Growing up in Steventon, the rectory was a happy and harmonious place partly due to Henry Thomas Austen. He was the third born son of his five brothers, James, George, Francis and Charles.
Henry had a lively personality and was good looking, which makes it surprising that he married late in life, first his cousin Eliza and then Eleanor Jackson. He chose a variety of careers, and was first a banker, then a soldier, a finally a clergyman.
He remained in the county of Hampshire and the nearby county of Surrey for most of his life, before a brief spell in France, before returning to Kent where he is buried.
Brother and Sister
Henry and Jane were particularly close, as Cassandra was to Edward. Jane’s niece Caroline commented that Henry was Jane’s ‘special pride and delight.’
They looked alike and had the same temperament, as both were positive, cheerful, and had an optimistic outlook. Whenever anyone did something funny, Jane and Cassandra would laugh.. ‘Oh, What a Henry!‘
Henry was good looking, had a lively personality and was loved. He was often welcomed at Godmersham by his brother Edward and his family, and his many nieces and nephews enjoyed his company.
A Banker, a baker, a candlestick maker
With Henry having such an outgoing personality, it made sense that he would have different careers throughout his life.
Being born into such a talented family, it may have been difficult for Henry to choose a profession his brothers had not already excelled at. His eldest brother James was a clever scholar, publisher and a curate of the church. His brothers Charles and Francis entered the Navy and fought for their country, winning many prizes and promotions. Edward was adopted by wealthy cousins, who trained him to manage estates with a view to inheriting a fortune.
He first went into Banking in Alton and London, which eventually went bankrupt. He had spell in the Oxford Militia, and was later ordained a priest and became a master at Farnham Grammar School in Surrey.
Life and Death
Henry caught a fever and became very ill, and almost died. It was Jane who nursed him back to health at his house in London, where she spent many months nursing him, and it was a close call. At one point she called the family to his bedside to pray for him.
It was during this time that the Apothecary that nursed Henry knew the Prince Regent’s librarian, a great admirer of Jane’s novels, and made the introduction that would lead to Jane dedicating her novel Emma to the Prince Regent.
For the Love of Eliza
Henry met his exotic cousin when she visited Steventon in his youth. The Austen children would put on plays together, similar to those Jane imagines in Mansfield Park. Eliza was married at the time, and it was only when her husband was killed in France, did she return to England and her Austen cousins. They were married on New Years Eve 1797 in London. Henry was heartbroken when Eliza died in April 1813 at the young age of 51, after a long illness.
After Jane’s Death
After Jane’s death Henry acted as her literary executor. He initially remained in Hampshire and was as curate of Chawton for three more years, and also served as chaplain to the British Embassy in Berlin for five months during that period.
In 1820, Henry remarried Eleanor Jackson who was the niece of the Reverend Papillon at Chawton. The same Reverend Papillon that Mrs Knight had hoped Jane would marry.
When he retired from the church, Henry lived in France for a time before returning to his family in Kent. He died at Tunbridge Wells on 12 March 1850 at the age of seventy-eight. He is buried at Woodbury Park Cemetery in Tunbridge Wells.
Further Reading – Henry Austen: The Banker’s Sister by E J Clery