As a young naval officer, Charles Austen used some of his early prize money to purchase presents for his sisters, Jane and Cassandra Austen. Jane’s pride and pleasure burst through in her letter to Cassandra of 26–27 May 1801: “He has received 30£ for his share of the privateer & expects 10£ more—but of what avail is it to take the prizes if he lays out the produce in presents to his Sisters. He has been buying Gold chains & Topaze Crosses for us;—he must be well scolded.”1
What is noteworthy is not that, as a junior officer, Charles received a modest share of prize money from the sale of a captured ship but that he was instrumental in the seizure itself. He had earlier been promoted to lieutenant for courage at the battle of Camperdown in the North Sea, off Holland. This time, he led four men in a small boat in a gale over to the eighteen-gun Scipio and held it, along with its 149 men, through the storm until his ship, the Endymion, could come up the next day. Many readers will recognize Jane’s acknowledgement of Charles’s present in William Price’s gift of a “very pretty amber cross” to his sister Fanny in Mansfield Park (254). Indeed, the gift leads to the assumption that William is based on Jane’s youngest brother. Mansfield Park features the cross and two of Charles’s ships, the Endymion and the Cleopatra. William Price has been gone seven years; Charles was gone six in North America. Fanny’s “exquisite feeling” at William’s arrival (MP 233) must have mirrored Jane’s upon Charles’s return. Jane, however, is careful to balance references between her younger and older naval brothers. Mansfield Park also mentions two ships that Frank captained, the Canopus and the Elephant. William is Frank’s middle name, and William Price is a year older than Fanny, as Frank was a year older than Jane.
These Mansfield Park details show that, while Jane Austen never wrote extensively about the “Long War” between England and France, she presents aspects of it in the background, often as it relates to her family. My purpose in this paper is to provide a comprehensive look at this seemingly never-ending conflict—now generally called the Napoleonic Wars—and how it affected Great Britain, Austen’s family, and her novels, particularly Persuasion. The article has two goals: to bring together a range of relevant information about the war and its effect on Austen—information that is available now only in a dozen different books and many more articles—and to provide new critical observations about the meaning of military references in Austen’s novels. The discussion is divided into four sections: 1) the overall geopolitical and military situation and its impact on the country; 2) the oft-overlooked service of the Austen men; 3) the lifetime naval careers of Frank and Charles, and the efforts of the family to help their advancement; and, finally, 4) the way Jane weaves the war into her novels and how this material impacts her works.2
The effects of a never-ending war
England and France were at war for almost twenty-nine of Jane Austen’s forty-one years of life. During her adulthood, before the war’s stuttering end, there was only one year of peace, the 1802 Peace of Amiens. No realists expected that treaty to hold, and both sides used the break to rearm, re-equip, and replenish their ranks. The renewal of hostilities in many ways was a continuation of the fight between England and France on and off over a century for control of Europe, trading routes, overseas colonies, and expansion. The latest war began in 1793, when, along with these issues, the French also sought to export their violent republicanism. Within a few years, the guillotine-happy government of France had succumbed to a dictator who had himself declared emperor in 1804. Battles were fought across Europe, as well as in Egypt and on the high seas. England funded coalition after coalition with European allies to thwart Napoleon, but most of the war was a bloody stalemate. France could not defeat England’s navy, and England could not, until very late, field an army on the continent large enough to challenge France’s domination. Napoleon recognized the impasse by comparing France to an elephant, the most powerful animal on land, and England to a whale, the most powerful animal in the seas. Each reigned supreme in its element.
Britain’s first toehold in Europe was achieved in the summer of 1808 when British forces landed in Portugal and, under General Arthur Wellesley, won the Battle of Vimeiro. Frank Austen, who served on convoy duty for much of what became known as the Peninsular Campaign, watched the battle from the deck of his ship and afterward brought home British wounded and French captives. In letters of January 1809, Jane Austen mentions the next British campaign, a disastrous winter effort in Portugal and Spain by General Sir John Moore, in which Moore was nearly trapped by Napoleon after moving into the interior to aid Spanish forces. The desperate retreat led to thousands of casualties and the largest British evacuation before Dunkirk in World War II. Jane wrote that Frank might sail to help with the evacuation. It’s not clear whether he actually did, but he oversaw the disembarkation of the ragged survivors at Portsmouth. When General Wellesley (eventually Lord Wellington), returned to the Iberian Peninsula, Napoleon rushed in reinforcements again, following his dictum, “I may lose ground, but I shall never lose a minute.” The British, who never had sufficient resources to fight Napoleon in strength, made an orderly withdrawal to a coastal fortress.
