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 2 of 18)
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which no subsequent connection can justify, if such
precious remains of the earliest attachments are
ever entirely outlived. Too often, alas ! it is so.
Fraternal love, sometimes almost everything, is at
others worse than nothing. But with William and
Fanny Price it was still a sentiment in all its
prime and freshness, wounded by no opposition of
interest, cooled by no separate attachment, and


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

feeling the influence of time and absence only in
its increase." That it was never Jane's lot to feel
this cooling of affection on the part of any member
of her family is due not only to their appreciation
of their sister, but to the serenity and adaptability
of her own sweet disposition.



Both Francis and Charles Austen were educated
for their profession at the Royal Naval Academy,
which was established in 1775 at Portsmouth, and
was under the supreme direction of the Lords of
the Admiralty. Boys were received there between
the ages of 1 2 and 1 5. They were supposed to
stay there for three years, but there was a system
of sending them out to serve on ships as
'* Volunteers." This was a valuable part of their
training, as they were still under the direction of
the College authorities, and had the double
advantages of experience and of teaching. They
did the work of seamen on board, but were
allowed up on deck, and were specially under the
eye of the captain, who was supposed to make
them keep accurate journals, and draw the appear-
ances of headlands and coasts. It is no doubt to
this early training that we owe the careful private
logs which Francis kept almost throughout his
whole career.


V /

Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

Some of the rules of the Naval Academy show
how ideas have altered in the last hundred and
more years. There was a special law laid down
that masters were to make no differences between
the boys on account of rank or position, and no
boy was to be allowed to keep a private servant,
a rather superfluous regulation in these days.

Three weeks was the extent of the holiday^
which it seems could be taken at any time in
the year, the Academy being always open for the
benefit of Volunteers, who were allowed to go
there when their ships were in Portsmouth. Those
who distinguished themselves could continue this
privilege after their promotion. Francis left the
Academy in 1788, and immediately went out to
the East Indies on board the Perseverance as

There he stayed for four years, first as midship-
man on the Crown, 64 guns, and afterwards on the
Minerva, 38.

A very charming letter from his father to
Francis is still in existence.

** Memorandum for the use of Mr. F. W. Austen
on his going to the East Indies on board his
Majesty's ship Perseverance (Captain Smith).

^^ December, 1788.

"My dear Francis, — While you were at the
Royal Academy the opportunities of writing to you


Two Midshipmen

were so frequent that I gave you my opinion and
advice as occasion arose, and it was sufficient to
do so ; but now you are going from us for so long
a time, and to such a distance, that neither you
can consult me or I reply but at long intervals, I
think it necessary, therefore, before your depar-
ture, to give my sentiments on such general
subjects as I conceive of the greatest import-
ance to you, and must leave your conduct in
particular cases to be directed by your own good
sense and natural judgment of what is right."

After some well-chosen and impressive injunc-
tions on the subject of his son's religious duties,
Mr. Austen proceeds :

" Your behaviour, as a member of society, to
the individuals around you may be also of great
importance to your future well-doing, and cer-
tainly will to your present happiness and comfort.
You may either by a contemptuous, unkind and
selfish manner create disgust and dislike ; or by
affability, good humour and compliance, become
the object of esteem and affection ; which of these
very opposite paths 'tis your interest to pursue
I need not say.

*' The little world, of which you are going to be- >^
come an inhabitant, will occasionally have it in their
power to contribute no little share to your pleasure
or pain ; to conciliate therefore their goodwill, by
every honourable method, will be the part of a

