J. H. (John Henry) Hubback.

Jane Austen's sailor brothers: being the adventures of Sir Francis Austen ... and ... Charles Austen; online

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Online LibraryJ. H. (John Henry) HubbackJane Austen's sailor brothers: being the adventures of Sir Francis Austen ... and ... Charles Austen; → online text (page 1 of 18)
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Being the Adventures of Sir Francis

Austen, G.C.B., Admiral of the Fleet

and Rear-Admiral Charles

Austen By J. H. Hubback

and Edith C. Hubback

London: John Lane
The Bodley Head, Vtgo Street, TV.
New York: 'John Lane Company

Printed by Ballantyne <5r» Co. Limited
Tavistock Street, London

TO M. P. H.




Perhaps some apology may be expected on behalf
of a book about Jane Austen, having regard to
the number which have already been put before
the public in past years. My own membership of
the family is my excuse for printing a book which
contains little original matter, and which might be
described as '*a thing of shreds and patches," if
that phrase were not already over-worked. To
me it seems improbable that others will take a
wholly adverse view of what is so much inwoven
with all the traditions of my life. When I recol-
lect my childhood, spent chiefly in the house of
my grandfather, Sir Francis, and all the interests
which accompanied those early days, I find myself
once more amongst those deep and tender dis-
tances. Surrounded by reminiscences of the
opening years of the century, the Admiral always
cherished the most affectionate remembrance of
the sister who had so soon passed away, leaving


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

those six precious volumes to be a store of house-
hold words among the family.

How often I call to mind some question or
answer, expressed quite naturally in terms of the
novels ; sometimes even a conversation would be
carried on entirely appropriate to the matter under
discussion, but the actual phrases were **Aunt
Jane's." So well, too, do I recollect the sad news
of the death of Admiral Charles Austen, after the
capture, under his command, of Martaban and
Rangoon, and while he was leading his squadron
to further successes, fifty-six years having elapsed
since his first sea-fight.

My daughter and I have made free use of the
Letters of Jane Austen^ published in 1884, by
the late Lord Brabourne, and wish to acknowledge
with gratitude the kind permission to quote these
letters, given to us by their present possessor. In
a letter of 18 13, she speaks of two nephews who
" amuse themselves very comfortably in the even-
ing by netting ; they are each about a rabbit-net,
and sit as deedily to it, side by side, as any two
Uncle Franks could do." In his octogenarian
days Sir Francis was still much interested in this
same occupation of netting, to protect his Morello



cherries or currants. It was, in fact, only laid
aside long after his grandsons had been taught to
carry it on.

My most hearty thanks are also due to my
cousins, who have helped to provide materials for
our work ; to Miss M. L. Austen for the loan of
miniatures and silhouettes ; to Miss Jane Austen
for various letters and for illustrations ; to Com-
mander E. L. Austen for access to logs, and to
official and other letters in large numbers ; also
to Miss Mary Austen for the picture of the
PeferelinaLCtiony and to Mrs. Herbert Austen, and
Captain and Mrs. Willan for excellent portraits of
the Admirals, and to all these, and other members
of the family, for much encouragement in our

July 1905,


















XV. A LETTER FROM JANE . . ^ . . . . 22/







Vice- Admiral Sir Francis Austen, K.C.B. {From a painting
in the possession of Mrs. Herbert A usten) . . frontispiece

The Reverend George Austen, Rector of Steventon {From

a miniature in the possession of Miss M. L. Austen) , . 8

Action between the English frigate Unicorn and the French
frigate La Tribune^ June 8, 1796 {From a painting in
the possession of Captain Willan, R.N., and Mrs. Willan).
By kind permission of Miss Hill 22

Francis Austen as Lieutenant {From a miniature) . . 44

Sloop of War and Frigate {From a pencil sketch by Captain

Herbert Austen, R.N.) 64

Peterel in action with the French brig La Ligurienne after
driving two others on the rocks near Marseilles, on
March 21, 1800 {From a sketch by Captain Herbert
Austen^ R.N.,in the possession of Miss Mary Austen) . 84

