#OTD Charles Austen was born 23 June 1779 and died 7 October 1852 aged 73
Charles Austen was the youngest sibling, and as the baby of the family, spent a lot of his time being cared for by his sisters. Jane wrote some of her stories and poems to amuse him as a boy, now known as Juvenilia. He loved the sea, and followed his elder brother Francis into the Navy, and found his wife Fanny in Bermuda. She died after the birth of their fourth child, and he later married her sister Harriet who gave him four more children. Jane based some of her stories on his grief and sailing antics, and he bought her treasured Topaz Cross. He achieved the rank of Rear Admiral, and died on active service in Burma. He is buried on the beautiful island of Trincomalle in Sri Lanka.
1 Jane and Cassandra called Charles their ‘own particular little brother’
This was an inside joke. Fanny Burney’s third novel Camilla was published in 1796, and provided the line that his sisters would use to describe their little brother Charles John.
2 Jane wrote a large part of her Juvenilia for Charles
When he was 8-11 years old, and dedicated Sir William Mountague and The Memoirs of Mr Clifford to him.
3 Age 12 he joined his brother Francis in Portsmouth to enter the Navy
Charles was an exceptional student, and found his first sailing opportunity when his cousin Jane Cooper married Captain Thomas Williams. He was in command of the Daedalus, and took Charles on board to sail with him when he was just 15 years old.
4 His looks improved with sea air and sunshine
This was the start of a great career for Charles, and when he returned to visit his family at Steventon in 1799, he was 20 years old. Jane’s friend Madam Lefroy commented, ‘I never saw anyone so much improved in her life, and thinks him more handsomer than Henry.’
5 Charles own scandal was marrying two sisters
Charles met his wife Fanny in Bermuda when she was 15 years old, and he was 12 years her senior. They were deeply in love, and he married her on 19 May 1807. She was a brave woman, and lived with Charles and their children on board his ships. It broke his heart when she died on HMS Namur shortly after giving birth to their fourth child. She was just 24 years old.
Is it thought that Jane recorded his grief in the character of Captain Benwick in Persuasion.
He married Fanny’s sister Harriet six years later, although it was against Church of England rules to marry the sister of a dead spouse. She took care of his three children, and they had four children together.
6 He bought Jane her treasured Topaz Cross
It was Charles who bought Jane and Cassandra their Topaz Crosses from Gibraltar with his share of prize money from the capture of the French ship Scipio. Jane wrote to Cassandra, ‘We shall be unbearably fine.’
7 He read Jane’s novels many times
Jane often wrote to him and sent him copies of her novels. He thought Mansfield Park ‘wanted incident‘, and enjoyed Emma more. He wrote, ‘I am delighted with her, more so I think than even with my favourite Pride & Prejudice.’ He read it three times on his passage home.
8 He worked for the Coast Guard in Cornwall
Charles returned to England when his ship was lost at sea. In 1820, he joined the Coast Guard in Cornwall, and spent many hours on horseback touring Custom Houses and tracking down smugglers. Then in 1826 he returned to the sea.
9 Charles was unable to attend Jane’s funeral
Charles could not attend Jane’s funeral as he was in Eastbourne on the South East coast of England with his children. He wrote in his diary: July 24, a very fine day. Dear Janes Funeral. Unfortunately, he also missed Cassandra’s funeral as he was called away to sea and she died at Frank’s home in Portsmouth.
10 Charles death was a great loss to the Navy and his men
Although he was in his seventies, Charles was sent to Burma on active service to fight in the Burmese War. He caught cholera on board HMS Flute and was taken to shore. ‘He wrote up his reports, penned a line to his wife, said his prayers, took to his bed and died, peacefully and alone.’
Of Charles, an Officer wrote, ‘Our good admiral won the hearts of all by his gentleness and kindness while he was struggling with disease, and endeavouring to do his duty as Commander-in-Chief of the British naval forces in these waters. His death was a great grief to the whole fleet. I know that I cried bitterly when I found he was dead.
He is buried on the beautiful island of Trincomalee in Sri Lanka.
Charles kept many diaries and journals throughout his life. They can be found in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England.
Jane Austen Transatlantic Sister: The Life and Letters of Fanny Palmer by Sheila Johnson Kindred
Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers by John Hubback (1906). John is the grandson of Francis Austen, the son of his daughter Edith.
Jane Austen and the Navy by Brian Southam