Campaign to recognise Sunderland hero who saved dozens of people from the sea

From left MP Julie Elliott, Boar's Head Lisa Fairweather and Sunderland Maritime Heritage Nick Simpson and Chris Carolan.
From left MP Julie Elliott, Boar's Head Lisa Fairweather and Sunderland Maritime Heritage Nick Simpson and Chris Carolan.

A Sunderland hero who saved dozens of people from the waves could be honoured in his hometown.

Campaigners want a blue plaque erected in memory of Joseph Hodgson, the 1800s lifesaver who was nicknamed Stormy Petrel.

From left MP Julie Elliott, Boar's Head Lisa Fairweather and Sunderland Maritime Heritage Chris Carolan and Nick Simpson.

From left MP Julie Elliott, Boar's Head Lisa Fairweather and Sunderland Maritime Heritage Chris Carolan and Nick Simpson.

And if their efforts pay dividends, they hope the plaque will be in place in time for the arrival of the tall ships this July.

Hopes are high after council officials indicated they were in support of the proposal but needed a suitable site for a plaque.

Joseph Hodgson was born in Dunning Street in Sunderland in October 1829. By the time he was 15, he had already begun his heroics. He jumped into the River Wear to save the life of three-year-old John Snowdon.

He rescued a man the same year and another three years later.

It is important that we remember the people who made a massive contributuion to the city. I am a big supporter of the scheme in general but to remember someone like this is long overdue

Julie Elliott

By the time he finally took it easy nearly 50 years later, he’d rescued the crews of 15 ships as part of a team of lifeboat volunteers, as well as numerous individuals himself.

His heroics continued when he moved to London and even won a gold medal from Napoleon III after coming to the aid of the stricken French schooner Les Trois Soeurs in 1857.

Sadly, he died a poor man after having to sell his medals to survive and spending his last few years in a London slum.

But his story has now been researched by great great granddaughters Christine Sexton and Debbie Scott.

From left MP Julie Elliott, Boar's Head Lisa Fairweather and Sunderland Maritime Heritage Chris Carolan and Nick Simpson.

From left MP Julie Elliott, Boar's Head Lisa Fairweather and Sunderland Maritime Heritage Chris Carolan and Nick Simpson.

Christine visited Sunderland and spoke to the city’s RNLI service in her bid to raise the profile of the hero.

She also wanted to erect a blue plaque to Joseph but said the street where he was born no longer existed.

Now, the campaign to have a blue plaque has been backed by campaigners including Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott, the staff at the Boar’s Head overlooking the city’s riverside, and the Sunderland Maritime Heritage group.

They are hoping a plaque could be erected in Keel Square which is close to where Joseph was born.

Julie described Joseph as a “very brave man” and added: “It is important that we remember the people who made a massive contribution to the city.

“I am a big supporter of the scheme in general but to remember someone like this is long overdue.”

Boar’s Head director Lisa Fairweather said: “The Tall Ships Races would be a perfect opportunity to unveil a blue plaque and we are going to push to get this done. It is perfect timing and everyone is pushing for it.

“It is the peoples’ history.”

Chris Carolan, chairman of the Sunderland Maritime Heritage group, said: “The more we found out about Joseph, the more fascinating it became. It is a shame that he is not recognised.”

The society’s research archivist Nick Simpson said: “He saved ten men himself, assisted in the rescue of 17 others and I believe there is more.”

Joseph’s nickname of Stormy Petrel is given in reference to the seabird which flies over the sea.

Coun John Kelly, portfolio holder for public health, wellness and culture, said: “The council has met with the campaigners to discuss plans to erect a blue plaque to honour Joseph Hodgson and is currently is exploring the options for where this could be located. Area councillors are supportive of the plan for a blue plaque and are looking at possible funding streams.”