Topaz Crosses given to Cassandra and Jane by Charles

Austen {In the possession of Miss Jane Austen) . . 92

The Way to Church from Portsdown Lodge {From a

pencil sketch by Catherine A . Austen) . . . .108

Mrs. Austen {From a silhouette in the possession of Miss

M. L. Austen) 124

Order of Battle and of Sailing, signed Nelson. and Bront6,

dated March 26, 1805 132


List of Illustrations


Order of Battle and of Sailing, signed Nelson and Bronte,

dated June 5, 1805 138

Captain Francis William Austen {From a miniature of
1806, in the possession of Miss M. L. Austen. The Order
of the C.B. has been painted in at a later date, probably
when conferred in iSi^) 156

" Vice-Admiral Sir Francis Austen, K.C.B.'s writing-desk "
{From a caricature sketch by his daughter Cassandra,
about 1840) 174

Cassandra Austen {From a silhouette in the possession of

Miss M. L. Austen) 184

Portchester Castle. The French prisoners were interned
in the neighbouring buildings after the Battle of
Vimiera {From a sketch hy Captain Herbert Austen ^ R.N.) 200

Captain Charles Austen {From a painting of 1809, in the

possession of Miss Jane Austen) 2 10

Jane Austen, from a sketch by her sister Cassandra {In

the possession of Miss jfane Austen) 226

Mrs. Charles Austen, nee Fanny Palmer, daughter of the
Attorney-General of Bermuda {From a painting in the
possession of Miss J afte Austen) 252

Captain Charles Austen, C.B. {From a painting in the

possession of Captain Willan, R.N., and Mrs. Willan) . 266

Jane Austen's work-box, with her last piece of work {In

the possession of Miss Jane Austen) .... 270

Memorandum, dated May 12, 1838, signed by Charles

Austen on taking command of the Bellerophon , . 274

Rear- Admiral Charles Austen, C.B. {From a miniature
painted at Malta in 1846, in the possession of Miss Jane
Austen) 278

Sir Francis Austen, G.C.B., Admiral of the Fleet, at the

age of ninety 284




No one can read Jane Austen's novels, her life, or
her letters, without feeling that to her the ties
of family were stronger and more engrossing than
any others.

Among the numbers of men and women who
cheerfully sacrifice the claims of their family in
order that they may be free to confer somewhat
doubtful benefits on society, it is refreshing to find
one who is the object of much love and gratitude
from countless unknown readers, and who yet
would have been the first to laugh at the notion
that her writing was of more importance than her
thought for her brothers and sister, or the various
home duties which fell to her share. It is this
sweetness and wholesomeness of thought, this
clear conviction that her ** mission '* was to do her
duty, that gives her books and letters their peculiar
quality. Her theory of life is clear. Whatever
troubles befall, people must go on doing their
work and making the best of it ; and we are not

c/;:/ Jai^.^'i^uken'^ Sailor Brothers

allowed to feel respect, or even overmuch sym-
pathy, for the characters In the novels who cannot
bear this test. There is a matter-of-courseness
about this view which, combined with all that we
know of the other members of the family, gives
one the idea that the children at Steventon had a
strict bringing up. This, in fact, was the case,
and a very rich reward was the result. In a family
of seven all turned out well, two rose to the top of
their profession, and one was — Jane Austen.

The fact of her intense devotion to her family
could not but influence her writing. She loved
them all so well that she could not help thinking
of them even in the midst of her work ; and the
more we know of her surroundings, and the lives
of those she loved, the more we understand of the
small joyous touches in her books. She was far
too good an artist, as well as too reticent in nature,
to take whole characters from life ; but small cha-
racteristics and failings, dwelt on with humorous
partiality, can often be traced back to the natures of
those she loved. Mary Crawford's brilliant letters
to Fanny Price remind one of Cassandra, who
was the ** finest comic writer of the present age."
Charles' impetuous disposition is exaggerated
in BIngley, who says, "Whatever I do is done
in a hurry," a remark which is severely reproved
by Darcy (and not improbably by Francis Austen),
as an ** indirect boast." Francis himself comes in

Brothers and Sisters

for his share of teasing on the opposite point of
his extreme neatness, precision, and accuracy.
" They are so neat and careful in all their ways,"
says Mrs. Clay, in *' Persuasion," of the naval pro-
fession in general ; and nothing could be more
characteristic of Francis Austen and some of his
descendants than the overpowering accuracy with
which Edmund Bertram corrects Mary Crawford's
hasty estimate of the distance in the wood.

