Jane Austen and ...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Jane Austen and the Black Hole. Chapter 3

Chapter 3

The editing of the Austens and consequences of rustic amusement

“My father is glad to hear so good an account of Edward’s pigs, and desires he may be told, as encouragement to his taste for them, that Lord Bolton is particularly curious in his pigs, has had pigstyes of a most elegant construction built for them, and visits them every morning as soon as he rises.”

- Jane Austen, letter to Cassandra (1798)1

“Nothing can be said in his vindication, but that his abolishing Religious Houses and leaving them to the ruinous depredations of time has been of infinite use to the landscape of England in general.”

- Jane Austen on Henry VIII and the countryside in The History of England (1791)2

“She returned just in time to join the others as they quitted the house, on an excursion through its more immediate premises; and the rest of the morning was easily whiled away, in lounging round the kitchen garden, examining the bloom upon its walls, and listening to the gardener’s lamentations upon blights, - in dawdling through the green-house, where the loss of her favourite plants, unwarily exposed, and nipped by the lingering frost, raised the laughter of Charlotte, - and in visiting her poultry-yard, where in the disappointed hopes of her dairymaid, by hens forsaking their nests, or being stolen by a fox, or in the rapid decrease of a promising young brood, she found fresh sources of merriment.”

- Marianne at Cleveland in Sense and Sensibility (1811)3

The paternal half of Jane Austen's forebears are no less interesting than the Leighs, Cravens, Brydges and Perrots, although they lack the lordly connections of the latter. The Austens were a prosperous Kentish lot involved in agriculture, wool manufacture and other practical occupations. The Jane Austen scholars have provided a wealth of information about the Austen side of Jane Austen’s inheritance.4 The Austens and their close connections descended from John Austen of Horsmonden as outlined below and there are a number of particularly useful accounts of these connections.5

John Austen I of Horsmonden and his immediate descendants:

John Austen I (1560-1620, JA great great great great grandfather) of Horsmonden begat

*John Austen II (1585-1650) &

*Francis Austen I (1600-1688, JA great great great grandfather) of Grovehurst who begat

John Austen III (1629-1705, JA great great grandfather) who begat

*Jane Austen (the original; JA great great aunt) who married Stephen Stringer (JA great great uncle)

*John Austen IV (died 1704, JA great grandfather) of Broadford (who begat John Austen V) &

*Anne who married John Holman.

The original Jane Austen's line:

Jane Austen (original; JA great great aunt ) married Stephen Stringer (JA great great uncle) & begat

*Mary Stringer (who married her cousin John Austen V) &

*Hannah Stringer who married William Monke & begat

Jane Monke who married Thomas Brodnax (later Knight) of Godmersham who begat

Thomas Knight II (died 1794) of Godmersham and Chawton who married Catherine Knatchbull (died 1812) but had no issue (these were the adoptive parents of Jane Austen’s brother Edward Knight née Austen who had the same great great grandfather, John Austen III, as Thomas Knight II).

Our Jane Austen's brother Edward Austen was adopted by this couple and in 1797 Catherine assigned the estates to Edward who took the name Knight on the death of his foster mother. The Knatchbull family will resurface later.

John Austen IV of Broadford's descendants:

John Austen IV (JA great grandfather) married Elizabeth Weller (died 1721) and begat

*Elizabeth Austen (1695-),

*John Austen V (1696-1728, JA great uncle),

*Francis Austen II (1698-1791) (a solicitor of the Red House, Sevenoaks),

*Thomas Austen (1699-1772) (an apothecary),

*William Austen (1701-1737) (a surgeon and George Austen's father),

*Robert Austen (1702-1728) &

*Stephen Austen (1704-1751) (a stationer selling medical books and bibles).

John Austen V (JA great uncle) married his cousin Mary Stringer & begat

John Austen VI (1716-1807, JA great uncle) who married Joanna Weeks (died 1811).

Francis Austen II (JA great uncle) married Anne Motley and thence Jane Lennard.

Thomas Austen (JA great uncle) begat

Henry Austen (a clergyman at West Wickham until he lost faith and resigned).

William Austen (Jane Austen’s paternal grandfather) married Rebecca Walter (née Hampson; JA grandmother) (died 1733) & begat

*Philadelphia Austen (1730-1792, JA aunt),

*George Austen (1731-1805) (Jane Austen's father; rector of Steventon from 1761),

*Leonora Austen (no issue. JA aunt) &

*Hampson (no issue, JA uncle).