17 B

Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

prudent man. Your commander and officers will
be most likely to become your friends by a
respectful behaviour to themselves, and by an
active and ready obedience to orders. Good
humour, an inclination to oblige and the care-
fully avoiding every appearance of selfishness,
will infallibly secure you the regards of your own
mess and of all your equals. With your inferiors
perhaps you will have but little intercourse, but
when it does occur there is a sort of kindness
they have a claim on you for, and which, you
may believe me, will not be thrown away on them.
Your conduct, as it respects yourself, chiefly
comprehends sobriety and prudence. The former
you know the importance of to your health, your
morals and your fortune. I shall therefore say
nothing more to enforce the observance of it. I
thank God you have not at present the least
disposition to deviate from it. Prudence extends
to a variety of objects. Never any action of your
life in which it will not be your interest to consider
what she directs ! She will teach you the proper
disposal of your time and the careful manage-
ment of your money, — two very important trusts
for which you are accountable. She will teach
you that the best chance of rising in life is to make
yourself as useful as possible, by carefully study-
ing everything that relates to your profession,
and distinguishing yourself from those of your


Two Midshipmen

own rank by a superior proficiency in nautical

** As you have hitherto, my dear Francis, been
extremely fortunate in making friends, I trust
your future conduct will confirm their good
opinion of you ; and I have the more confidence
in this expectation because the high character you
acquired at the Academy for propriety of behaviour
and diligence in your studies, when you were
so much younger and had so much less experi-
ence, seems to promise that riper years and more
knowledge of the world will strengthen your
naturally good disposition. That this may be the
case I sincerely pray, as you will readily believe
when you are assured that your good mother,
brothers, sisters and myself will all exult in your
reputation and rejoice in your happiness.

**Thus far by way of general hints for your
conduct. I shall now mention only a few par-
ticulars I wish your attention to. As you must be
convinced it would be the highest satisfaction to us
to hear as frequently as possible from you, you will
of course neglect no opportunity of giving us that
pleasure, and being very minute in what relates to
yourself and your situation. On this account,
and because unexpected occasions of writing to us
may offer, 'twill be a good way always to have a
letter in forwardness. You may depend on hear-
ing from some of us at every opportunity.


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

" Whenever you draw on me for money, Captain
Smith will endorse your bills, and I dare say will
readily do it as often, and for what sums, he shall
think necessary. At the same time you must not
forget to send me the earliest possible notice of
the amount of the draft, and the name of the
person in whose favour it is drawn. On the
subject of letter-writing, I cannot help mentioning
how incumbent it is on you to write to Mr. Bayly,
both because he desired it and because you have
no other way of expressing the sense I know you
entertain of his very great kindness and attention
to you. Perhaps it would not be amiss if you were
also to address one letter to your good friend the
commissioner, to acknowledge how much you
shall always think yourself obliged to him.

" Keep an exact account of all the money you
receive or spend, lend none but where you are
sure of an early repayment, and on no account
whatever be persuaded to risk it by gaming.

" I have nothing to add but my blessing and
best prayers for your health and prosperity, and
to beg you would never forget you have not upon
earth a more disinterested and warm friend than,
" Your truly affectionate father,

** Geo. Austen."

That this letter should have been found among
the private papers of an old man who died at the


Two Midshipmen

age of 91, after a life of constant activity and
change, is proof enough that it was highly valued
by the boy of fourteen to whom it was written.
There is something in its gentleness of tone, and
the way in which advice is offered rather than
obedience demanded, which would make it very
persuasive to the feelings of a young boy going
out to a life which must consist mainly of the
opposite duties of responsibility and discipline.
Incidentally it all throws a pleasant light on the
characters of both father and son.

The life of a Volunteer on board ship was by
no means an easy one, but it no doubt inured the
boys to hardships and privations, and gave them
a sympathy with their men which would after-
wards stand them in good stead.

The record of Charles as a midshipman is very
much more stirring than Francis' experiences.
He served on board the Unicorn, under Captain
Thomas Williams, at the time of the capture of the
French frigate La Tribune, a notable single ship
encounter, which brought Captain Williams the
honour of knighthood.

On June 8, 1796, the Unicorn and the
Santa Margarita, cruising off the Scilly Islands,
sighted three strange ships, and gave chase.
They proved to be two French frigates and a
corvette. La Tribune, La Tamise, and La Legere.
The French vessels continued all day to run


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

before the wind. The EngHsh ships as they
gained on them were subjected to a well-directed
fire, which kept them back so much that it was
evening before La Tamise at last bore up and
engaged one of the pursuers, the Santa Margarita,
After a sharp action of about twenty minutes
La Tamise struck her colours.