The back and forth continued until Napoleon’s own winter disaster, in Russia in 1812. This defeat enabled the British to move up from the south and Russia from the east, forcing Napoleon’s abdication in 1814 and his exile to Elba, an island just off the coast of France. Three hundred days later, he returned to France and restarted the fighting. His Grand Armée was destroyed at the Battle of Waterloo, ending his second reign after a hundred days. Taking no chances this time, England banished him to St. Helena, a British possession in the far south Atlantic. He died there in 1821. Jane began to write Persuasion on 8 August 1815, the day the newspapers announced that Napoleon had sailed into his final exile.
Britain suffered mighty losses and teetered on the edge of bankruptcy for much of the war. It was, however, the only major European country that did not suffer direct devastation. Like the United States after World War II, Britain emerged with its technology, military, and mercantile apparati largely intact and leading the world. Ironically, Napoleon’s Continental System, which had blocked the nation’s trade with Europe, had sent enterprising businessmen all over the world in search of new markets. Between trade and its indomitable navy, the British Empire spanned the globe for another 150 years.
The £1.66 billion cost of the war was a staggering expense for a nation with a population of about ten million. As it raged on, England imposed taxes on numerous items: almanacs, bricks, candles, carriages, dice, glass, gloves, hair powder, hats, sporting horses, leather, letter franks, newspapers, perfume, ribbons, servants, gamekeepers, shooting licenses, sporting dogs, spirits and wine, starch, timepieces, tobacco, wallpaper, and wills. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet’s horses, being primarily farm animals, would not have been taxed. Darcy’s pleasure horses, however, would have been, along with the horses and vehicles owned by the wealthy in the other novels. Lady Catherine’s carriages in Pride and Prejudice and Sir Walter’s in Persuasion would have been one of the most highly taxed items: £8.16s for one four-wheel carriage; £9.18s for a second; and £11 for each one after that (Jones 80). In December 1797, Eliza de Feuillide, cousin of Jane and soon-to-be wife of Jane’s brother Henry, complained: “These new Taxes will drive me out of London, and make me give up my Carriage” (Le Faye, Outlandish Cousin 150). In 1799, England instituted an income tax to pay for the war. (The window tax referenced in Mansfield Park had been around for generations.3) Despite the new tax revenues, half of the expense of the war remained as debt at war’s end.
Anyone reading Austen might be surprised to discover that the war was controversial, for nowhere in her books is there a whiff of opposition. But the Long War was as divisive as the Vietnam War was in the U.S. Tories were staunch supporters, but many Whigs—whose business and trading interests were negatively impacted and who supported a more republican form of government—were opposed. The Irish, chafing under English oppression, sought help for rebellion from the French. There was also internal dissent within England over the hardships imposed by the war and outrage over repression of that dissent.
Every year featured some kind of war-related internal crisis. The year 1797–1798, when Austen was working on early versions of her first novels, was typical. In that year, there were Whig petitions to end the war. There were Irish rebellions supported by attempted French invasions; these did not succeed because of a lack of coordination. There was a run on banks, leading to failures. Conscription was technically illegal, but local parishes were required to turn out a certain number of men for the army (“balloting”), and this action led to protests. Impressment into the navy led to riots in other years, but this year it was enlisted men in the navy who rebelled. Poor food and pay led to the mutiny, which began in Spithead and spread to Nore before it was put down. Eventually, twenty-one men were hanged.
The names “Spithead” and “Nore” may not resonate with modern readers, or with those from outside the U.K. Spithead, the quiet water off the military port of Portsmouth, was home for the fleet out of southern England, and Nore was the entrance to the Thames and the naval bases at Medway. Charles Austen served on a guardship at Nore, with his family often on board, for three years. These two installations were England’s most important naval bases at a time when a French invasion was feared whenever the weather and winds were right. Though the sailors said they would fight if the French showed up, the fleet was hardly prepared for a sudden attack. Imagine a similar circumstance if the British navy facing the French coast had gone on strike in World War II! That was the impact of naval mutinies in the war.
The Austen family and war
Frank and Charles had joined the navy when barely into their teens and devoted their lives to that service. None of the immediate Austen family served in the army, which took the war to the enemy on the ground. The other able-bodied men in the Austen family, however, were involved with the militia, which defended the homeland, or the volunteers, who backed up the militia.4 England had more than 380,000 volunteers at the war’s peak to fend off a possible French invasion. The navy had a similar group of volunteers for the coastline. Frank led the “sea-fencibles” out of Ramsgate in Kent in 1804. He did not have much regard for their abilities, calling the typical recruit “a nondescript half-sailor half-soldier, as efficient as neither” (Southam 53).