Rebecca's son by a Mr Walter, William Hampson Walter, married Susanna Weaver & begat Philadelphia Walter (died 1834) (a cousin of Jane Austen) who married George Whitaker.

Philadelphia Austen went out to India and there married Tysoe Saul Hancock (a surgeon and business associate of Warren Hastings, he died in 1775 in India) & (almost certainly through adultery with Warren Hastings) begat

Elizabeth (Eliza) Hancock (1761-1813) (Jane Austen's lively cousin) who married Jean Capote, Comte de Feuillade (guillotined in 1794) & begat

Hastings Capote, Comte de Feuillade (1786-1801) (sickly and subject to fits) & thence married Henry Thomas Austen (her cousin; Jane Austen’s brother) (no issue). .

George Austen married Cassandra Leigh and begat

*James Austen (1765-1819) (clergyman),

*George Austen (1766-1838) (possibly deaf, suffered fits and was put out to care),

*Edward Austen (Edward Knight from 1812) (q.v.) (1767-1852) (of Godmersham and Chawton) ,

*Henry Thomas Austen (1771-1850) (clergyman and failed banker),

*Cassandra Elizabeth Austen (1773-1845),

*Francis Austen (1774-1863) (later Admiral Sir Francis) ,

*Jane Austen (1775-1817) &

*Charles Austen (1779-1852) (later an Admiral).

A brief overview of the Austens

An interesting feature of this sequence of relatives and connections is the recurring consanguinity that we also saw with Cassandra's "mob". Thus John Austen V (1696-1728) married his cousin Mary Stringer, the daughter of Jane Stringer (née Austen) and Stephen Stringer. A further instance is that of Henry Austen (1771-1850) who married his cousin Elizabeth (Eliza) Hancock (1761-1813), the ostensible daughter of Philadelphia Hancock (née Austen) (George Austen's sister) and Tysoe Saul Hancock (but almost certainly fathered by Warren Hastings). Henry was the lucky man in this in the sense that his brother James also had an interest in cousin Eliza. Eliza, like Mary Crawford the anti-heroine in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, was not very keen on a clerical partner. Mary Lloyd eventually married the widowed James Austen and disapproved of Eliza (somewhat like goody-goody Fanny in Mansfield Park who disapproved of lively Mary Crawford and her interest in clerical Edmond, who indeed ends up marrying Fanny, his very sisterly cousin).

Another recurring theme of the Austen and the Leigh tribes is the rejoining of distant familial connections. Thus Edward Austen lived with his distant relatives Thomas Knight and his wife Catherine (née Knatchbull). Thomas Knight shared a great-great grandfather with Edward's father George Austen, namely John Austen III (1629-1705). After the death of his foster father Edward received the Godmersham and Chawton estates and eventually took on the name Knight after the death of his foster mother (Edward's uncle James Leigh-Perrot and his nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh did likewise). Edward's daughter Fanny Knight (Jane Austen's favourite “neice”) married Sir Edward Knatchbull and hence rejoined these strands. However Fanny's brother Edward married Mary Dorothea Knatchbull (Sir Edward's daughter by a previous marriage). This non-consanguinous union (subsequently blessed by 7 children) had the embarrassing consequences that Fanny Knatchbull (née Knight/Austen) became simultaneously the sister-in-law and aunt as well as stepmother of Mary Dorothea Knatchbull.

The George Austen family connections are less grand than the up-side of the Leighs and Perrots but have a similar bottom line of clergymen living off the clerical dispensations of their wealthy relatives who had been effective at wealth generation. Mary Crawford (the anti-heroine in Mansfield Park with some barely muted contempt for the social passivity of clergymen) would surely have appreciated the caustic line about academics in the play The Department by the amusing, incisive and deadly accurate Australian playwright David Williamson: "those who can do, and those who can't teach".6 The clergymen included Henry Austen (son of George Austen's uncle Thomas Austen), George Austen and George's sons James Austen and Henry Thomas Austen. Whereas Henry Thomas Austen (Jane Austen's brother) turned to being a clergyman after bankruptcy, his earlier namesake forsook the cloth after losing faith in the Holy Trinity.

The more practically useful members of the George Austen "mob" include farmers, wool processors and merchants, an apothecary, a book seller, a solicitor and a surgeon. However it must be appreciated that George Austen supplemented his income by farming nearby acres courtesy of a rich relation and tutored several live-in sons of the wealthy (including George Hastings (1757-1764), the son of Warren and Mary Hastings).