** * I am really not tired, which I almost wonder
at ; for we must have walked at least a mile in this
wood. Do not you think we have ? '

" * Not half a mile,' was his sturdy answer ; for
he was not yet so much in love as to measure dis-
tance, or reckon time, with feminine lawlessness.

•* * Oh, you do not consider how much we have
wound about. We have taken such a very serpen-
tine course, and the wood itself must be half a mile
long in a straight line, for we have never seen the
end of it yet since we left the first great path.'

** * But if you remember, before we left that first
great path we saw directly to the end of it. We
looked down the whole vista, and saw it closed by
iron gates, and it could not have been more than
a furlong in length.'

*' * Oh, I know nothing of your furlongs, but I
am sure it is a very long wood ; and that we
have been winding in and out ever since we
came into it ; and therefore when I say that


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

we have walked a mile in it I must speak within

** * We have been exactly a quarter of an hour
here,' said Edmund, taking out his watch. * Do
you think we are walking four miles an hour ? '

***Oh, do not attack me with your watch. A
watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be
dictated to by a watch.'

" A few steps farther brought them out at the
bottom of the very walk they had been talking of.

** * Now, Miss Crawford, if you will look up the
walk, you will convince yourself that it cannot be
half a mile long, or half half a mile.'

** * It is an immense distance,' said she ; * I see
that with a glance.'

** * He still reasoned with her, but in vain. She
would not calculate, she would not compare.
She would only smile and assert. The greatest
degree of rational consistency could not have
been more engaging, and they talked with mutual
satisfaction.' "

It is in ** Mansfield Park" and in ** Persuasion"
that the influence of her two sailor brothers, Francis
and Charles, on Jane Austen's work can be most
easily traced. Unlike the majority of writers of
all time, from Shakespeare with his *' Seacoast of
Bohemia " down to the author of a penny dreadful,
Jane Austen never touched, even lightly, on a
subject unless she had a real knowledge of its


Brothers and Sisters

details. Her pictures of the life of a country
gentleman and of clergymen are accurate, if not
always sympathetic. Perhaps it was all too near
her own experience to have the charm of romance,
but concerning sailors she is romantic. Their very
faults are lovable in her eyes, and their lives
packed with interest. When Admiral Croft, Cap-
tain Wentworth, or William Price appears on the
scene, the other characters immediately take on a
merely subsidiary interest, and this prominence is
always that given by appreciation. The distinc-
tion awarded to Mr. Collins or Mrs. Elton, as the
chief object of ridicule, is of a different nature.
The only instance she cared to give us of a sailor
who is not to be admired is Mary Crawford's
uncle, the Admiral, and even he is allowed to earn
our esteem by disinterested kindness to William

No doubt some of this enthusiasm was due to
the spirit of the times, when, as Edward Ferrars
says, ** The navy had fashion on its side " ; but
that sisterly partiality was a stronger element there
can be no question. Her place in the family was
between these two brothers, Francis just a year
older, and Charles some four years younger. Much
has been said about her fondness for ** pairs of
sisters " in her novels, but no less striking are the
** brother and sister " friendships which are an
important factor in four out of her six books. The


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

love of Darcy for his sister Georgina perhaps
suggests the intimacy between James Austen and
Jane, where the difference in their ages of ten
years, their common love of books, the advice and
encouragement that the elder brother was able to
give his sister over her reading, are all points of
resemblance. The equal terms of the affection of
Francis and Jane are of another type.

