Jane Austen and the Black Hole. Chapter 4
Jane Austen's siblings and their descendants
“I believe I never told you that Mrs Coulthard and Anne, late of Manydown, are both dead and both died in childbed. We have not regaled Mary with this news.” ... “I have just received a note from James to say that Mary was brought to bed last night, at eleven o’clock, of a fine little boy, and that everything is going on very well.”
- Jane Austen letter to Cassandra on Saturday November 17 and thence on Sunday November 18 (1798)1
“What must I tell you of Edward? Truth or falsehood? I will try the former, and you may choose for yourself another time. He was better yesterday than he had been for two or three days before - about as well as while he was at Steventon. He drinks at the Hetling Pump, is to bathe tomorrow, and try electricity on Tuesday. He proposed the latter himself to Dr. Fellowes, who made no objection to it, but I fancy we are all unanimous in expecting no advantage from it.”
- Jane Austen letter to Cassandra (1799)2
“She [Catherine] was heartily ashamed of her ignorance - a misplaced shame. Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman, especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.”
- Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1817)3
From the above extracts we can see the perceived importance to Jane Austen of contentment and peace of mind and the happiness of others. Her world revolved about her immediate family and other dear connections. The editing out of social reality in her novels can be seen as her artistic prerogative. However for conduct in “real life” she evidently also espouses a pragmatic avoidance of discomforting truth in the interests of general happiness. In this she can be seen to be so very English and in good company with British historiographers. With this in mind we can proceed to inspect the lives of her siblings and their descendants. We will see later how these lives have been “Austenized” in the interests of “naiceness”. The key “default” references for this chapter are Halperin (1984), Hodge (1972), Honan (1987) and Lane (1984, 1986, 1996), and of these the most comprehensive is Honan (1987). 4
James Austen firstly married Anne Matthew (died 1795) in 1792 & begat
Anna Austen (1793-1872) who married Benjamin Lefroy (q.v.; of the Brydges line) in 1814 & begat
7 children including Fanny C. Lefroy (1820-1885) (q.v.; author of Family History).
James Austen thence married Mary Lloyd (1771-1843) (q.v.; of the Craven line, sister of Martha Lloyd, friend of Cassandra and Jane and who would later marry the widowed Francis Austen) in 1797 & begat
*Caroline Austen (1850-1880; unmarried, no issue; author of My Aunt Jane Austen) &
*James Edward Austen (later Austen-Leigh) (q.v.; author of A Memoir of Jane Austen, 1870) who married Emma Smith in 1828 & begat 10 children including
*Cholmeley Austen-Leigh (1829-1899) (named thus in deference to Jane Leigh-Perrot; one of his children Kathleen married Edward Impey (a descendant of the Impeys from near Basingstoke, Wiltshire that included the notorious Elijah Impey); another child Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh (1872-1941) co-authored the 1913 Life of Jane Austen)
*William Austen-Leigh (1843-1921) (who died unmarried; co-authored Life of Jane Austen with his nephew Richard) &
* Arthur Henry Austen Leigh (1836-1917) (who married Violet Hall-Say & begat 7 children).
George Austen had no issue.
Edward Austen (Knight after 1812) married Elizabeth Bridges (1773-1808) & begat
11 children (Elizabeth dying in 1808, 2 days after the birth of the last) including:
*Fanny Knight (1793-1882) (Jane Austen's favourite niece) who married Sir Edward Knatchbull (1820) & begat 9 children including Edward Hugessen Knatchbull (1829-1893) (1st Baron Brabourne
1880; edited 1884 Letters of Jane Austen). Fanny became simultaneously the sister-in-law and aunt as well as stepmother to her step-daughter Mary Dorothea Knatchbull when Mary Dorothea married Fanny's brother Edward (see below).
*Edward Knight (1794-1879) who married his step-niece Mary Dorothea Knatchbull in 1825 & begat 7 children and thence married Adela Portal in 1840 & begat a further 9 children.
*George Knight (1795-1867) who married Hilare, Countess Nelson in 1837 (no issue).
*Henry Knight (1797-1843) who married firstly Sophia Cage and thence Charlotte Northey & begat children from both marriages.
*William Knight (1798-1873) who married firstly Caroline Portal and thence Mary Northey & begat children from both unions.
*Elizabeth Knight (1800-1884) who married Edward Royd Rice in 1818 & begat 15 children.
*Marianne Knight (1801-1896) who died unmarried.
*Charles Knight (1803-1867) who died unmarried.
*Louisa Knight (1804-1889) who married Lord George Hill in 1847 (after the death of her sister Cassandra Jane) & begat 1 child.
