My dearest Frank, You will be glad to hear that every copy of S. and S. is sold, and that it has brought me £140 besides the copyright, if that should ever be of any value.
In 1788, 14 ½ year-old Frank Austen prepared to put out to sea and leave his family. After excelling in his courses at the Portsmouth Naval Academy, the Commissioner of the Dockyards recommended that Frank join the Perserverance under the direction of Cornwallis, who was recently appointed Commander-in-Chief of India. The letter that young Francis received from his father, Rev. George Austen, upon his departure was one that he would treasure for the rest of his life. In part, the Reverend wrote:
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 of 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 experience, 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 …
Ten years later, Jane would write with exultation:
My dear Cassandra, Frank is made. He was yesterday raised to the rank of Commander and appointed to the Petterel sloop, now at Gilbraltar. – Dec 28, 1798
By 1800, Frank, was still single, although his captain’s salary would enable him to marry and support a family in reasonable comfort. The letter Jane would write him on January 21, 1805 was heartbreaking:
My dearest Frank
I have melancholy news to relate, & sincerely feel for your feelings under the shock of it.—I wish I could better prepare you for it. But having said so much, your mind will already forestall the sort of event which I have to communicate.—Our dear Father has closed his virtuous & happy life, in a death almost as free from suffering as his Children could have wished. He was taken ill on Saturday morning, exactly in the same way as heretofore, an oppression in the head, with fever, violent tremulousness, & the greatest degree of Feebleness….towards the Evening however he got better, had a tolerable night, & yesterday morning was so greatly amended as to get up & join us at breakfast as usual, & walk about with only the help of a stick, & every symptom was then so favourable that when Bowen saw him at one, he felt sure of his doing perfectly well. But as the day advanced, all these comfortable appearances gradually changed; the fever grew stronger than ever, & when Bowen saw him at ten at night, he pronounc’d his situation to be most alarming. At nine this morning he came again—& by his desire a Physician was called in;—Dr. Gibbs—But it was then absolutely a lost case—. Dr. Gibbs said that nothing but a Miracle could save him, and about twenty minutes after Ten he drew his last gasp…My Mother bears the Shock as well as possible; she was quite prepared for it, & feels all the blessing of his being spared a long Illness. My Uncle & Aunt have been with us, & shew us every imaginable kindness. And tomorrow we shall I dare say have the comfort of James’s presence, as an express has been sent to him. Adieu my dearest Frank. The loss of such a Parent must be felt, or we should be Brutes—. I wish I could have given you better preparation—but it has been impossible. Yours Ever affectly – J A.
The news must have been a great blow to Frank, who sailed the world over and only saw his family sporadically. Perhaps his grief was somewhat ameliorated by Jane’s next letter a little over a week later:
My mother has found among our dear father’s little personal property a small astronomical instrument, which she hopes you will accept for his sake. It is, I believe, a compass and sundial, and is in a black shagreen case…Yours very affecly, JA.
When Frank asked Miss Mary Gibson to marry him, Jane and Cassandra discovered that they liked her extremely well. Their cordial relationship had an opportunity to flourish after Rev. George Austen’s death. Frank invited his mother and sisters to live with him and his bride in Southampton from 1806 to 1808. It was to be a mutually beneficial arrangement, for Frank did not want his young wife to be alone while he was away on his next voyage. He rented a house in Castle Square with a fine garden and a view across Southampton Water to the Isle of Wight, which Jane found very much to her liking. The invitation included the Austen women’s close friend, Martha Lloyd, sister to James Austen’s wife Mary.
Unfortunately, like Edward’s wife Elizabeth, Mary did not survive into old age and died after the birth of her 11th child in 1823. In an ironic turn of events, Frank asked Martha Lloyd to be his second wife in 1828 and she accepted. By any stretch of the imagination, Frank’s career was illustrious. He eventually achieved Knighthood as Sir Francis Austen and rose to the position of Admiral of the Fleet. Jane last saw her brother in the New Year of 1817, when a lull in her fatal illness allowed her to visit Frank and his large rambunctious family in Alton.
Thirty-five years after her death there came also a voice of praise from across the Atlantic. In 1852 the following letter was received by her brother Sir Francis Austen:
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A., 6th Jan. 1852
Since high critical authority has pronounced the delineations of character in the works of Jane Austen second only to those of Shakspeare, trans-atlantic admiration appears superfluous; yet it may not be uninteresting to her family to receive an assurance that the influence of her genius is extensively recognised in the American Republic, even by the highest judicial authorities. The late Mr Chief Justice Marshall, of the supreme Court of the United States, and his associate Mr Justice Story, highly estimated and admired Miss Austen, and to them we owe our introduction to her society. For many years her talents have brightened our daily path, and her name and those of her characters are familiar to us as ‘household words’. We have long wished to express to some of her family the sentiments of gratitude and affection she has inspired, and request more information relative to her life than is given in the brief memoir prefixed to her works.
Having accidentally heard that a brother of Jane Austen held a high rank in the British navy, we have obtained his address from our friend Admiral Wormley, now resident in Boston, and we trust this expression of our feeling will be received by her relations with the kindness and urbanity characteristic of Admirals of her creation. Sir Francis Austen, or one of his family, would confer a great favour by complying with our request. The autograph of his sister, or a few lines in her handwriting, would be placed among our chief treasures.
The family who delight in the companionship of Jane Austen, and who present this petition, are of English origin. Their ancestor held a high rank among the first emigrants to New England, and his name and character have been ably represented by his descendants in various public stations of trust and responsibility to the present time in the colony and state of Massachusetts. A letter addressed to Miss Quincey, care of the Honble Josiah Quincey, Boston, Massachusetts, would reach its destination.
Sir Francis Austen returned a suitable reply to this application; and sent a long letter of his sister’s, which, no doubt, still occupies the place of honour promised by the Quincey family. – A Memoir of Jane Austen by her nephew, Chapter IX
- A Note on a Jane Austen Connection with the Massachusetts Historical Society: Justice Story, Admiral Wormeley, and Admiral Francis Austen, Farnell Parsons
- Jane Austen’s letter to her brother Frank about their father’s death, January 21, 1805
- Admiral Sir Francis William Austen
- Another aspect of naval life Extracts from the Log Books of Captain Francis Austen at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
- The Dolphin Hotel in Southampton: Where Jane Austen Danced
- Francis’ daughter, Catherine married John Hubback. Her son, John Henry Hubback co-authored with his daughter, Edith Hubback, Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers in 1906.
Gentle reader: In honor of JASNA’s annual meeting in Philadelphia this week, this blog, Austenprose, and Jane Austen Today will be devoting posts to Jane Austen and her siblings. Look for new links each day.
- Cassandra Austen: Jane’s Supporter, Confidante, and Helpmate
- Jane Austen’s Siblings – Rev. James Austen 1765-1819 – comprehensive information about James Austen on Austenprose
- Jane Austen’s Siblings – Rev. Henry Austen – 1771 -1850 – Henry was Jane Austen’s favorite brother
- Edward Austen Knight: A tightwad or a man with heavy responsibilities?
- Jane Austen’s Siblings – Charles John Austen -1779-1852