Jane Austen was born and grew up at Steventon in Hampshire. That tiny village is still a place of pilgrimage for Jane Austen devotees from around the world – the house has gone, but the church she attended is still there.
However, on the other side of the world there is another Steventon, with interesting Jane Austen connections. Steventon station lies on the banks of the Selwyn River, in the foothills of the Southern Alps, in New Zealand’s South Island. It was a property of 9700 acres that was taken up by Richard Knight and Arthur Charles Knight, great-nephews to Jane Austen (they were the sons of William Knight, son of Jane’s brother Edward) and named ‘Steventon’ in honour of their childhood home in England. They bought the land in 1852, but before long Richard bought his brother out and in 1855 built a working homestead on the station.
In 1866 Richard Knight sold the property to Henry Hill and Frederick Napier Broome, both of whom had been his cadets and worked on the station. Frederick Broome and his wife, Lady Barker (she had been married before and in order to get her first husband’s army pension, had to keep his name) built a property called ‘Broomielaw’ and settled in, but terrible floods and a freezing winter which killed most of their sheep, resulted in them selling the station and returning to England. The house they built still stands. Lady Barker wrote a best-selling book, Station Life in New Zealand, as a result of her experiences at Steventon, and later she and her husband lived in Western Australia, when he was made Governor there (the town of Broome was named after them).
The Knight boys remained in New Zealand. Richard married and had two sons. He died in 1866. Arthur purchased land on Banks Peninsula, near Christchurch, married, and is said to have had twenty-one children, so there are many Knight descendents in New Zealand today. Arthur died in Christchurch in 1905.
On a visit to New Zealand a few years ago I took a literary tour group to Steventon station. It was a wonderful visit. The owners Gavin and Nathalie McArthur gave us a truly Kiwi welcome, provided us all with a home-cooked lunch, and took us on a tour of the station. Inside the house are many fascinating documents and photos of Lady Barker and her writings, and information about the Knights. It is a beautiful place, and we all enjoyed finding this Jane Austen connection in New Zealand.
Susannah Fullerton has authored two books this year - A Dance With Jane Austen and Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece (Coming out in January 2013). She is also President of JASA, tour guide, lecturer, mother and wife.