*Cassandra Jane (1806-1842) who married Lord George Hill in 1834 & begat 4 children.
*Brook John (1808-1878) who married Margaret Pearson (no issue).
Henry Thomas Austen (1771-1850) firstly married Eliza de Feuillade (1761-1813) (his cousin) in 1797 (no issue) and thence married Eleanor Jackson in 1820 (no issue).
Cassandra Elizabeth Austen (1773-1843) died unmarried.
Francis William Austen (1774-1865) married Mary Gibson (died 1823) & begat
* Mary Jane Austen (1807-1836),
*Francis William Austen (1809-1858),
*Henry Austen (1811-1854),
*George Austen (1812-1903) &
*Catherine Anne Austen (1818-1877) (a novelist) who married John Hubback in 1842 & begat
John Henry Hubback (1844-1939) (co-author with his daughter Edith of Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers) who married Mary Ingram & begat
7 children including John Austen Hubback (1878-1969) (Governor of Orissa) and Edith Charlotte Hubback (1876-1947) (co-author of Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers).
In 1828 Francis Austen married Martha Lloyd (1765-1843) (q.v.; of the Craven line; sister of Mary Lloyd, James Austen's second wife).
Jane Austen (1775-1817) died unmarried.
Charles John Austen (1779-1852) (later Admiral) married firstly Frances Palmer (daughter of John Palmer, Attorney General of Bermuda and a resolute persecutor of Methodists; she died in childbirth in 1814) & begat
*Cassandra Esten Austen (1808-1897) (died unmarried),
*Harriet Jane Austen (1810-1865) (died unmarried),
*Frances Palmer Austen (1812-1882) (who married her cousin Francis William Austen (1809-1858) (q.v.; son of Francis Austen) & begat 6 children) &
*Elizabeth (died 1814).
In 1820 Charles Austen married Harriet Palmer (the sister of his first wife Frances) & begat
*Charles John Austen (1821-1867) who married Sophia de Blois in 1848 (with issue).
*George Austen (baby died 1824),
*Jane Austen (baby died 1825) &
*Henry Austen (1826-1851) who died unmarried.
An interesting feature of this tree is the recurring consanguinity in the Austens that we 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 who was 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 Eliza but was rejected because of his clerical commitment.
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). After the death of his foster father Edward received the Godmersham and Chawton estates and eventually took on the name Knight (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 union (blessed by 7 children) was non-consanguinous but had the embarrassing consequence that Fanny became simultaneously the sister-in-law and aunt as well as stepmother of Mary Dorothea.
A further feature of the Austen family was the compulsion to put pen to paper that transcended the simple necessity of writing letters to loved ones in those days. James started a periodical The Loiterer at Oxford in 1789 that ran for 60 issues until 1790, with James contributing 27 articles and Henry 10. In addition to her novels and the so-called Juvenilia of her "teenage" years, Jane Austen conducted a lifetime of correspondence with her close relatives, notably with her sister Cassandra. Members of the following generations followed this example. While Catherine Anne Austen, daughter of Francis Austen, was a novelist, the others with a literary bent confined themselves to recording the family. Thus Jane's nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh (son of the Reverend James Austen) wrote his A Memoir of Jane Austen and his sister Caroline wrote My Aunt Jane Austen. James Austen-Leigh's son William Austen-Leigh and William's nephew Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh co-authored Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters. A Family Record (1913). The Reverend James Austen's granddaughter Fanny Lefroy (1820-1885) wrote a Family History (unpublished manuscript), the grandson of Edward Knight, Edward Hugessen Knatchbull (1st Baron Brabourne) edited Letters of Jane Austen in 1884 and Admiral Francis Austen's grandson John Henry Hubback co-authored Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers with his daughter Edith Charlotte Hubback. This literary effusion continued with Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh (1920) Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters, Hugesson (1960) Kentish Family and Joan Austen-Leigh (1983). 5
Jane Austen's siblings were not as conventional and bland as some biographers would have us believe (and, for all I know, as they believed them to be). The ultimate in blandness was A Memoir of Jane Austen of James Edward Austen-Leigh (who even edits out disabled brother George from the account). The best biography I have encountered in a relatively brief journey is Honan's Jane Austen. A Life. We can give a rather arbitrary numerical score reflecting relative biographical excellence (as comprehensiveness) as outlined below.
We give a simple numerical score of 1 to each biography for actually naming each sibling. We then give an additional score of 1 for naming in some way for each sibling the primary juicy story that would definitely interest the News of the World. We could then consider a set of n biographical accounts of Jane Austen's life available in an excellent antipodean university library and give each sibling a reportage score out of n (for being named) and a juicy attribute score (maximum value also n). We can also give each biography a score expressed (conveniently if somewhat improperly) as a percentage of the maximum score of 14 (7 siblings; 2 points maximum per sibling; 2 x 7 = 14).