Warren Hastings and the Austens

There is a substantial literature dealing with the life and times of Warren Hastings and a number of detailed biographies have been written.7 Hastings (1732-1818) came from an old landed family dating back to William the Conqueror. His mother died giving birth to him at Churchill and his father disappeared after leaving Warren and his sister Anne in care of a village foster-mother Mary Ellis. The father Penyston Hastings, a clergyman, remarried two further times, firstly to the daughter of a tradesman and then to a lady in Barbados, where he died. The grandfather, Penyston Hastings, was the rector of Daylesford. The family home Daylesford had been sold by Warren's great-grandfather in 1715 and it was subsequently demolished. His childhood was spent in his grandfather's home in the care of his aunt Elizabeth Hastings and he was aware of the Daylesford lands that he dreamed in his youth might one day return to him. He was sent to his uncle Howard Hastings' house at Westminster and attended the Westminster School with Elijah Impey (later to be encountered as Chief Justice in Bengal) and the poet William Cowper (of whom more later also).

In 1749 Hastings' uncle died and his guardian Joseph Creswicke, a distant relative, took him away from Westminster, to the chagrin of the headmaster who appreciated Hastings' intelligence. Hastings finished a course in merchants' accounts in 1749 and his guardian (later to be an East India Company Director) enabled him to become a "writer" in the Company. In 1750 he sailed for India, disembarking at Fort William on the Hooghli in Bengal. In 1752 Hastings was sent to Kasimbazaar, an important trading post. When the young Nawab of Bengal Siraj-ud-dauhlah moved against the British in 1756 Hastings was captured in the countryside and taken to the Nawab's capital, Murshidabad. Vernet, the head of the Dutch factory was very kind to him (and in later years Hastings was to pay his widow a pension of 300 pounds a year). Hastings heard of the Black Hole of Calcutta (in which 146 British prisoners from the capture of Fort William were supposedly locked up overnight in a tiny cell and from which only 23 emerged alive the next morning). Hastings was able to visit the survivors, including their leader Holwell. When the survivors were sent to the Dutch station at Fulta, Hastings stayed on at Murshidabad.

As life under Siraj-ud-dauhlah became more problematical, Hastings escaped to the Dutch station at Chinsura and then to Fulta. At Fulta he married Mary Buchanan née Elliott, the widow of Captain Buchanan who had died in the Black Hole incident.or otherwise in defence of Fort William - according to Davies (1935), Feiling (1966), Moon (1947), Stephen & Lee (1964) and Turnbull (1975). It is intriguing to see that some biographers.of this immensely important man - namely Gleig (1841), Lawson (1905), Lyall (1907), Malleson (1894) and Trotter (1890) - have identified his first wife as the widow of a Captain Campbell from Madras who had succumbed to disease. According to the Black Hole version, Mary Buchanan had escaped to Fulta from Fort William with her 2 infant daughters. Hastings was involved in the recapture of Fort William and may have also been with Clive at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. Hastings’ first child George was born in 1757 and a daughter Elizabeth was born in 1758, but she survived only several weeks. His wife Mary died of an illness in 1759. His affection for Mary is reflected in the subsequent sustained payment of a pension to her Goanese maid Peggy.

In 1760 Tysoe Hancock, a friend of Robert Clive, came up from Madras to take up the position of surgeon at Kasimbazaar (Hastings had differed with Clive over the appointment and preferred the doctor who had cared for Mary). Tysoe Hancock had met and married Philadelphia Hancock née Austen, George Austen's sister, in Madras in 1753. Philadelphia had no doubt suggested sending George Hastings to stay with George and Cassandra Austen at Steventon in 1760. Bengal was an extremely unhealthy place for Europeans 8 and Hastings had already lost his wife Mary and his daughter Elizabeth. Mary's 2 daughters had already been sent back to their grandmother in Ireland. Hastings supported them financially and also attempted to recover their late father's estate for them. Hancock and Hastings became friends and indeed business partners at a time of unchecked entrepreneurial profligacy in Bengal.

We will return to Hastings in later chapters but at this instance we wish to consider the intimate connection that was formed between Hastings and the Austens. George Hastings was unfortunately to die in 1764 of fever at Steventon after being assiduously nursed by George and Cassandra Austen. Mrs Austen felt the loss as if it were of her of her own child.