La Tribune crowded on all sail to make her
escape, but the Unicorn^ in spite of damage to
masts and rigging, kept up the chase, and after a
running fight of ten hours the Unicorn came
alongside, taking the wind from the sails of the
French ship. After a close action of thirty-five
minutes there was a brief interval. As the smoke
cleared away. La Tribune could be seen trying
to get to the windward of her enemy. This
manoeuvre was instantly frustrated, and a few
more broadsides brought down La Tribunes
masts, and ended the action. From start to
finish of the chase the two vessels had run
2IO miles. Not a man was killed or even hurt
on board the Unicorn, and not a large proportion
of the crew of La Tribune suffered. No doubt in
a running fight of this sort much powder and shot
would be expended with very little result.

When this encounter took place Charles Austen
had been at sea for scarcely two years. Such an
experience would have given the boy a great
notion of the excitement and joys in store for him


f € ,( < t

Two Midshipmen

in a seafaring life. Such, however, was not to
be his luck. Very little important work fell to
his share till at least twenty years later, and for
one of his ardent temperament this was a some-
what hard trial. His day came at last, after
years of routine, but when he was still young
enough to enjoy a life of enterprise and of action.
Even half a century later his characteristic energy
was never more clearly shown than in his last
enterprise as Admiral in command during the
second Burmese War (1852), when he died at the

Francis, during the four years when he was a
midshipman, had only one change of captain.
After serving under Captain Smith in the
Perseverance, he went to the Crown, under
Captain the Honourable W. Cornwallis, and
eventually followed him into the Minerva,
Admiral Cornwallis was afterwards in command
of the Channel Fleet, blockading Brest in the
Trafalgar year.

Charles had an even better experience than
Francis had, for he was under Captain Thomas
Williams all the time he was midshipman, first
in the Dcedalus, then in the Unicorn, and last in
the Endymion,

The fact that both brothers served for nearly i
all their times as midshipmen under the same |
captain shows that they earned good opinions. If •


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

midshipmen were not satisfactory they were very
speedily transferred, as we hear was the lot of
poor Dick Musgrave.

*' He had been several years at sea, and had in
the course of those removals to which all midship-
men are liable, and especially such midshipmen
as every captain wishes to get rid of, been six
months on board Captain Frederick Wentworth's
frigate, the Laconia ; and from the Laconia he
had, under the influence of his captain, written
the only two letters which his father and mother
had ever received from him during the whole of
his absence, that is to say the only two disin-
terested letters ; all the rest had been mere
applications for money. In each letter he had
spoken well of his captain — mentioning him in
strong, though not perfectly well-spelt praise, as
* a fine dashing felow, only two perticular about
the schoolmaster.' "

No doubt Dick's journal and sketches of the
coast line were neither accurate nor neatly

William Price's time as a midshipman is, one
would think, a nearer approach to the careers of
Francis and Charles. Certainly the account given
of his talk seems to bear much resemblance to
the stories Charles, especially, would have to tell
on his return.

*' William was often called on by his uncle to


Two Midshipmen

be the talker. His recitals were amusing in them-
selves to Sir Thomas, but the chief object in
seeking them was to understand the reciter, to
know the young man by his histories, and he
listened to his clear, simple, spirited details with
full satisfaction — seeing in them the proof of good
principles, professional knowledge, energy, courage
and cheerfulness — everything that could deserve
or promise well. Young as he was, William had
already seen a great deal. He had been in the
Mediterranean — in the West Indies — in the
Mediterranean again — had been often taken on
shore by favour of his captain, and in the course
of seven years had known every variety of danger
which sea and war together could offer. With
such means in his power he had a right to be
listened to ; and though Mrs. Norris could fidget
about the room, and disturb everybody in quest
of two needlefuls of thread or a second-hand shirt
button in the midst of her nephew's account of a
shipwreck or an engagement, everybody else
was attentive ; and even Lady Bertram could
not hear of such horrors unmoved, or without
sometimes lifting her eyes from her work to say,
^ Dear me ! How disagreeable ! I wonder any-
body can ever go to sea.'