Since James Edward Austen-Leigh is dead and Honan (1987) gets full marks we can safely apply this game to these two biographers. The siblings (juicy attribute in parentheses) are as follows: James (father-in-law General Matthew's unfair requirement to repay a huge amount of unauthorised West Indies salary plus interest); George (not normal due to episodic fits, possibly deaf and dumb and put out to care); Edward (litigation against him over his inheritance of the Knight estates); Henry (goes bankrupt and costs some of his relatives a pretty penny too in the process); Cassandra (committed the crime of burning a whole lot of Jane's letters); Francis (discreet transfer of East India Company bullion from China to England and incidentally involving Directors' concern over the death of a Chinese) and Charles (court martial over the loss of a ship off Turkey).
Since James Austen-Leigh only mentions 6 siblings (George is deleted) and mentions none of their "attributes" he scores 43%; Honan scores 100%. Of course this “game” is somewhat arbitrary since the various “Jane Austen” works being considered differ considerably in basic objectives and scope. Further, “attributes” other than those listed above could have been chosen. Nevertheless, from the 2 examples given the reader can get a feel for the sort of variation in comprehensiveness encountered in our target set of Jane Austen histories. We can now proceed to briefly survey the lives of Jane's siblings, conscious of issues of subsequent reportage and of the social realities of the time that did not become part of the artist's social palette in the creation of the novels. We can then “score” these siblings for “reportage”.
James Austen (1765-1819) was educated at home and then at St. John's College, Oxford from 1788 as "Founders kin" with a fee remission. He founded The Loiterer periodical that ran to 60 issues in 1789-1790 to which he, Henry and others contributed and which teenage Jane read. Curate at Deane for his father, he married Anne Matthew (daughter of General Edward Matthew) in 1792. The same year her father was billed for a mistakenly non-authorised salary as Governor of Grenada. With interest the bill became 24,000 pounds when it had to be paid after his death in 1805. Anne had one child (Anna, born 1793) and died in 1795. He was in love with Eliza and may have proposed (circa 1796). He re-married, to Mary Lloyd in 1797, and became Rector at Steventon in 1801 when George Austen retired to Bath. He was particularly solicitous to Aunt Jane Leigh-Perrot during her remand and trial and was left funds by his Uncle James Leigh-Perrot on his death in 1817 in the will that upset Jane and her other siblings. Scholarly and literary, he influenced the literary beginnings of Jane and no doubt also of his children by Mary, James Edward (born 1798) and Caroline (born 1805), who both published accounts of Jane Austen.
George Austen (1766-1838) was evidently disabled. He had episodes of fits and could possibly have been deaf and dumb (as inferred from Jane Austen referring to her being able to communicate by hands to a deaf man). George was put out to care with a local woman. His uncle Thomas Leigh had a similar problem and Eliza's son Hastings had fits. Of our set of 30 biographical works on Jane Austen, 7 delete George from history and 10 fail to mention his disability.
Edward Austen (Edward Knight from 1812) (1767-1852) was "adopted" by a wealthy distant relative Thomas Knight and his wife who were childless. He married Elizabeth Bridges (daughter of Sir Brook Bridges of Goodnestone, Kent) in 1791 and they had 11 children, Elizabeth dying some days after the last birth in 1808. Thomas Knight died in 1794 and in 1797 Mrs Knight gave over the estates at Godmersham (where they primarily lived), Chawton (where Edward and his family often stayed especially after Mrs Austen, her daughters and Martha Lloyd moved to Chawton Cottage on the estate) and Steventon (where George Austen was permitted to farm several hundred acres to supplement his Rector’s livings). When Mrs Knight died in 1812 Edward assumed the name Knight under the terms of his foster-father's will. However he was subsequently served with a writ of ejectment from the Chawton estate (mansion, cottage and lands) by a presumed heiress in 1814 and had to settle the matter eventually with a large payout. A kind, affectionate and avuncular man, he did not go to university but spent a long, prosperous and pleasant life in charge of his estates and took assiduous care of his sisters, his mother and his family. Apart from trips and the terminal months at Winchester, Jane Austen spent the last highly productive years of her life (1809-1817) at Chawton Cottage on Edward's estate in Hampshire.
