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The Story of Jane Hodgson's Jet Brooch

Jane Hodgson was born in 1831 in Whitby, she was the daughter of Thomas Hodgson and Jane Pearson and

one of five children.

The family lived on The Cragg, Whitby. An area which no longer exists, set behind todays RNLI Lifeboat Museum on the harbour front. The Cragg was a mass of tenements and yards, where families lived in simple, often cramped and run-down housing. It was not a place to aspire too. This is surprising, as Thomas Hodgson had a successful and varied career, starting out as a carpenter at the age of 18 and progressing through raiserman at 38, to master mariner and captain of the SS Streonshalh by the age of 42. He is also known to have sailed on the whalers that went out of Newcastle and Whitby until the late 1800’s. A portrait of Capt. Thomas Hodgson also resides at Whitby Museum, so the family must have had money at some point to have had his likeness taken.

Captain Thomas Hodgson. Photo Credit: Whitby Museum

On the 10th February 1848 Jane married Isaac Dobson at St. Mary’s Church, Whitby. They also lived on the Cragg and when Jane’s mother died, Thomas came to live with them.

Isaac was a fisherman and sailor, supplementing his income by working as a lifeboatman with the small sum of 11 shillings received per rescue. Together he and Jane had nine children, the last born posthumously. Their marriage lasted just one day short of thirteen years, when a cruel and dramatic twist of fate brought it to an end.

On the 9th February, the weather was particularly stormy and the lifeboat crew were called out five times to rescue ships crews that were in distress off the coast of Whitby. On the sixth launch to rescue ‘The Merchant,' Isaac and his crewmates rowed into the perilous waters in a lifeboat not much larger than a coble. It soon became apparent that the small lifeboat they were in was inadequate to match the power of the waves, and after just clearing Whitby pier two enormous waves collided with a third, capsizing the boat in an instant. The lifeboatmen, who were only 200 feet from the shore, fought to stay above the waves, and reports from onlookers say they could see bobbing heads in the water, but as they continued to be battered by the waves the men began to float face down in the water, kept afloat by their life jackets. Although most of the bodies were recovered, two remained lost to the sea forever. In all, the disaster left 10 widows and 44 fatherless children.

Artist's impression of the 1861 lifeboat disaster.

Photo of the wreckages taken the following morning.

A national fund was set up to provide for the widows and children of the drowned crewmen, raising in all £5,200. However, in a cruel and unjustified turn of events, poor Jane Dobson (née Hodgson) was removed from the list for so called ‘immoral behaviour’ after she gave birth to an illegitimate child four years after her husband’s death. By punishing Jane in this way, all of Isaac’s seven surviving children would also not see a penny of the money raised to secure their futures.

Despite the tragic story of Jane’s husband, her jet brooch was not made for the purpose of mourning. Instead, it would have been worn in happier times and may well have been a gift from Isaac himself during courtship; it being decorated with a rose, the symbol of love, and engraved with her maiden name.

For people who had little money, Whitby jet was a safe choice of jewel, not only was it fashionable and very popular, but it was also safe to wear throughout unforeseen periods of mourning when dress codes were strictly monitored by society. The brooch would no doubt have been worn in the aftermath of the 1861 lifeboat disaster and possibly for many years thereafter.

In 1869, Jane was remarried to a man named Isaac Jackson who worked as a bricklayer in the town.


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