Philadelphia Hancock fell pregnant in 1761 and gave birth to Eliza, Jane Austen's lively cousin, in December of that year. She was named after Hastings’ dead daughter by Mary. The Hancocks returned to England in 1765 but Tysoe Hancock returned to India and was never to see his family again, dying in 1775. Hastings provided an extraordinarily generous trust fund of 10,000 pounds for his god-daughter (and, almost certainly, real daughter) Eliza Hancock. The trust generated an income of about 400 pounds per annum. Philadelphia and Eliza lived in the West End of London, visited the Walters and the Austens and also travelled to Germany, Flanders and France. George Austen acted as the trustee for Eliza's trust fund and his uncle Francis Austen acted as Tysoe Hancock's attorney. It is likely that Philadelphia drew excessively from both sources. Eliza and her mother did not lack for money and after Eliza married the Comte de Feuillade she evidently contributed to a prosperous lifestyle. Both mother and daughter were lively, good-humoured and sociable women.

Hastings’ paternity of Eliza is very likely for a variety of reasons:

- the absence of pregnancy for 8 years until the Hancocks' coming to Kasimbazaar and the lack of subsequent pregnancy;

- the circumstances of the recently widowed Hastings and the comfort he received from Philadelphia who was probably a friend of Mary’s from before the time of their departure for India in 1751 as poor, unmarried young women;

- the common orphaned background of both Hastings and Philadelphia that ultimately sent both to India for fortune and marriage, respectively;

- the close attachments of Hastings to other married women, namely the widowed Mary Buchanan / Campbell and the Baroness “Marian” Imhoff, both of whom he married;

- the extraordinarily generous trust fund for Eliza worth about 250,000 pounds in today's money;

- the opinion of Clive, a person close to both Hastings and Hancock;

- the continuing close connection of Hastings, Philadelphia and Eliza over many years.

In 1780 Philadelphia wrote to Hastings:

"Knowing your heart as I do and being convinced in spite of appearances it is not changed for your friends, I cannot refuse you the satisfaction of knowing my daughter, the only thing I take comfort in, is in perfect health". 9

Lord Clive wrote to his wife in 1765 warning her of Philadelphia, who was returning to England with Hancock and “Betsy” (Eliza):

“In no circumstances whatever keep company with Mrs. Hancock for it is beyond a doubt that she has abandoned her self to Mr. Hastings, indeed, I would rather you had no acquaintance with the ladies who have been in India, they stand in such little esteem in England that their company cannot be of credit to Lady Clive.” 10

Hancock, who had returned alone to India in 1769, opposed the return of Philadelphia and “Betsy” to Bengal on account of the bad moral climate of the place. He attributed the coolness of Lady Clive in England to the machinations of Lady Jenny Strachey (née Kelsall), the wife of Clive’s secretary Sir Henry Strachey. Tysoe Saul Hancock died in Calcutta in 1775. Philadelphia died in England in 1792.

From the mouth of babes we may discern something of the truth. Young Jane Austen in her unfinished novel Catherine or The Bower (written in 1792) describes an unsuitable marriage in India borne of straightened circumstances. This is likely to have resembled that of Hancock and Philadelphia at Cuddalore near Fort St David in 1753, shortly after Philadelphia’s arrival:

“The eldest daughter [Cecilia] had been obliged to accept the offer of one of her cousins to equip her for the East Indies, and tho’ infinitely against her inclinations had been necessitated to embrace the only possibility that was offered to her, of a Maintenance; Yet it was one, so opposite to all her ideas of Propriety, so contrary to her Wishes, so repugnant to her feelings, that she would have preferred Servitude to it, had Choice been allowed her -. Her personal Attractions had gained her a husband as soon as she had arrived at Bengal, and she had been married nearly a twelvemonth. Splendidly, yet unhappily married. United to a Man of double her own age, whose disposition was not amiable, and whose Manners were unpleasing, though his Character was respectable. Kitty [Catherine] had heard twice from her friend since her marriage, but her Letters were always unsatisfactory, and though she did not openly avow her feelings, yet every line proved her to be Unhappy. She spoke with pleasure of nothing, but of those Amusements which they had shared together and which could return no more, and seemed to have no happiness in view but that of returning to England again. Her sister had been taken by another relation the Dowager Lady Halifax as a companion to her Daughters, and had accompanied her family into Scotland about the same time of Cecilia’s leaving England. From Mary therefore Kitty had the power of hearing more frequently, but her Letters were scarcely more comfortable -... The Summer passed away unmarked by any incident worth narrating, or any pleasure to Catharine save one, which arose from the receipt of a letter from her friend Cecilia, now Mrs Lascelles, announcing the speedy return of herself & Husband to England.” 11