Tradition and the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire discouraged the bearing of arms by the clergy, so Jane’s father and her oldest brother, James, recruited. Mr. Austen brought in thirty-five men of the Steventon parish to the volunteers, and James brought in a hundred men from four local parishes to the militia. When war broke out in 1793, her wealthy brother Edward became deputy lieutenant for the county of Kent, helping to organize the militia. In 1794, he enlisted as a cornet (second lieutenant) in the Wingham Yeomanry, and in 1803 he organized the Godmersham and Molash Company of East Kent Volunteers, in which he served as a senior cavalry captain.
Henry served in the Oxfordshire Militia from 1793 to 1801. This experience had two major effects on his life. The first is that he became paymaster for his regiment and eventually an army agent. These roles took him into the banking business with two of his fellow militia officers, and they exploited their military connections for business. This profession also had an impact on his two brothers’ naval careers, and on Jane’s publishing career, as discussed below. Henry’s bank eventually became the agent for at least six militias, handling financial matters for the regiments and the private banking needs of various officers. He also became a tax collector. His businesses collapsed early in 1816 when a major recession followed the end of the war.
The other major impact of the war on Henry involved another military mutiny, this one in Newhaven in April 1795 by Henry’s own Oxfordshire Militia. For two days, four hundred men attacked farms and mills, protesting their own meagre rations as well as offering support for the local poor. The two leaders were executed by firing squad, and three others were flogged—three hundred lashes each. Henry was not there during the mutiny, but he and 10,000 other men were brought back to see examples made of the mutineers. Prime Minister Pitt did, however, increase food supplies for the militias.
With a nation at war, two brothers directly involved in combat, and the other brothers involved with the militia, it is ironic that the only casualties in the immediate family circle came via the women. Cassandra lost her fiancé, Tom Fowle, in 1797 while he was serving as chaplain on a military cruise to the West Indies with his cousin, Lord Craven. Tom died of yellow fever, as did about half of all the British in the Caribbean. (The British army bought 13,400 slaves to offset the losses; the slaves were promised freedom after the war.) Tom’s brother was also killed in the Egyptian campaign in 1801. The other close death was that of George Bridges in naval action in August 1807. George was the youngest brother of Elizabeth Bridges, the wife of Jane’s brother Edward. The oldest Bridges son was heir to the family wealth; the other sons became clergy. As reflected in Austen’s own family and in her books, many younger sons sought a career in arms. Frank had brought George aboard the Canopus, where he remained when Frank left the command. George’s combat death, which is noted in a brief diary entry by his niece Fanny Austen (later Knight), must have been particularly shocking for Jane and Cassandra. Their sister-in-law loses her youngest brother in naval combat; they have a younger brother in naval combat. And George is mortally wounded on the very decks where Frank himself had only recently trod.
Frank and Charles: The “sailor brothers”
Frank and Charles have become known collectively as the “sailor brothers,” the title of the first biography of them, written by Frank’s grandson and great-granddaughter, John and Edith Hubback. Both men served in the Royal Navy, which was the pride of England, the “Wooden Wall” between England and France. In terms of accomplishment and rank, Frank and Charles had splendid careers. Frank was one of Nelson’s captains, he won glory at San Domingo, and he died as Admiral of the Fleet, the country’s highest rank. Charles captured more than a dozen prizes and became a Rear Admiral, Commander in Chief of the East Indies and China Station. Prize money supplemented naval pay and, as exemplified by Admiral Croft and Captain Wentworth in Persuasion, occasionally made naval officers wealthy.
Both Austen careers, however, were stymied for long stretches, and both battled “the system” throughout their lives. To begin, both brothers attended the new naval college in Portsmouth, which was a departure from tradition. Normally, a youth would join a ship at the age of eleven or twelve years of age—nine (!) was the earliest allowed—literally learn the ropes as a midshipman for three years, and stand for a lieutenant’s examination. Going to the naval college involved three years of study, two of which counted toward sea experience. The goal was to make these boys gentlemen as well as sailors, for in foreign locales a ship’s officers would often act as England’s de facto ambassadors. (Frank Austen would eventually attend the Chinese court, and Charles Austen’s service in South America brought him a ceremonial sword from Simon Bolivar.) Old salts among the officer corps did not necessarily agree with this genteel new approach of a naval school, and there was often antagonism from other young men who had put to sea directly. Nevertheless, Frank and Charles both quickly proved themselves and obtained their lieutenancies.
Like everyone else, the Austens used every avenue possible to advance the cause of their sons. To help Frank, Mr. Austen in 1794 wrote to Warren Hastings, the former governor-general of India and godfather (and reputed father) of Jane’s cousin Eliza. Hastings wrote to First Naval Lord Affleck. On Jane’s mother’s side, the Leighs, were two captains, Stanhope and Chamberlayne, who became rear admirals after Frank and Charles entered service. Jane’s cousin Jane Cooper married Captain (later Admiral) Thomas Williams, who became Charles’s patron. It was aboard Williams’s ship that Charles received his promotion after Camperdown.
