorial tablet, Quainton  added the Norreys family coat of arms, indicating a descendant of Sir Henry Norris.  Was Norris Hodson’s mother indeed a member of that family? Where evidence cannot be found, we can only speculate.

John Hanson




P.R.O.: Log of ‘Gloucester’ 1737-1740  ADM 51/401

            Log of ‘Gloucester’ 1740-1743 ADM 51/403

            Muster roll of ‘Gloucester’ 1741-2  ADM 36/1385

Bodleian: ‘A History of Comm. Anson’s Voyage ... ‘ by ‘A Midshipman’

            Account of the Voyage.  Pascoe Thomas

            MS D.D.Bertie c17: cottage deeds

Rodger N.A.M., ‘The Wooden World’. Collins 1986

Pack S., ‘Admiral Lord Anson’. Castell 1960

‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ 1749. 

Parish records.

And I must acknowledge help from Bob Evans and Philip Powell.