After the death of Eliza in 1813, the widowed Henry Austen visited Warren Hastings at Daylesford and afterwards gave Jane Austen the report that the great man had really liked Pride and Prejudice. In a letter to her sister Cassandra, Jane Austen reports in turn:

“Mr. Hastings never hinted at Eliza in the smallest degree.” 12

A final assessment we have of what Jane Austen thought of this matter is surely in Sense and Sensibility, the most "Indian" of her novels and a work that, as described in detail in Chapter 6, appears to provide a barely disguised version of the Hastings-Hancock affair. There is a large literature dealing specifically with the life of Warren Hastings and his activities in India. However as far as I am aware, discussion of Hastings’ fathering of Eliza Hancock is essentially confined to a small body of excellent specialist analyses of the life of Jane Austen.13

Sheep, fox-hunting, Tasmania and scientific advice

We have seen that George Austen's "mob" have a different flavour to that of his wife Cassandra née Leigh. His forbears and connections outlined above included a solid basis of Kentish rural gentry involved in agriculture and in particular in wool production and processing. It is tempting to suppose that the Thomas Austin (sometimes spelled Austen) from near Geelong in Victoria, who introduced the wild rabbit into Australia to support his sporting predilections, might also be connected to the George Austen Austens. 14 [I have a familial connection with the Australian Austen sheep family but as far as I am aware the evidence is wanting of any direct connection with this “mob” and the Austens of our present concern.] One member of Jane Austen's family who did come uncomfortably close to coming to Australia was Jane Leigh-Perrot who faced the possibility of transportation to Botany Bay until her acquittal of the theft charge at the Taunton Assizes (Chapter 2).

Nevertheless there are some interesting connections to be made between the Kentish sheep farmers and their generic (if not necessarily genetic) sheep-raising ilk in Australia. This is most dramatically seen in Tasmania (formerly Van Dieman's Land) where the aboriginal inhabitants (about 6000 at the time of first settlement in 1804) were almost completely destroyed. by the settlers. Some of the aboriginal tribes had a custom of seasonal migration from the Midlands plains up to the Highlands. The slow-moving sheep were much easier to kill than the agile and nocturnal pademelons, Eastern Grey kangaroos and Bennet's wallabies but spearing sheep produced a violent reaction from the European settlers. 15

Like the Tasmanian aborigines, the Tasmanian tiger is popularly supposed to have been totally eliminated by the European settlers and for similar reasons. The Tasmanian tiger, thus named because of a striped back and tail, is a remarkable case of "convergent evolution", being a marsupial that resembles a short-haired dog. The Tasmanian tiger or thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) was a rather fastidious carnivore in its choice of edible parts and was accordingly a somewhat wasteful diner. The thylacine, like the aborigines, found sheep attractively less agile and more susceptible than other big herbivores. The thylacine and the aborigines were accordingly both hunted down by the settlers "that sheep may safely graze". The last Tasmanian tiger in captivity died in the Hobart zoo in 1933. However there is a set of accounts of sightings by sensible and competent people over the years up to the present that suggest that a very small population of these animals still survives in remote forested parts of Tasmania.16

One such possible “tiger” area is the Tarkine Wilderness that is adjacent to the lands of the Van Dieman's Land Company in northwest Tasmania and which is being currently staunchly defended by Tasmanian “Greens” against the unholy destructive alliance of government and business bent on its "development". Maybe when the last of the remaining forests of Tasmania have been wood-chipped for conversion into Japanese toilet paper the controversy about the existence or extinction of the elusive Tasmanian tiger will be finally be resolved.

