Hodges, John Frederick (1815–99), scientist, was born 5 December 1815 in Scotch St., Downpatrick, Co. Down, only child of John Hodgess, solicitor, and his wife Mary (née Hodgess), who were first cousins; it is not known when he dropped the second ‘s’ of the name. According to his Belfast News Letter obituary, the family were from Castlewellan, Co. Down. His father died before Hodges was a year old. The boy attended Down Academy, run by the well known Neilson family; his unitarianism may derive from his own family or the influence of the Neilsons. He was apprenticed to a local doctor, then attended TCD and the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin; in 1838 he became a licentiate of the faculty of physicians and surgeons in Glasgow, where one of his professors suggested he should concentrate on chemistry. However, he was a medical doctor for a time, first in Newcastle, Co. Down, then in Downpatrick, where he was instrumental in setting up (1847) a very successful Mechanics' Institute, one of the first in Ireland. Increasingly interested in the application of chemistry to agriculture, he went to study with Baron von Liebig at the university of Giessen in Germany; Liebig, one of the pioneers of agricultural chemistry, thought so much of his Irish pupil that he refunded his fees. Hodges graduated MD from Giessen; he was later to be awarded honorary degrees by many continental universities, and the QUI granted him an MD honoris causa in 1869.
Well known for his lectures to farmers and tradesmen, Hodges popularised the practical application of chemistry; one discourse so impressed the marquis of Londonderry (qv) (1778–1854) that he had it printed and widely distributed. As a direct result, the Chemico-Agricultural Society of Ulster was founded (1845). Hodges edited the short-lived periodical Irish Agriculturalist, and in 1848 was chosen professor of chemistry in RBAI. When QCB was founded in 1849, Hodges became first professor of agriculture. On 11 August 1849, even before it was opened, there was an unexpected visit to the college by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Hodges was one of only two professors who were on hand, in academic dress, to welcome them, and he presented copies of some of his books to the prince consort. His professorship turned out to be rather a sinecure: few students appeared, and a commission in 1857 recommended that the chair be abolished. However, Hodges held the post and salary until his death; he also lectured in the college on medical jurisprudence, and was for many years editor of the Transactions of the Chemico-Agricultral Society. He was government analyst, giving evidence in many court cases, and public analyst for the city of Belfast and for several Ulster counties. He published a number of books; some were used as textbooks in the national schools in Ireland. His First book of lessons in chemistry in its application to agriculture (1848) had eleven subsequent editions; other books include Outline of the structure and physiology of farm animals (1862), and he wrote many articles for journals. Hodges died at his house on the Malone Road, Belfast, on 13 December 1899, after some years of failing health.
He married (5 April 1838), in Belfast, Elizabeth Benn from Tandragee, Co. Armagh, whose brothers were Edward Benn (qv) and George Benn (qv). Both husband and wife published hymns and sacred poetry. A son died in 1847, aged seven, possibly in the Belfast cholera epidemic. Two other sons and three daughters survived: one of the sons, named ‘Liebig’ after Hodges's mentor, was in the Japanese consular service; the other succeeded his father as government analyst.