Of all the relatives, the strongest connection came through James’s first wife, Anne. Married to James only a few years before her death, she was the daughter of General Edward Mathew, one-time governor of Grenada. Mathew had two nieces, each of whom married a Gambier brother: James, future Lord of the Admiralty, and Samuel, Secretary of the Navy Board. James Gambier was instrumental in Frank’s early promotions and had Frank serve under him in several captaincies. On 18–19 December 1798, Jane writes Cassandra that their father plans to write Gambier about Charles too, joking that “he will be delighted” to have another Austen to help in addition to Frank. Jane adds that Charles should write Sir Thomas Williams as well. On 24–26 December 1798, Jane sends another letter to Cassandra saying that Gambier has replied that Charles will be transferred to a larger ship “when a proper opportunity offers & it is judged that he has taken his Turn in a small Ship.” As for Frank, Gambier, based on information from Lord Spencer of the Admiralty, says: “I can give you the assurance that his promotion is likely to take place very soon.” Jane writes later in the letter that Charles has told her that he himself has directly written Lord Spencer, causing Jane to add that the Admiralty has now received so many applications from the Austens that “his serene Highness will be in a passion, & order some of our heads to be cut off.” Just two days later (28 December 1798), she exults in another letter that both brothers are rewarded: “Frank is made.—He was yesterday raised to the Rank of Commander, & appointed to the Petterel sloop” and “Lieut. Charles John Austen is removed to the Tamer Frigate.” (With her typical orthographic sketchiness, Jane misspells the names of the Peterel and Tamar. In a letter a month later, when Charles is reassigned to his earlier ship Endymion, she corrects the spelling of Tamar.)
Through the Gambiers, the family also became connected with Lord Moira, a senior military figure and an influential companion to the future prince regent and king, George IV. Brian Southam, in his 2005 book Jane Austen and the Navy, documents the ways that Moira helped Frank. The conventional belief is that Charles moved up largely because of Sir Thomas Williams. Stuart Bennett, however, in his 2013 Persuasions article, reveals correspondence at the Huntington Library that also ties Moira to Charles’s advancement. The letters illuminate a quid pro quo in which Henry’s bank lent Moira money in exchange for letters of support to naval authorities. In 1803–1804, Moira received loans totaling at least £2,000 from Henry, with Moira’s patronage leading to Charles’s first command, the sloop Indian in Bermuda. Another exchange of loans for letters in 1805 attempted to obtain Frank a frigate—the most potentially lucrative ship for winning prize money—but that effort failed (Bennett 135–41).
These requests were brokered by Captain (later Major) Charles James, Moira’s financial agent and Henry’s silent banking partner. It’s not clear how Henry Austen and Charles James met, but they became partners when Henry opened his army agency or soon thereafter.5 E. J. Clery, in her 2017 book Jane Austen: The Banker’s Sister, paints James as a shady character. Bennett, in his article, shows James assiduously and at times desperately trying to sort out Moira’s ever-growing financial mess, the result of his own spending and irresponsible lending to others. Eventually, Lord Moira and James Gambier both fell out of favor politically and ceased to be able to provide much help. Also, Moira’s inability to repay the original loans left Henry unable to lend more. When Moira was named Governor-General of India in 1813, his credit improved, and Henry lent another £6,000. Unfortunately, Moira used India to abscond from debts estimated to be as much as £1 million. Henry’s £6,000 loss triggered his bankruptcy in March 1816, with disastrous consequences for the family. Edward lost at least £20,000; Uncle Leigh Perrot, at least £10,000; Frank and Charles lost much of their savings. Conservative Jane lost £13.7s; most of the £640 she had earned as a writer was invested—where else?—in safe navy stock paying 5 percent annually.
The Gambier–Moira–James connection helped the early naval careers of both Frank and Charles. It is hard to say whether this assistance was enough to justify the later collapse. Still, if Charles James was not the original channel to Moira, there’s an excellent chance that he was the conduit by which Jane Austen found her first publisher, Thomas Egerton. James wrote two best-selling books for Egerton, Regimental Companion (1800) and Military Dictionary (1802). The connection via James to Henry may explain why Egerton, a military publisher, took up a civilian novel by a new female author.