The settlement of Tasmania was achieved in the early days with the assistance of the slave labour of convicts transported initially to the notorious convict prisons at Port Arthur on the Tasman peninsular east of Hobart and at Macquarie Harbour on the inhospitable west coast. Convicts were treated with great brutality and escaped convicts who became "bushrangers" behaved in kind. Convicts were subject to ferocious lashing, were used in lieu of plough horses and were readily hung. The sufferings of these wretched people is described in Marcus Clarke’s novel For the Term of His Natural Life and the convicts and the convict heritage of Tasmania is dealt with in a number of other works.17

The legacy of the convict stonemasons is seen in the re-creation of fine aspects of the England of Jane Austen's day, especially in the rich Midlands, in the form of Georgian mansions, churches, other public buildings and elegant bridges.18 The anglicising of the Tasmanian environment has not ceased since settlement. The political establishment is still locked into a "development" model that has seen the wilful destruction of great forests (including remarkable temperate rain forests and stands of fabulous but endangered trees such as Huon pine), the flooding of lakes such as the exquisite Lake Pedder and of river valleys (that have not even been assessed in a sensible scientific fashion) and the destruction or near-extinction of remarkable wild-life. What has happened in Tasmania is a crime against the world and the process is still continuing. There is a continuing notion of transforming all but a nominal skerrick of nature into an ordered and highly productive state. In the Midlands this can amount to a simulacrum of the Home Counties known to Jane Austen, involving modest Georgian mansions set in parks with ordered pastures dotted with sheep, cattle, copses of introduced trees and dams and lakes stocked with trout. This continuing devastation amounts to sustained and remorseless blasphemy. The extraordinary beauty of what is still being destroyed can be best appreciated on the ground in the shrinking wilderness but is also recorded in the paintings, poetry, photography and impassioned writing of sensitive Tasmanians.19 Small wonder that the insensitive political establishment of Tasmania should have legislated that the punishment for private, adult, consensual expression of homosexual love should be 25 years in prison. 20 (This has fortunately been recently reversed).

The free settlers that started coming to Tasmania at the beginning of the 19th century, in the latter half of Jane Austen's life, did in effect to Tasmania what their ilk did to the Scottish Highlands - clearing the land of people and trees and replacing the people with sheep. Those Scottish Highlanders that did not starve to death had the chance of escaping with their lives and some of their culture to America or to Australia, a course also followed by many impoverished common folk of England. 21 [One line of my rather cosmopolitan family derives from a woman from the Western Highlands of Argyll who married the son of a Middlesex gamekeeper. Both may have been servants of the famous Tasmanian colonial diarist, water colourist and landowner Louisa Meredith in the mid-19th century.] The Tasmanian aborigine had nowhere to go and their culture is essentially gone, although there are several thousands of mixed-race descendants of Tasmanian or Mainland aboriginal women and their European partners still living in Tasmania and proud of their heritage. In an awful testament to the perpetuation of racism in Australia, a major Australian corporate leader with intellectual pretensions recently declared that the aboriginal women would have been happy to have been raped by Europeans because their own menfolk were so ugly. 22

Sport, rabbits, ecocide and science

Domestic rabbits came on the First Fleet to Botany Bay in 1788 but did not spread appreciably. Sporting shooting and fox hunting were the sport of the gentry of the time (including some of Jane Austen's brothers back in the Home Counties). “Wild” rabbits were originally introduced into Tasmania and “took off” in numbers. Thomas Austin of Barwon Park (near Geelong) introduced 24 wild rabbits for “sport” in 1859 and within 6 years 20,000 were killed on his property alone. By 1887 10 million were killed in the first 8 months of the year alone. The rabbit subsequently spread in plague proportions across the sub-tropical and temperate parts of the continent and has contributed to the extinction of numerous small marsupial species. The rabbit and other introduced and now feral creatures (notably cats, dogs, foxes, pigs. goats, horses, camels and water buffalo to name the larger animals) have caused immense damage to ecosystems throughout Australia as have the hard-hoofed sheep and cattle that range over a substantial part of the country that is not utter desert. Energetic attempts have been made to control the rabbit, the feral import which has caused the most damage. Poisoning, shooting, ripping up of warrens and even a transcontinental “rabbit-proof” fence are still employed. 23

A major advance involved introduction of the Myxoma virus from South America. This virus is essentially specific for the rabbit and closely related creatures (although suckling mice are also susceptible), the infectious disease being called myxomatosis. After an initial experimental trial in the Murray River valley in 1950, the virus “took off” in an extraordinary fashion and within several weeks had spread throughout south-eastern Australia with tremendous effect. However the spread of myxomatosis by mosquitoes coincided with an increased incidence of Murray Valley encephalitis in humans (this disease being caused by a completely different virus). To allay public fears, in 1951 three leading Australian scientists were inoculated with the Myxoma virus, namely Sir MacFarlane Burnet (later a Nobel Prize winner for immunological discoveries), Sir Ian Clunies Ross (Chairman of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, CSIRO) and Professor F. Fenner (from the John Curtin School of Medical Research, Canberra where Peter Doherty did immunological research in the 1970s that would earn him the Nobel Prize in 1996). The public announcement was made in Federal Parliament by the Minister in Charge of CSIRO, Mr. R.G. (later Lord) Casey (who we will encounter later in relation to his role in the Bengal Famine of 1943-44).