'*To Henry Crawford they gave a different
feeling. He longed to have been at sea, and seen
and done and suffered as much. His heart was


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

warmed, his fancy fired, and he felt a great respect
for a lad who, before he was twenty, had gone
through such bodily hardships, and given such
proofs of mind. The glory of heroism, of useful-
ness, of exertion, of endurance, made his own
habits of selfish indulgence appear in shameful
contrast ; and he wished he had been a William
Price, distinguishing himself and working his way
to fortune and consequence with so much self-
respect and happy ardour, instead of what he
was ! "

This gives a glowing account of the conse-
quence of a midshipman on leave. That times
were not always so good, that they had their
share of feeling small and of no account, on shore
as well as at sea, is only to be expected, and
Fanny was not allowed to imagine anything else.

'''This is the Assembly night, 'said William. * If
I were at Portsmouth, I should be at it perhaps.'

" ' But you do not wish yourself at Portsmouth,
William ? '

'" No, Fanny, that I do not. I shall have enough
of Portsmouth, and of dancing too, when I cannot
have you. And I do not know that there would
be any good in going to the Assembly, for I might
not get a partner. The Portsmouth girls turn up
their noses at anybody who has not a commission.
One might as well be nothing as a midshipman.
One is nothing, indeed. You remember the


Two Midshipmen

Gregorys ; they are grown up amazing fine girls,
but they will hardly speak to me, because Lucy is
courted by a lieutenant.'

** * Oh ! Shame, shame ! But never mind it,
William (her own cheeks in a glow of indignation
as she spoke). It is not worth minding. It is no
reflection on you ; it is no more than the greatest
admirals have all experienced, more or less, In their
time. You must think of that ; you must try to
make up your mind to it as one of the hardships
which fall to every sailor's share — like bad weather
and hard living — only with this advantage, that
there will be an end to it, that there will come a
time when you will have nothing of that sort to
endure. When you are a lieutenant ! — only think,
William, when you are a lieutenant, how little
you will care for any nonsense of this kind.' "




\ Francis obtained his Lieutenant's commission in
1792, serving for a year in the East Indies, and
afterwards on the home station. Early pro-
motions were frequent in those days of the Navy ;
and, in many ways, no doubt, this custom was a
good one, as the younger men had the dash and
assurance which was needed, when success lay
mainly in the power of making rapid decisions.
Very early advancement had nevertheless decided
disadvantages, and it was among the causes that
brought about the mutinies of 1797. There are
four or five cases on record of boys being made
captains before they were eighteen, and pro-
motions often went so much by favour and so
little by real merit that the discontent of the
crews commanded by such inexperienced officers
was not at all to be wondered at. There were
many other long-standing abuses, not the least of
which was the system of punishments, frightful
in their severity. A few instances of these, taken


Changes and Chances in the Navy

at haphazard from the logs of the various ships
on which Francis Austen served as Lieutenant will
illustrate this point.

Glory, December 8, 1795. — ** Punished P. C.
Smith forty-nine lashes for theft."

January 14, 1796. — ** Punished sixteen seamen
with one dozen lashes each for neglect of duty in
being off the deck in their watch."

Punishments were made as public as possible.
The following entry is typical :

Seahorse, December 9, 1797. — '' Sent a boat to
attend punishments round the fleet."

In the log of the London, one of the ships ot
the line blockading Cadiz, just after the fearful
mutinies of 1797, we find, as might be expected,
that punishments were more severe than ever.

August 16, 1798. — ''Marlborough made the
signal for punishment. Sent three boats manned
and armed to attend the punishment of Charles
Moore (seaman belonging to the Marlborough),
who was sentenced to receive one hundred lashes
for insolence to his superior officer. Read the
articles of war and sentence of Court-martial to
the ship's company. The prisoner received
twenty-five lashes alongside this ship."