Henry Austen (1771-1850), like his brother James, was first educated at home by his father and then sent to Oxford on a "Founder's kin" Fellowship at St. John's College. Like James he also was in love with the lively Eliza. He was more adventurous than James (a consideration that would have swayed Eliza who is reputed to have rejected James on account of his purely clerical ambitions). Henry joined the Oxford Militia in 1793 and, after the death of Eliza's husband the Comte de Feuillide by the guillotine in 1794, resumed his suit to Eliza. Eliza commented on his rejection of a clerical career to her cousin Philadephia (Philly) Walter: "I believe he has now given up all thoughts of the Church, & he is right for he is certainly not so fit for a parson as a soldier". Eliza informed Warren Hastings of the impending match "I have consented to an Union with my Cousin, Captain Austen, who has the honour of being known to you." Henry and Eliza travelled to France in 1802 to recover the late Comte's estates but were lucky to escape back to England in 1803 due to Eliza's French and liveliness. Henry went into partnership in a London bank in 1807 and they opened a branch at Alton (near Chawton). He became Receiver-General for Oxfordshire in 1813 and in that year Eliza died, Jane travelling to London to comfort Henry. Unfortunately he was bankrupted in 1816 and his brother Edward Knight and his Uncle James Leigh-Perrot lost substantial sums in the process (Jane lost most of her meagre royalties). Henry took orders in 1816, served as Chaplain to the British Embassy in Berlin in 1817 and then took over the living at Steventon. He married Eleanor Jackson in 1820 but had no children from either of his marriages. Handsome, intelligent, articulate, lively and energetic he was Jane's favourite brother and he assisted her in publication dealings.
Cassandra Austen (1773-1845) was Jane's lifetime companion and shared a period of childhood schooling away from home with Jane. Cassandra was good-humoured but more self-possessed and calm than Jane. The great tragedy of her life was her engagement to the Reverend Thomas Fowle who was a cousin of their intimates Mary and Martha Lloyd (who were to become the second wives of James and Francis Austen, respectively). Thomas Fowle went out to the West Indies as a Chaplain to the regiment of his relation Lord Craven but tragically died of yellow fever at San Domingo in Hispaniola in 1797. He left a small bequest to Cassandra. Cassandra and Jane were loving sisters and corresponded at length when apart. However on Jane's death a substantial amount of correspondence, notably for the period 1797-1801 which was emotionally tumultuous for both women, was destroyed by Cassandra. Cassandra nursed Jane and was with her dear sister right to the end.
Francis Austen (1774-1865) had a distinguished naval curriculum vitae: entered the Royal Navy Academy, Portsmouth (1786); midshipman on the frigate Perseverance to India (1792); commissioned (1792); lieutenant on the armed brig Minerva (1792); on the sloop Lark that helped convoy Princess Caroline to England for marriage to the Prince of Wales (1795) [a marriage that subsequently involved scandalous un-Austenly behaviour on the part of both the Prince and his rudely rejected wife]; on the London that blockaded a Spanish fleet in Cadiz (1797); involved in some dubious way with the East India Company on the Perseverance requiring him to leave the ship at Madras and later petition for expenses home - it appears that his father's representations to Hastings on his behalf connected him to Company business (1798); Commander on the sloop Peterel in a fleet with Nelson (1799), this ship sinking 2 French ships and capturing the 42-gun La Ligurienne (1800); Flag Captain on the 98-gun Neptune (this appointment being due to Admiral Gambier, a relative of his sister-in-law Anne Matthew) (1801); stationed at Ramsgate on coastal defence (1803); on the Leopard with Rear-Admiral Louis blockading Boulogne (1804); captain of the 80-gun Canopus (formerly Le Franklin and captured by Nelson at the Battle of the Nile) and assisted Nelson in a trans-Atlantic chase after Villeneuve to the West Indies and back (1805); sent to get supplies at Gibraltar, Francis missed out on the Battle of Trafalfgar (1805); on Canopus at the Battle of St Domingo in which all the French participants were captured or destroyed (1806); married Mary Gibson and lived at Southampton with Jane, Cassandra, Mrs Austen and Martha Lloyd (1806); captained the St Albans that convoyed transports carrying soldiers to the Peninsular War (1808); removed survivors from the Peninsular campaign (1809); commanded a navy fleet protecting East Indiamen sailing to China and back via Madras, returning from this trip with 13 ships worth 2 million pounds including silver bullion worth 470,000 pounds delivered discreetly to the Company agents at Deal, this trip occasioning a payment of 1000 guineas and Directors' concerns over the death of a Chinese associated with a dispute and a 6-week delay to trading in China (1810); Commander of the Elephant in the North Sea and Baltic (1811-1813); on half-pay variously at Portsmouth, Chawton and Alton, he was made CB (1815); Mary died leaving 11 children (1823); he married Martha Lloyd (1828); he received a number of honours and important positions subsequently including KCB (1837), Rear-Admiral (1830), Vice-Admiral (1838), Commander-in-Chief, West Indies (1844), Admiral (1848), GCB (1860) and Admiral of the Fleet (1863). A dignified and notably religiously observant man, he died in 1865 after a lifetime of distinguished service. His second wife was a dear friend of Jane and who came to live with the Austen women after the death of George Austen in 1805.