The postwar introduction of the myxomatosis virus had a tremendous initial effect but ultimately increased rabbit resistance and a decreased viral virulence has progressively reduced the effectiveness of the virus. 24 However 2 major new strategies deserve some consideration here in a disquisition that links the continuing values and conduct of Jane Austen's people to global catastrophe. One major approach involves molecular engineering of a viral vector that will introduce the gene (DNA) coding for particular proteins found on the surface of rabbit ova or sperm (the female and male sex cells, respectively, involved in the process of fertilization). As infected rabbits will start producing these proteins, these in turn will be targeted by antibodies produced by the immune systems and the consequence will be infertility. 25 The "safety" of this procedure with respect to us (or indeed to other animals with an immune system) depends upon the "host range specificity" of the engineered virus (or of its descendants that will evolve in the "natural world" after its release). As long as the virus is specific for the rabbit alone (and as long as this remains so in the long term out in the wild), this remains a "safe" procedure. However a significant worry to some observers of this multi-million dollar research program and future application of its results is the possibility that the "host range specificity" may change. Clearly such specificity changes do occur in the long term on an evolutionary time-scale but relatively short term changes in viral host specificity are clearly possible as evidenced by the spread of influenza virus from birds to man and the likely extension of HIV from certain monkeys to man. In the event that the "experts" are wrong one can conceive a scenario of a whole continent in quarantine (insofar as that is possible with the movements of traditional Indonesian fishermen, drug smugglers and migratory birds and other migratory species) in order to protect the rest of the world.

This leads us to the further control measure that is already operating as a result of the "experts" getting their quarantine arrangements wrong - the accidental release in Australia of the "rabbit specific" calicivirus that causes Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease. This virus is supposedly "rabbit specific" and was trialled in the wild on an ostensibly "safely" quarantined island off the South Australian coast. The "experts" evidently failed to consider the possibility of birds, insects or other organisms transmitting the virus to the mainland. In the event, such transmission occurred before necessarily limited "host range specificity" studies had been completed and the virus has spread extensively since 1995 throughout the Continent. 26

One would like to be sanguine about the outcome although such lay confidence is not helped by the admitted mistakes of the "experts" to date and the opinion of a calicivirus "expert" from a calicivirus research centre in the US who considers that the virus concerned and related viruses may have actual "host range specificities" that are much broader than hitherto recognized (not to mention the possibilities arising from mutation and natural selection). A modest possibility remains that some interesting indigenous Australian animal that has evaded the experimental purview of the "experts" may bite the dust for eternity. At the other end of the speculatory spectrum, we can imagine any number of scary scenarios ranging from minor human skin excrescences (found already with a closely related calicivirus) to the doom of humanity. On balance, scientists plump for the calicivirus solution as a sensible means of stopping the rabbit plague that represents a continuing environmental catastrophe on a continental scale (there are about 300 million rabbits in Australia). However the reservations offered thus far concerning host range specificity and the stringency of testing are quite sensible. 27

Nevertheless we must bear in mind the potential dangers of irreversible human actions effected for the best of reasons but with possible dangerous consequences e.g. animal-human transplants (xenografts), invasion of tropical rain forests and animal cell viral vaccine culture (novel human viral pathogens) and genetic engineering for large-scale crop monocultures (loss of “wild” or “primitive” crop plant genetic resources).28 (However it seems that other concerns in relation to transgenic plants, notably the spread of particular genes to other plants in the field or the wild, are fears that have not been sustained with hard evidence.) 29 To this list of perturbations we can add climatological and biological consequences of environmental pollution. 30 This has been explored at great length by the sanatorium inmates of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain 31 but is surely most simply expressed in the Greek myths of Pandora’s Box and of the Fate of Prometheus. 32