In the case of a midshipman court-martialled
for robbing a Portuguese boat, ''the charges having
been proved, he was sentenced to be turned before
the mast, to have his uniform stripped off him on


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

the quarter-deck before all the ship's company, to
have his head shaved, and to be rendered for ever
incapable of serving as a petty officer."

No fewer than six executions are recorded in
the log of the London as taking place among the
ships of the fleet off Cadiz. Only one instance is
mentioned where the offender was pardoned by
the commander-in-chief on account of previous
good conduct. Earl St. Vincent certainly deserved
his reputation as a disciplinarian.

When, in addition to the system of punishment,
it is further considered that the food was almost
always rough and very often uneatable, that most
of the crews were pressed men, who would rather
have been at any other work, and that the seamen's
share in any possible prizes was ludicrously small,
one wonders, not at the mutinies, but at the
splendid loyalty shown when meeting the enemy.

It is a noticeable fact that discontent was rife
during long times of inaction (whilst blockading
Cadiz is the notable instance), but when it came
to fighting for their country men and officers alike
managed to forget their grievances.

On May 29, the log of the London is as follows :

''The Marlborough anchored in the middle of
the line. At seven the Marlborough made the
signal for punishment. Sent our launch, barge
and cutter, manned and armed, to attend the
execution of Peter Anderson, belonging to the


Changes and Chances in the Navy

Marlborough, who was sentenced to suffer death
for mutiny. Read the sentence of the court-
martial, and the articles of war to the ship's
company. At nine the execution took place."
This is a record of an eye-witness of the historic
scene which put a stop to organised mutiny in the
Cadiz fleet.

The narrative has been often told. Lord St.
Vincent's order to the crew of the Marlborough
that they alone should execute their comrade, the
leader of the mutiny — the ship moored at a central
point, and surrounded by all the men-of-war's
boats armed with carronades under the charge of
expert gunners — the Marlborough' s own guns
housed and secured, and ports lowered — every
precaution adopted in case of resistance to the
Admiral's orders — and the result, in the words of
the commander-in-chief: " Discipline is pre-

Perhaps the relief felt in the fleet was expressed
in some measure by the salute of seventeen guns
recorded on the same day, '' being the anniversary
of King Charles' restoration."

Gradually matters were righted. Very early
promotions were abolished, and throughout the
Navy efforts were made on the part of the officers
to make their men more comfortable, and espe-
cially to give them better and more wholesome
food — but reforms must always be slow if they are


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

to do good and not harm, and, necessarily, the
lightening of punishments which seem to us bar-
barous was the slowest of all.

The work of the pressgang is always a subject
of some interest and romance. It is difficult to
realise that it was a properly authorised Govern-
ment measure. There were certain limits in which
it might work, certain laws to be obeyed. The
most useful men, those who were already at sea,
but not in the King's service, could not legally be
impressed, unless they were free from all former
obligations, and the same rule applied to appren-
tices. These rules were not, however, strictly
kept, and much trouble was often caused by the
wrong men being impressed, or by false state-
ments being used to get others off. The following
letter, written much later in his career by Francis
Austen when he was Captain of the Leopard in
1 804, gives a typical case of this kind.

Leopard^ Dungeness, August 10, 1804.

'* Sir, — I have to acknowledge the receipt of
your letter of the 17th inst., with the enclosure,
relative to Harris Walker, said to be chief mate
of the Fanny, and in reply thereto have the
honour to inform you that the said Harris Walker
was impressed from on board the brig Fanny, off
Dungeness, by Lieutenant Taylor of his Majesty's
ship under my command, on the evening of the


Changes and Chances in the Navy

7th inst., because no documents proving him to be
actually chief mate of the brig were produced, and
because the account he gave of himself was un-
satisfactory and contradictory. On examining
him the following day he at first confessed to me
that he had entered on board the Fanny only
three days before she sailed from Tobago, in
consequence of the captain (a relation of his)
being taken ill, and shortly afterwards he asserted
that the whole of the cargo had been taken on
board and stowed under his direction. The
master of the Fanny told Lieutenant Taylor that
his cargo had been shipped more than a fortnight
before he sailed, having been detained for want

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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 2 of 18)