The effect of Frank’s missing Trafalgar
Bad luck meant that Frank’s service was not a nonstop run to glory. Serving as a captain in the fleet of Lord Nelson in the Mediterranean, he was sent with five other vessels to obtain supplies from Gibraltar. While the group was away, the French and Spanish came out for the great Battle of Trafalgar near Cadiz, Spain. Twenty-seven British ships destroyed the thirty-three ships of the combined enemy fleet, ending any threat of the long-feared French invasion of England. Not only did Frank miss the naval battle of the ages—which put all those captains in front of him for acclaim, rewards, and lucrative posts—but the death of Nelson in the battle meant he also lost his greatest patron. Writing in his log and in a long letter home to Mary Gibson, his fiancée in Ramsgate, from the middle of October 1805 to the end, Frank was disconsolate: “Great and important as must be the victory, it is alas! dearly purchased.” He meant Admiral Nelson, whose loss is “the greatest which could have occurred. . . . I never heard of his equal, nor do I expect again to see such a man.”
Frank understands “the loss of pecuniary advantage as well as of professional credit” as the result of his absence from the battle. He says to Mary:
In your satisfaction at my having avoided the danger . . . [you] may not much regret my [not] . . . having contributed to . . . Victory; not so, myself; I do not profess to like fighting for its own sake, but . . . I shall ever consider the day on which I sailed from the Squadron as the most inauspicious one of my life. . . . Alas! My dearest Mary, . . . I cannot help feeling how very unfortunate we have been to be away at such a moment, and, by a fatal combination of unfortunate though unavoidable events to lose all share in the glory of a day, which surpasses all which ever went before. . . . As I cannot write upon that subject without complaining, I will drop it for the present, till time and reflection reconcile me a little more to what I know is now inevitable. (Southam 97–100).6
Having one of the few undamaged ships, Frank remained on patrol while the battered English fleet fought to get home through bad weather that caused most of their prizes to be lost. When two French squadrons later slipped the blockade, Frank’s squadron set off in pursuit, surprising one of them at San Domingo in the West Indies: five enemy ships of the line. Frank’s Canopus dismasted two enemy ships; the British secured three ships as prizes, the same number as survived Trafalgar. The great sea victory at Trafalgar in October by “the whale” (England) had been immediately neutralized by the grand land victory over Russia and Prussia at Austerlitz in December by “the elephant” (France). Thus, the February 1806 victory in the West Indies set off another huge celebration in England, and Frank’s career was back on track.
Captured ships were sold as prizes; a warship would usually bring about £2,500. One-fourth went to the fleet commander, three-eighths to the captain (reduced to two-eighths in 1808), and the rest was divided among the other officers and crew. Rewards also included “head money”—£5 for each enemy killed or captured. Victorious captains would also receive ceremonial awards of gold or silver plate worth between £100 and £400, compared to a captain’s salary of £200 to £400 a year. With the rewards, Frank probably cleared at most no more than £1,250 to £1,500 from San Domingo, enough for him to marry—even though he went to half-pay upon his return, when the worn-out Canopus went in for repairs and he was without a command for many months.
Frank, and every other captain, sought a frigate, which tended to be another privilege of the well-connected. At 34 to 40 guns, these “leopards of the ocean” had the speed and firepower to capture most ships and the ability to escape a bigger enemy. Frank several times asked Nelson for a frigate and a “roving commission” that would enable him to hunt on his own, which meant he didn’t have to split the prize with a commander. In 1805, however, Nelson was intent on forcing a decisive battle with France and wanted to keep all frigates close at hand. Upon Nelson’s death, Frank wrote on 31 October 1805, “I have again lost all chance of a frigate.” Frank believed that Nelson eventually “would have attended to my wishes,” but he did not know Nelson’s successor, Admiral Collingwood, well enough to ask for a frigate (Hubback 160). (Frank was unaware that Nelson had recommended him for command of the frigate Acasta, a possibility that expired with the commander in chief.) Frigate frustration emerges again, this time in a letter from Jane to Cassandra on 20–22 February 1807: “as the 1st Lord [Thomas Grenville] after promising Ld Moira that Capt. A. should have the first good Frigate that was vacant, has since given away two or three fine ones, [Frank] has no particular reason to expect an appointment now.”
In the end, most of Frank’s commands involved old, slow vessels. At San Domingo he said that the Canopus “sails so bad that we were nearly the last ship in action; when we did get up, however, we had our share of it” (Hubback 175–76). At one point, he handed a formal complaint about the poor condition of the ship to Lord Nelson (Honan 218). Ultimately, Frank’s next appointment involved another old vessel, the St. Albans, which Southam labels “a real dud” (64). To get the St. Albans seaworthy for convoy duty, Frank had to repeatedly write forceful letters to “the principal Officers and Commissioners in His Majesty’s Navy” (Hubback 186). Only once did Frank receive a modern ship, the Caledonia, the newest and finest in the fleet, a first-rater with 120 guns. This was the flagship of his patron, Admiral Lord James Gambier. When Gambier was replaced a few months later, the new admiral took the captaincy from Frank to give to his son-in-law. Jane’s letter of 18–20 April 1811 shows her alarm at his loss: “Saturday.—Frank is superseded in the Caledonia. . . . Sir Edwd Pellew succeeds Lord Gambier . . . , & some Captain of his, succeeds Frank; . . . what will he do? & where will he live?” Frank ended up in command of the seventy-four-gun Elephant, a solid warship but no prize-taker.
