Detail from The Capture of Tubabakalong, Gambia 1866
Showing Samuel Hodge (kneeling) and Colonel George D’Arcy. © Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance.
What can you tell us about Samuel Hodge? That doesn’t sound like a very African name?
No, Hodge was from the Caribbean, specifically the island of Tortola, which is now part of the British Virgin Islands. He was born into freedom, around about 1840, but his parents would likely have been enslaved. Like many formerly enslaved people, Hodge took the surname of the British family who had owned his ancestors.
Hodge would have been about 26 at the time of the battle of Tubabakalong. He was one of fifteen soldiers who volunteered to breach the stockade wall so that the main British force could get in. The attack was led by Colonel George D’Arcy, the British commander, but most of the men were shot down by the fort’s defenders. Hodge himself was badly wounded, but he still hacked a hole in the stockade, and then spent the battle giving D’Arcy fresh rifles in the fierce fighting that followed.
Hodge was applauded as the bravest British soldier in the battle, and he received his Victoria Cross a year later. But shortly after, he died of his wounds from the battle. As a result, we know very little else about him. We don’t even know what he looked like - the artist who painted this portrait, Louis William Desanges, had never seen him. The only person who sat for this painting was D’Arcy, the British commander.