Admiral Francis William Austen was born on 23 April 1774 and died 10 August 1865 aged 91
Jane Austen was born between two Navy brothers, Frank who was almost 2 years older than her, and Charles, who was the baby of the family.
1. Frank’s nickname was ‘Fly’
Although his family and other children called him Frank, his siblings and friends called him Fly. He was known for his love of nature and the outdoors, and tended to be outside busy doing something.
In one letter Frank is described as ‘lively, fiery tempered and fearless of danger’.
2. Although Frank had an outstanding military career, he missed the most historic Battle of Trafalgar
Frank was only 12 years old when he joined the Navy. He completed his training in Portsmouth Naval College, followed 5 years later by his brother Charles.
Although, he captured some 40 French ships in the French Revolutionary Wars, he missed the Battle of Trafalgar as his boat HMS Canopus was away in North Africa picking up supplies. He wrote a long letter to his wife Mary over a period of four weeks that tells us the cost to his fortune and career.
He would sail for months on end to the Mediterranean, the Adriatic, Indian Ocean, Atlantic North and South, China Seas, Caribbean, and South America. Jane included his ships in her novels Mansfield Park and Persuasion.
He also lived in Admiralty House in Halifax Canada between 1844 and 1848 as head of the North America and West Indies Station which was split between Bermuda in the Winter and Halifax in the Summer.
Frank served the Royal Navy from 1786 to 1865 with a career spanning 79 years. He was awarded the Senior Admiral of the Fleet in 1863 when he was 89 years old.
3. Frank was a devoted family man
After Jane’s father George Austen died, Mrs Austen, Cassandra and Jane and their good friend Martha Lloyd moved to Southampton to live with Frank and his new wife Mary Gibson.
It was seen as a suitable arrangement as Frank was often away at sea for months or years at a time, and this way they could take care of each other.
Once the ladies had moved into Chawton Cottage, Frank and Mary later rented houses in Alton. It was within walking distance of Chawton and Jane and Cassandra would call there almost every day.
Jane was the one who wrote to him when his first son was born with the poem,
My dearest Frank, I wish you Joy
Of Mary’s safety with a boy,
Whose birth has given little pain
Compared with that of Mary Jane.
Mary and Frank had 6 sons and 5 daughters. Their last child, Chormley, was born in Gosport on 8 July 1823. Mary wasn’t to survive his birth she sadly died soon after and was buried on 19 July by her brother-in-law Henry Austen. Cholmley sadly died the following year.
Frank would later marry Martha Lloyd in 1828 when she was 62 years old.
4. Frank was known to his crew as ‘the officer who kneeled’
Frank was a deeply religious person. A devout Angelical, he commanded what was known as a “praying” ship. On land he was known as “the officer who kneeled” in church at a time when the usual practice was to remain seated.
He was also a stickler for the rules, which made him unpopular with his men, and it seems he became more serious and rigid as he got older.
His letters home to his children would often remind them sternly of their duty to God, which they probably read with trepidation!
5. After Jane’s death, Frank returned to Portsmouth where he had trained as a boy
In fact, both Jane’s Navy brothers made their homes in Portsmouth by the sea. Charles’s house is still standing today and can be found in Alverstoke, Gosport on the opposite shore to Portsmouth.
Frank’s house, Portsdown Lodge in Portsdown Hill, overlooks the whole of Portsmouth with views out to sea and to the Isle of Wight. From the house you can see the Navy Academy where Frank trained as a boy, and it must have amused him to have come full circle back to where his career started.
The original house has been replaced with a more modern home on the same foundations.
Frank died in 1865 at his home, Portsdown Lodge at Widley in Hampshire. Martha also died at Portsdown Lodge in 1843 aged 78, and Frank is buried beside her in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul, Wymering, Portsmouth.
It seems fitting that Frank was a military man all his life, and inside the church his memorial stone names him as ‘One of Nelsons Captains’. I am sure Frank would have been pleased, as this title was given to those that served alongside Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar.
In the churchyard, as if in line with Frank’s religious beliefs, his gravestone sunk into the ground is simply inscribed with his initials and a cross.
Francis Austen Wikipedia
Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers by John Hubback (1906). John is the grandson of Francis Austen, the sone of his daughter Edith.
Jane Austen and the Clergy by Irene Collins.
Jane Austen’s Prayers she wrote for her family.