Frank’s experience with leaky old war buckets was probably the source of Captain Wentworth’s sardonic remark in Persuasion about his first ship, the sloop Asp. “‘Quite worn out and broken up’” and hardly fit for service in home waters, the Asp was ordered to cross three thousand miles of ocean to the West Indies: “‘The admiralty . . . entertain themselves now and then, with sending a few hundred men to sea, in a ship not fit to be employed. But they have a great many to provide for; and among the thousands that may just as well go to the bottom as not, it is impossible for them to distinguish the very set who may be least missed’” (64–65).
After the war, when the navy was downsizing, Frank’s lack of connections stymied his career. He remained in service and received promotions and awards, but had no sea command for twenty-nine years. His lack of ships, he said, was “not from want of inclination or application” but from having “no influence of a political or family description” (Southam 111 n105). Only after attrition thinned the senior ranks, when he was seventy-one, did he get another ship. In 1844, he became commander in chief of the North American and West Indies Station. In 1863, two years before his death, when he was wheelchair-bound, he became Admiral of the Fleet.
Small prizes, wrecked career for Charles
Charles spent most of the war on the North American Station, alternating between Bermuda and Nova Scotia. He took a number of prizes, though none was substantial. After his assignment on the guardship at Nore, he returned to sea in the Mediterranean. There, however, he lost his ship, the Phoenix, when a local pilot drove it upon the rocks near Smyrna, Turkey. Though he was cleared of wrongdoing, the loss could not have come at a worse time. With the war ending, and a surplus of captains, who was going to give a command to someone whose ship had sunk? For nine years, Charles had a land position overseeing coast guard operations. Then one day, he saw the Aurora preparing to sail, but the captain’s flag was at half-mast. He took a small boat over to the ship to confirm the captain’s death, presented his credentials to the Admiralty, and inquired about the opening. Asked when he could sail, he said: “tomorrow!” In fact, he sailed four days later (Southam 55 n18). Lively as the tale is, it is possible that it is apocryphal.7
Charles did, however, obtain the captaincy quickly. From 1826 until his death in 1852, he was again a sailor; his only extended time on land was when he was invalided after falling from a mast. He led the fleet capturing Rangoon and died of cholera in Burma in 1852 at the age of 73. 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. . . . It was a great grief to the whole fleet. I cried bitterly when I found out he was dead” (Southam 56 n22).
Having lacked the connections to advance their own careers, Frank and Charles did not hesitate to use nepotism to help their own family, creating what was commonly called a “family ship.” On Frank’s flagship Vindictive in North America in 1845, his officers included George, his third son, as chaplain, and Herbert Gray, his fourth son, as flag lieutenant. Frank sought to have his namesake oldest son named flag captain, but the Admiralty vetoed the idea.8 When Frank promoted Herbert Gray to be commander of the Vesuvius, he named Charles’s namesake son to replace Herbert as flag lieutenant. Frank also brought his daughters Cassandra and Frances along. Cassandra apparently was not well-liked; crewmembers christened her “Miss Vindictive.”
Brother Charles also packed his family ship when he took command of East India and China in 1847. His son Charles was an officer; his nephew Frank was his flag captain (this appointment passed Admiralty scrutiny); he had three great-nephews aboard, two from the Bridges line and one via Frank; another of his officers was Tom Fowle, the nephew of Cassandra’s late fiancé, who had previously served under the Austen brothers. Charles also brought along his wife Harriet and his daughters Cassandra, Harriet, and Fanny. Like Persuasion’s Mrs. Croft (and possibly Anne Elliot after marriage), daughter Fanny was onboard as a navy wife—she had married her cousin Frank.9
By sheer tenacity, Austen’s sailor brothers rose to the highest ranks of their profession. Beyond post-captain, promotion was based on seniority, and the Austen boys outlived—and eventually out-sailed—their better-connected competitors.
