Crimes of the Clergy: The Rev. Septimus Hodson

On Christmas Day 1808, Miss Fanny Chapman wrote in her diary the following entry:

Mrs Porcher in a letter to Cooper tells him it is reported in London that Mrs Fenwick is going to be married to Mr Hodgson, the infamous seducer of many of the girls at the Asylum some years ago!!!

This somewhat vague but tantalizing comment needed further investigation to establish more about this ‘infamous seducer’ but the chances of finding him seemed like a mammoth task and possibly not one worth pursuing until now. George and Amanda (custodians of Fanny Chapman’s diaries) recently began looking at a will that provided some clues as to his identity and to cut a long story short, they have tracked him down, so it seems only right to correct Fanny’s spelling of his name (it was Hodson) and then to ‘name and shame’ him. So here we go with a grizzly, if not unfamiliar story.

Septimus Hodson was born 17th February 1763, the son of Rev. Robert Hodson and his wife Mary in Huntingdonshire. He was educated at Caius College, Cambridge after which he was ordained into the priesthood.

Having found his parents and education we began to look for any potential marriages for him. The first marriage we came across took place when he would have been under the age of 21! The Marriage Act, 1753 did allow couples under 21 to marry by Banns, as in this case, either with parents consent or if the parents did not forbid it.

ann bell

This was to be a very short marriage as Ann Hodson née Bell was buried at St Mary with St Benedict Church, Huntingdon on the 14th May 1784.

St Mary with St Benedict Church, Huntingdon
St Mary with St Benedict Church, Huntingdon
© Robert Edwards via Wikimedia

A little under two years later on the 15th March 1786 Septimus married Miss Charlotte Affleck, the daughter of Rev W. Affleck, who conducted the ceremony at All Saints Church in Stamford, Lincolnshire.

Septimus - marriage at Stamford

On the 7th March 1788 he became a preacher at Tavistock Chapel, Broad Court near Drury Lane, amongst his duties he was appointed Chaplain-in-ordinary to George, Prince of Wales.

Septimus and Charlotte produced 5 children during this time, Charlotte (1790), William (1791), Charles Phillip (1793), Robert Eyres (1795) and finally Gilbert (1796).

This extract from The Aldine Magazine of Biography, Bibliography, Criticisms and the Arts of 1838 provides quite a picture of contented domesticity and to a certain extent ignores what was to follow apart from a reference to Septimus being accused of plagiarism!

Never shall I forget calling on the above mentioned gentleman, upwards of forty years since, on behalf of a poor country curate who was anxious to come to London on literary pursuits, and to fill the situation of assistant reader, then vacant at the Asylum. I was introduced to the Rev. Mr. Hodson, in his peculiarly neat and handsome apartments, where his accomplished and beautiful wife, and I think the finest family of children I ever saw, were partaking of a dessert. He politely asked me to partake, and pressed me to take wine, which I did; and from his easy and graceful manner, his handsome form and figure, and animated countenance, added to those of his smiling cherubs of children, on whom my eyes were fixed, I thought I never witnessed so much conjugal happiness and domestic felicity in my life.

By 1789 he had been given the living of Thrapston in Northamptonshire. He had also been appointed chaplain to the Orphan Asylum, Westminster Road, in the parish of Lambeth. This is the point at which the horrors of his actions became clear and for once we do put a serious warning – this account from 1823 is reported as being true and if so it is quite distressing 

V0013797 The female orphan asylum, Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org The female orphan asylum, Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth. Coloured engraving by A. McClatchy after T. H. Shepherd, 1828. 1828 By: Thomas Hosmer Shepherdafter: A. McClatchy and Leonard Wild LloydPublished: 7 June 1828 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
The female orphan asylum, Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Coloured engraving by A. McClatchy after T. H. Shepherd, 1828.

VILE ACTIONS OF THE REVEREND SEPTIMUS HODSON

Child violator, formerly Chaplain to the Orphan Asylum, Westminster Road.

“Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.”

The Asylum of which Mr. Hodson was an unworthy Chaplain, educates and provides for numerous female Orphans, who otherwise would be consigned to lives of infamy and ruin.

Mr. Hodson was celebrated as a preacher, and noted for the uncommon sanctity of his manners; he had a fine person, and always assumed such a sincerity of heart in delivering his exhortations from the pulpit, that the chapel was crowded to an overflow whenever he preached; but alas! he was fair without and foul within. The Monk of Lewis’s novel was not more infamous, and whilst outwardly attending to the salvation of the helpless Orphan’s souls he was inwardly meditating the ruin of both body and soul.

From his situation, he had access to the Orphans, at all hours, and a little child, named Fox, about thirteen years of age, was selected by him for the object of depraved debauchery.

In fact he violated the hapless Orphan’s person; to call it by the name of seduction would be untruth: for surely a child at her time of life could only be a passive instrument in the hands of one, whom she had been taught to look up to with fearful obedience.

The pregnancy of Fox, as a natural consequence of illicit intercourse, ensued, and she, most probably tutored by the artful and lustful priest, delivered herself in a certain office in the chapel yard; and there left the infant, which she imagined would never be heard of.

Suspicions, however, were immediately awakened, and the infant was found, and as a natural effect of contrition and fear, Fox pointed out the father of her offspring. The Governors and Committee were horror struck at the Reverend Divine’s hypocrisy and depravity; but they had no power to punish him beyond dismissing him from his office, and striking his name from the list of Chaplains, which was instantly done, in as marked a manner as possible.

The Reverend Violator, incredible as it may appear, was suffered to retain his gown; and we cannot help reflecting that the good Bishop Porteus, then in charge of the Metropolitan see, must have been very strangely misinformed respecting this hideous transaction, or he would never have permitted the criminal to escape with impunity.

Mr. Hodson now resides on his living at Thrapston in Northamptonshire; we are sorry for it, he merits the severest punishment; penitence, it is true, can atone for any crime, but few repent in affluence and prosperity; it is poverty and obscurity, disgrace and obloquy, that wring the sinner’s soul, and make him sensible of all he has lost upon earth, and the little he has to hope for in heaven.

Such corrupt pillars only for a time uphold a fabric by deceitful support that it may fall unexpectedly with more tremendous ruin: and they should be at once levelled with the ground, never more, to rise in a conspicuous situation.

If we hear anything more of this fortunate sinner, it shall be recorded; such a person cannot remain long in obscurity; success will throw him off his guard at last, and the punishment so long delayed come with tenfold vengeance on his head, when the stings of a guilty conscience are made additionally severe by the bodily pangs of old age.

The Ipswich Journal, 14th October 1797, reported that ‘The Prince of Wales has commanded that the name of a certain Rev. Seducer be erased from the list of His Royal Highnesses Chaplains’ and that he has been ‘suffered to resign, in consideration of the services he has rendered to the charity’.

The Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 12th October 1797 confirms the story.

A Clergyman, Preacher to the Asylum, has lately seduced a young woman, retained as a singer in the Chapel of that Charity. By which act, the man has ruined himself and family, disgraced the Charity and his profession, brought shame on the unfortunate object of his passion, and set a most unpardonable example for a man of his character to the world.

 

Morning Chronicle Friday October 27 1797 - cut article - use
The Morning Chronicle of 27th October 1797 described him as ‘The Clerical Seducer’

 We did, of course, wonder what happened to Miss Fox; did she survive this horrific experience and what became of her?

The answer appeared in The Morning Post and Gazetteer of 26th January 1801:

The girl that was seduced by Septimus Hodson at the Asylum is now married to a gentleman of about seven thousand a year, and now goes regularly to the asylum, every Sunday in her own carriage.