Henry Tilney and his sister Eleanor, Mrs. Croft
and Frederick Wentworth, give us good instances
of firm friendships. In the case of the Tilneys,
confidences are exchanged with ease and freedom ;
but in ** Persuasion,*' the feeling in this respect, as in
all others, is more delicate, and only in the chapter
which Jane Austen afterwards cancelled can we
see the quickness of Mrs. Croft's perceptions where
her brother was concerned. For so long as she
supposes him to be on the brink of marrying
Louisa Musgrove, sympathy is no doubt somewhat
difficult to force, but '' prompt welcome " is given
to Anne as Captain Wentworth's chosen wife ; and
with some knowledge of Mrs. Croft we know that
the ** particularly friendly manner " hid a warmth
of feeling which would fully satisfy even Frede-
rick's notions of the love which Anne deserved.
But it is in ** Mansfield Park " that '' brothers and
sisters " play the strongest part. No one can pos-
sibly doubt the very lively affection of Mary and
Henry Crawford. Even when complaining of the


Brothers and Sisters

shortness of his letters, she says that Henry is
** exactly what a brother should be, loves me,
consults me, confides in me, and will talk to me
by the hour together " — and the scene later on,
where he tells of his devotion to Fanny Price, is
as pretty an account of such a confidence as can
be well imagined, where the worldliness of each
is almost lost in the happiness of disinterested
love, which both are feeling.

When Jane Austen comes to describing Fanny's
love for her brother William, her tenderness and
her humour are in perfect accord. From the
reality of the feelings over his arrival and promo-
tion, to the quiet hit at the enthusiasm which his
deserted chair and cold pork bones might be sup-
posed to arouse in Fanny's heart after their early
breakfast, when he was off to London, the picture
of sisterly love is perfect. We are told, too, that
there was ** an affection on his side as warm as her
own, and much less encumbered by refinement
and self-distrust. She was the first object of his
love, but it was a love which his stronger spirits
and bolder temper made it as natural for him to
express as to feel." So far this describes the love
of William and Fanny, but a few lines further on
comes a passage which has the ring of personal
experience. In reading it, it is impossible not to
picture a time which was always of great import-
ance in the life at Steventon — the return on leave


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

for a few weeks or a few months of one or other
of the sailor brothers, and all the walks and talks
which filled up the pleasant days. ** On the morrow
they were walking about together with true enjoy-
ment, and every succeeding morrow renewed the
tHe-d.-tete, Fanny had never known so much feli-
city in her life as in this unchecked, equal, fearless
intercourse with the brother and friend, who was
opening all his heart to her, telling her all his
hopes and fears, plans and solicitudes respecting
that long thought of, dearly earned, and justly
valued blessing of promotion — who was interested
in all the comforts and all the little hardships of
her home — and with whom (perhaps the dearest
indulgence of the whole) all the evil and good of
their earliest years could be gone over again, and
every former united pain and pleasure retraced
with the fondest recollection."

Some slight record of the childhood of the
Steventon family has been left to us. Most of the
known facts have already been told by admirers of
Jane Austen, but some extracts from an account
written by Catherine Austen in the lifetime of
her father, Sir Francis Austen, will at least
have the merit of accuracy, for he would cer-
tainly have been merciless to even the simplest

The father, Mr. George Austen, was the rector
of Steventon. He was known in his young days,


IN 1763

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Brothers and Sisters

before his marriage, as ** the handsome tutor," and
he transmitted his good looks to at least three of
his sons ; Henry, Francis, and Charles were all
exceptionally handsome men. Indeed, neither wit
nor good looks were deficient in the Steventon
family. Probably much of Jane's simplicity about
her writing arose from the fact that she saw nothing
in it to be conceited about, being perfectly con-
vinced that any of the others, with her leisure and
inclination, could have done just as well. Her
father had a gentleness of disposition combined
with a firmness of principle which had great
effect in forming the characters of his family. The
mother's maiden name was Cassandra Leigh. She
was very lively and active, and strict with her
children. It is not difficult to see whence Francis
derived his ideas of discipline, or Jane her un-
swerving devotion to duty.

The elder members of the family were born at
Deane, which was Mr. Austen's first living, but in
1 77 1 they moved to Steventon, where they lived
for nearly thirty years.

The account of the house given by Catherine
Austen shows the simplicity of the life.