Charles Austen (1779-1852) followed his brother Francis into the Royal Navy Academy at Portsmouth (1791). His subsequent career was as follows: midshipman on the 32-gun Daedalus under Captain Thomas Williams who was married to Charles' cousin Jane née Cooper on his mother's side (1792); he was on the Unicorn when it captured the 44-gun frigate La Tribune (1796); commissioned and sailed with the 16-gun Scorpion (1797); while his father unsuccessfully applied to Admiral Gambier for Charles' transfer to a frigate (a good prospect for gaining commercial prizes), Charles' representation direct to Lord Spencer saw him transferred as second lieutenant to the frigate Tamar (1798); he was subsequently posted to the Endymion under the now Sir Thomas Williams (1798); on the Endymion under Captain Charles Paget when it captured 3 men-of-war and 2 privateers, he was promoted to 1st lieutenant (1803); made Commander of the 18-gun sloop Indian (1804); he served in North America and married Frances Palmer (the daughter of John Palmer, the Attorney-General of Bermuda who vigorously enforced laws against Methodists) (1807); he was transferred to the flag-ship Swiftsure (1810) and to the frigate Cleopatra (1810) before returning home (1811); he was Flag-Captain on the Namur at the Nore where he had major responsibilities for Thames and eastern ports navy recruits (1811-1814); Frances died giving birth to her 4th child Elizabeth who also died subsquently (1814); Captain of the 32-gun Phoenix in the Mediterranean; court martialled on the Boyne in the Mediterranean for the loss of the Phoenix in a storm off Turkey - he was acquitted (1816), the fault lying with the Greek pilots; he married Frances' sister Harriet in 1820 (they subsequently had 4 children); Captain of the frigate Aurora (1826); commanded the Bellerophon and was awarded the CB for the bombardment of St Jean d'Acre (1840); Rear-Admiral of the Blue (1846); commanded the East Indies and China station on the Hastings; he died of cholera on a steam sloop on the Irrawaddy during war in Burma (1852). Handsome, courageous, affectionate, fond of children, Charles Austen was a model for Jane Austen's portrayal of noble, decent Navy men.
The score - the Austenizing of Jane Austen’s siblings
Of a sample of 30 books dealing with Jane Austen’s life 6 all but 7 mention all of her siblings, these 7 deficient histories failing to mention her disabled brother George for reasons about which we can only speculate. Indeed of 23 histories mentioning George, only 20 mention that he was deaf or dumb. This reservation is shown by his family and their descendants. Thus Jenkins (1973) observes:
“Of Mrs Austen’s first four children, the third, George, was subject to fits and was never able to live with the family, and the temperament of the Austens is nowhere better shown than by the fact that, affectionate and forthright as they were, beyond the statement of his death in 1827, not a single word in reference to him is discoverable in any of their printed memoirs or correspondence.” 7
While all of the 30 histories actually mention the rest of Jane Austen’s siblings, there are big differences in how singular attributes of these siblings are dealt with. Thus only 15 mention Cassandra’s destruction of a swag of Jane Austen’s letters (the ultimate in Austenizing is an Austen Austenizing an Austen), 5 the East Indies adventures of Francis Austen, 20 the bankruptcy of Henry Austen, 9 the litigation over the inheritance of Edward (Austen) Knight, 6 the naval court martial of Charles Austen and only 14 mention James Austen as a potential beneficiary of the will of Uncle James Leigh-Perrot. The Austenizing goes even further and thus while 9 histories mention James Austen’s first father-in-law General Matthew, only 1mentions his financial embarrassment over having to repay a huge sum deemed to have been “non-approved” salary for service in Grenada. 8
Of course this analysis could be taken further in all kinds of interesting ways. I will leave it up to a future American successor to Morris J. Zapp, Professor of English at the State University of Euphoria USA,9 to provide a detailed analysis of everything in this regard based upon a state-of-the-art, computer-based analysis of the relevant holdings of the Library of Congress or the Cornell University Library. Suffice it to say that the present sample shows that, for a variety of reasons, the more interesting aspects of the lives Jane Austen’s siblings have been generally reported in a less than comprehensive fashion.
Further relevant books on Jane Austen became available. 10