All of which seems a long way from fox-hunting by the Home Counties gentry of the late 18th century but the causal connection should be sufficiently clear to be not laboured further. The moral and philosophical connections between Jane Austen's world, its successors and ours are also fairly apparent. The indubitable rightness of the well-washed and well-educated to alter the world and the essential irrelevance of the views and concerns of mere mortals such as common folk or other subject people was widely accepted then and is perhaps even more strongly accepted today in a sociologically modified sense. The “indubitably right” are no longer the gentry of Jane Austen's novels (our upper middle class) but the "experts" of government and big business, mendicant academics and the "wisely and properly" instructed representatives of the people and their duly charged agents. Those who would gainsay such people are bold indeed. 33 We will see later in Chapter 15 how anonymous "expert" advice rendered to government could ultimately kill millions of Bengalis in the mid-20th century as surely as the individual and collective entrepreneurial activities of people of Jane Austen's class in the 18th century.

The reporting of the Austen connections

The point can be repeated that Jane Austen, the artist, used a very limited social palate for her creations for perfectly legitimate reasons of style, taste, modus operandi and compatibility. However the same licence cannot be accorded historians including biographers of Jane Austen. The most comprehensive and simultaneously most socially-responsive biography of Jane Austen of which I am aware is Jane Austen. Her Life by Park Honan (1987) that can be used as a default reference for matters relating to Jane Austen in the present work. Honan (1987) details the likelihood of the Hastings-Hancock affair. However of a sample of 30 works dealing with Jane Austen’s life and connections 34 only 5 allude to Hastings’ likely paternity of Eliza, namely Lane (1984), Lane (1986), Lane (1996), Honan (1987) and Tucker (1983). In addition, an inexplicit perception of this kind is articulated by Jane Hodge (1972) in The Double Life of Jane Austen in detailing the 10,000 pounds provided by Hastings for Eliza and her mother ( “It makes one wonder, just a little”). Further, in a book of literary criticism, Ruoff (1992) speculates that Hastings may have been the father as well as the godfather of Eliza Hancock. 35

In relation to this sparse reporting of a major connection in Jane Austen’s life, it is interesting to apply the same analysis to reportage of other connections of the Austen line. If we consider the same 30 biographies we can score reportage of Eliza Hancock, her husband Jean Capotte the Comte de Feuillade and their son, Philadelphia Hancock, Tysoe Hancock and Warren Hastings and his son George Hastings. We find that 27 report Eliza, 24 Philadelphia Hancock, 20 Tysoe Saul Hancock and 22 report Warren Hastings. However only 5/30 report Eliza’s origin, Philadelphia’s adultery, Dr. Hancock’s cuckolding or Warren Hastings’ paternity of Eliza. While 25/30 refer to Eliza’s husband, 20 to her son and 17 to Hastings’ son George, the untimely deaths of these people score 24, 12 and 16, respectively, out of 30.

As we have seen in the previous chapter, many Jane Austen biographers have failed to include a variety of interesting aspects of Jane Austen's connections in their works. The present example represents one of the more interesting connections pertaining to Jane Austen's life. Eliza was one of her more important relations, intimates and influences and this lively woman quite clearly appears as Lady Susan in Lady Susan, Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park and Eliza in Sense and Sensibility. Nevertheless, despite a huge literature on Jane Austen, this affair is completely absent from nearly all the biographies of Jane Austen’s life.

In the context of an English historical and literary tradition that has by and large buried the unimaginable holocaust that was 2 centuries of British India, what is the importance of the likely generation of one new life by an unsatisfied, passionate woman and a widowed, passionate man in the hot, dangerous world of Kasimbazaar in 1760? Hastings had a major impact on his world that continues to this day and still affects the lives of hundreds of millions of people. His daughter/god-daughter Eliza, borne of a lively mother, has clearly lived on in major novels that today still have immediacy, universality and a moral message. But whether the persons are great or small, the biologically critical minimum human social compound is that of man, woman and child. The bald statistic of ten million swept away by famine in Bengal in 1770 barely begins to grapple with the pungent tragedies of so many compounds of man, woman and child at that time and in subsequent centuries. The gross, collective statistics of human disasters allow for scientific analysis and prediction and leave the sensitive with a practical resolution that this should never recur. However the numbers are not readily comprehensible in an emotional sense. It is the individual realities that directly impinge on our human sensibilities and are comprehended in a devastating, tangible way. All the data are important, the individual elements and the immense collective edifice.

2008 Postscript

Further books deal with the Hastings Eliza scandal 36 and Tasmanian history 37.


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