This report was not quite accurate and later revision was published in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 2nd February 1801

The statement in the Papers respecting the Asylum Girl of the name of Fox, who was so basely seduced by a late Chaplain of that Charity, is erroneous. She is neither married to a Gentleman of 7000l. per annum, nor attends the Asylum every Sunday in her own carriage, because she has succeeded no more to the one than the other:- but, from her exemplary conduct, she has wedded a widower near Barnet, who is possessed of about 500l. per annum, with whom, and his amiable family by a former wife, she now partakes of a domestic felicity, not very frequently enjoyed.

The Monthly Visitor and Entertaining Pocket Companion, Volume 12 described Miss Fox as ‘the asylum warbler’ but so far we haven’t managed to track down her marriage. She was noted as a beauty, and had received offers of marriage from several gentleman before the Reverend Hodson debauched her (which does suggest that she was older than thirteen years). She was retained as a singer in the Chapel, and contemporary newspaper reports give the information that the child was not born alive but Miss Fox suffered a miscarriage. It was during this traumatic event and whilst she feared that she was dying that she gave the information which proved the Reverend’s guilt (no-one had suspected she was pregnant until she lost the child).

The girl is an orphan, bred up from infancy in the charity, and afterwards articled to it as a singing girl. She is very pretty, and rather of a gay than grave appearance; and has had several offers of marriage. A gentleman of property has solicited her hand.

(Ipswich Journal, 14th October, 1797)

On the other hand we find that by the 14th March 1809 Septimus had been widowed and had married again, his next wife being Frances Fenwick, the widowed daughter of G. Burden. The service was performed in Doncaster, Yorkshire again by his father-in-law, Rev Affleck. Frances was the one referred to in Fanny’s Diary.

Frances 1809

This marriage proved to be a financially lucrative one for Septimus as his wife had inherited the Bywell estate in Northumberland from her late husband and upon her death it transferred to Septimus, who then sold it for £145,000.

Then finally, at All Saints South Kirkby, near Wakefield, Yorkshire on the 16th October 1826 he married once more, his final spouse being Margaret Holford, author; her most successful work was a historical verse romance entitled Wallace, or, The Fight of Falkirk. She was also a good friend of Robert Southey and another close associate of hers was Joanna Baillie, a Scottish poet and dramatist.

Joanna Baillie 1762-1851, Dramatist by Mary Ann Knight.
Joanna Baillie 1762-1851, Dramatist by Mary Ann Knight.

 

Margaret Holford

Hodson was to die on the 12th December 1833 in his seventy first year. The inscription of his grave at St John the Evangelist, Sharow, near Ripon, Yorkshire reads:

Sacred to the memory of the Revd.Septimus Hodson late Rector of Thrapston in the county of Northampton And Perpetual Curate of Little Raveley In Huntingdonshire. He died on the 12th day of December AD 1833 In the seventy first year of his age. His widow offers this poor brief tribute To his beloved memory ‘I shall go to him, but he will not return to me’.

He left £1500 in his will (about £75,000 in today’s money) to his wife, so despite this shocking incident in his life he appears to have married well, produced several children and lived an enjoyable life, we can only hope the same was true for Miss Fox. Was it all true about Miss Fox, we really don’t know so we will leave it for you to draw your own conclusion.

Although we haven’t manage to find a picture of Septimus there is an engraving of him dated 1790 held in the Royal Collection but not yet digitized.

 

Sources:

The Clergy Database

The Crimes of the Clergy; Or, The Pillars of Priestcraft Shaken, issues 1-13

The Gentleman’s Magazine, volume 87, 1800

Literary Memoirs of Living Authors of Great Britain, 1798

Find a Grave

The Monthly Visitor, and Entertaining Pocket Companion, volume 12, 1801

An historical, topographical, and descriptive view of the county of Northumberland, and of those parts of the county of Durham situated north of the river Tyne, with Berwick Upon Tweed, and brief notices of celebrated places on the Scottish border . 1825

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