War and the novels
We have seen the considerable impact of the war on England and the role Austen’s family played in it. How much of this violent conflict extends to her novels? The answer is, until Persuasion, and to some extent Mansfield Park, not very much. In the other books, we have lots of military figures, but no war. General Tilney and Captain Tilney have seen service, but are now idling about. Colonel Brandon went to the East Indies to escape heartbreak; his service gets him ridiculed by Marianne and Willoughby for having expertise in mosquitos, nabobs, gold mohrs, and palanquins (SS 51). Jane Fairfax’s father died in action years before. Mr. Weston had been a captain in the militia. And of course Wickham is in the militia.
In Austen, Brandon is the archetype signified by the rank of colonel: the “‘sensible man, well-bred, well-informed, of gentle address, and . . . possessing an amiable heart’”—Elinor’s defense of him (51). Colonel Campbell took in Jane Fairfax, and Colonel Fitzwilliam likely serves steadfastly in the army after his abrupt disappearance from the pages of Pride and Prejudice. The “‘sensible’” Colonel Forster (PP 232), despite failing to supervise Lydia (a job that actually belonged to his new wife), attempts to rectify matters by searching up and down for Wickham after the elopement. In Persuasion, Colonel Wallis, though tarnished by his association with William Elliot, is guilty of nothing more than helping a friend thwart the gold-digging Mrs. Clay.
Rather than a soldier playing a heroic role as leading man, what we see in the novels is the common real-life situation in which military service is an economic necessity for younger sons or men otherwise in need of an occupation. Colonel Fitzwilliam says to Elizabeth: “‘A younger son, you know, must be inured to self-denial and dependence. . . . [I]n matters of greater weight, I may suffer from the want of money. Younger sons cannot marry where they like’” (PP 183).
Nor were soldiers as dissolute as implied by their behavior at Brighton. The beach resort was party central for the future Regent and his cronies, as well as for giddy rural girls. Lydia sees Brighton as a “gay bathing-place” in which the streets are “covered with officers,” “dazzling with scarlet,” where she will be “tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once” (232). But Brighton was also a fortified port and major garrison in defense against a French invasion. William the Conqueror landed only thirty-five miles east, and we know how that turned out. Brighton had been sacked by the French in 1514 and attacked regularly afterward. In Austen’s time as now, a major highway led north just fifty miles to London. If Napoleon landed with sufficient force, he could take the capital before the army could respond. Newhaven, where Henry’s Oxfordshire militia was stationed in 1795, was only six miles west of Brighton, one reason for the severity of the response to the mutiny.
Thus, the militia officers were not as dissipated as they might seem in their pursuit of women. Like soldiers preparing for any battle—from the Cavaliers in the 1600s to special forces heading for Afghanistan today—they live for the day because of the fear it may be their last. The militia was in Brighton for genuine military reasons: to stop or delay with their lives an invasion until the rest of the English military could rally. While the wealthy Darcy and Bingley let other people serve, Wickham is one of those standing as a bulwark against a very possible onslaught of foreign troops. His service lends credence to the false stories he weaves, explaining why Lizzy is initially open to his charms.
After the seduction of Lydia, finances and service again intersect. Darcy buys off Wickham by paying his debts, giving him and Lydia £1,000 each, and purchasing a commission for Wickham in the regular army. The last would have cost Darcy about £450—more than the salary of a naval captain. As an army officer, Wickham could now be sent overseas to fight. Immediately, however, he heads north, where his assignment will have as much to do with quelling civilian protests as keeping the French at bay. War-related hardships and increasing mill automation were leaving northern England and Scotland in constant turmoil.
This side of military power is also highlighted in the only important military reference in Northanger Abbey. Speaking of a new gothic novel, Catherine Morland tells Eleanor Tilney that “‘something very shocking indeed’” will soon come out of London, “‘more horrible than any thing we have met with yet’” (112). Eleanor panics, thinking she’s talking about the latest in civil unrest. Her brother Henry carries on the joke: “‘a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields; the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood, a detachment of the 12th Light Dragoons, (the hopes of the nation,) called up . . . , and the gallant Capt. Frederick Tilney . . . knocked off his horse by a brickbat’” (113). It is difficult to tell whether Austen intends this fiction as a reflection on the captain’s character, or whether she is simply relating the truth: that the army or militia regularly broke up protests, peaceful or otherwise.