** The parsonage consisted of three rooms in
front on the ground floor, the best parlour, the
common parlour, and the kitchen ; behind there
were Mr. Austen's study, the back kitchen and
the stairs ; above them were seven bedrooms and


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

three attics. The rooms were low-pitched but
not otherwise bad, and compared with the usual
style of such buildings it might be considered a
very good house." An eulogy follows on the
plainness and quietness of the family life — a
characteristic specially due to the mother's in-

''That she had no taste for expensive show or
finery, may be inferred from the fact being on
record that for two years she actually never had a
gown to wear. It was a prevalent custom for
ladies to wear cloth habits, and she having one of
red cloth found any other dress unnecessary.
Imagine a beneficed clergyman's wife in these
days contenting herself with such a costume for
two years! But the fact illustrates the retired
style of living that contented her." Even when
she did find it necessary to provide herself with
some other costume, the riding-habit was made to
serve another useful purpose, for it was cut up
into a first cloth suit for little Francis.

The following account of their upbringing closes
this slight record :

" There is nothing in which modern manners
differ much more from those of a century back
than in the system pursued with regard to children.
They were kept in the nursery, out of the way not
only of visitors but of their parents ; they were
trusted to hired attendants ; they were allowed a


Brothers and Sisters

great deal of air and exercise, were kept on plain
food, forced to give way to the comfort of others,
accustomed to be overlooked, slightly regarded,
considered of trifling importance. No well-
stocked libraries of varied lore to cheat them into
learning awaited them ; no scientific toys, no
philosophic amusements enlarged their minds and
wearied their attention." One wonders what
would have been the verdict of this writer of fifty
years ago on education in 1905. She goes on to
tell us of the particular system pursued with the
boys in order to harden them for their future work
in life. It was not considered either necessary or
agreeable for a woman to be very strong. ** Little
Francis was at the age of ten months removed
from the parsonage to a cottage in the village,
and placed under the care of a worthy couple,
whose simple style of living, homely dwelling, and
out-of-door habits (for in the country the poor
seldom close the door by day, except in bad
weather), must have been very different from the
heated nurseries and constrained existence of the
clean, white-frocked little gentlemen who are now
growing up around us. Across the brick floor of
a cottage Francis learnt to walk, and perhaps it
was here that he received the foundation of the
excellent constitution which was so remarkable in
after years. It must not, however, be supposed
that he was neglected by his parents ; he was


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

constantly visited by them both, and often taken
to the parsonage."

One cannot but admire the fortitude of parents
who would forego the pleasure of seeing their
children learn to walk and satisfy themselves with
daily visits, for the sake of a plan of education of
which the risks cannot have been otherwise than

The rough-and-tumble life which followed must
have thoroughly suited the taste of any enterprising
boy, and given him an independence of spirit, and
a habit of making his own plans, which would
be exactly what was wanted in the Navy of
those days, when a man of twenty-five might
be commander of a vessel manned by discon-
tented, almost mutinous, sailors, with the chance
of an enemy's ship appearing at any time on
the horizon.

Riding about the country after the hounds
began for Francis at the age of seven ; and,
from what we hear of Catherine Morland's
childhood, we feel sure that Jane would not
always have been contented to be left behind.

Catherine, at the age of ten, was ''noisy and
wild, hated confinement and cleanliness, and loved
nothing so well in the world as rolling down the
green slope at the back of the house." When she
was fourteen, we are told that she ''preferred
cricket, base-ball, riding on horseback, and


Brothers and Sisters

running about the country, to books — or, at
least, books of information — for, provided that
nothing like useful knowledge could be gained
from them, provided they were all story and no
reflection, she had never any objection to books
at all ! "

This, if not an accurate picture of the tastes
of the children at Steventon, at least shows
the sort of amusements which boys and girls
brought up in a country parsonage had at their

Perhaps it was of some such recollections that
Jane Austen was thinking when she praised that
common tie of childish remembrances. *'An
advantage this, a strengthener of love, in which
even the conjugal tie is beneath the fraternal.
Children of the same family, the same blood, with
the same first association and habits, have some
means of enjoyment in their power which no sub-
sequent connection can supply, and it must be by
a long and unnatural estrangement, by a divorce

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Online LibraryJ. H. (John Henry) HubbackJane Austen's sailor brothers: being the adventures of Sir Francis Austen ... and ... Charles Austen; → online text (page 1 of 18)