With Mansfield Park and Persuasion, Austen turns more directly to the navy. Both books have a number of naval references, which Austen handles with considerable skill. In his Memoir of her life, her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh remarks upon her meticulousness as it relates to her brothers’ service: “Their honourable career accounts . . . for the readiness and accuracy with which she wrote. . . . With ships and sailors she felt herself at home, or at least could always trust to a brotherly critic to keep her right” (Memoir 18).10 In addition to the previously cited linkages between her sailor brothers and William Price, the novel also shows William as a positive counterforce to the mostly dissolute young men surrounding Fanny and the other women. Their uncle Sir Thomas Bertram had helped William as well as Fanny; Sir Thomas “had done most for his support and advancement” when he joined the navy. Sir Thomas reflects on his positive impressions of the youth, whom he thinks of as the “protégé . . . [whom] he had equipped seven years ago” (233). Fanny reacts to William’s stories as Jane might have reacted to the tales of her own brothers, displaying “the glow of [her] cheek, the brightness of her eye, the deep interest, the absorbed attention, while her brother was describing . . . the imminent hazards” of the sea (235). Fanny’s response, in fact, is the first step in changing Henry Crawford’s evaluation of her from a girl to be toyed with to a young woman to be appreciated: “It was a picture which Henry Crawford had moral taste enough to value. Fanny’s attractions increased—increased two-fold. . . . He was no longer in doubt of the capabilities of her heart. She had feeling, genuine feeling. . . . She interested him more than he had foreseen” (235–36).
When Henry Crawford’s effort to make a “‘small hole’” in Fanny’s heart (229) causes him instead to lose his heart to her, he goes to his disreputable uncle, Admiral Crawford, to obtain a promotion to lieutenant for William. It is difficult to overstate the value of this action to William’s career. At that time, one could not obtain a lieutenancy unless there were a position open, and he might have languished as one of the 2,000 “young gentlemen” lacking the connections to obtain a slot (Southam 188). In Persuasion, Admiral Croft gently chides Wentworth when he complains about his first command, the sloop Asp. The Admiral reminds him that he was a “‘[l]ucky fellow to get any thing so soon, with no more interest than his.’” Chastened, Wentworth acknowledges his luck and confirms he was “‘well satisfied’” with the appointment (65).
It was not unusual for men in their thirties to still be midshipmen for lack of patronage, and the record age was fifty-seven.11 William understands his status very well. He is but a “‘poor scrubby midshipman’”: “‘One might as well be a nothing as a midshipman. One is nothing indeed’” (245, 249). Many women would have instantly married Crawford out of gratitude—which, of course, is the response he assumes from Fanny. One suspects it is this deed that caused Jane’s sister Cassandra to say that Fanny should have married Henry instead of Edmund Bertram. Cassandra’s preference for Henry was related many years later by her niece Louisa Knight (Le Faye, Family Record 275), but Jane was intent upon her heroine marrying a clergyman. This decision is a major fault line in the novel, for even Edmund’s lifelong kindness to Fanny cannot equal the life-changing professional leap that Henry has arranged for her brother. Cassandra must have seen Henry’s bold action as evidence of his growth as a person and commitment to Fanny; but Jane and Fanny evidently read it as an unseemly attempt at soliciting a quid pro quo.
In Persuasion, the emphasis is on the social and economic shift after the war rather than on the war itself. The main social theme is that self-made naval heroes return to supplant the attenuated aristocracy. The officers are able to exercise their “domestic virtues” (252) by means of the wealth they have earned, as opposed to the wealth the aristocrats are frittering away. Admiral Croft’s unstated earnings are enough to comfortably rent the Elliot estate. Wentworth brings home £25,000. In contrast to his penniless situation and uncertain future in 1806, he now has more than enough money to court a baronet’s younger daughter.
Persuasion, then, turns on naval prize money, a topic with which Austen was familiar because of its importance to her own brothers. At first, though, Wentworth’s winnings appear to be artistic license: neither Frank nor Charles ever made anything close to what Wentworth does, and they spent a combined 140 years in naval service! Twice in her letters, Austen speaks of Frank’s lack of prizes. On 1 November 1800, she remarks irreverently that “of Prizes he is guiltless.” On 26 June 1808, she writes that he “wants nothing but a good Prize to be a perfect Character.” She was right, for he had made little in the way of extra cash except for San Domingo. His first command, the sloop Peterel, captured forty ships, but he made only a few hundred pounds; most of the prizes were destroyed as “not worth sending in” (Southam 136 n71). He had only a few other documented captures during the entire war: two cargo ships and the small brig La Ligurienne in a single day in 1800 and the even smaller schooner Swordfish in 1812. The capture of the La Ligurienne, in which he also drove two enemy ships onto the rocks in Egypt, led to his promotion to captain (Le Faye, Chronology 237). Frank earned most of his extra financial awards escorting merchant ships home for the East India Company. These bonuses ranged from £200 to £500 plus a percentage of the value of the goods delivered, which in one case totaled more than £1,500. Tallying both his convoy fees and prize money—and allowing for other prizes we may not know about—Frank probably earned no more than £5,000 above his government pay.
Charles’s prize winning was even less remunerative, a major reason that he had his family live aboard his guardship. It was a cost-cutting measure similar to Frank’s having had his wife, Mary, live with the Austen women in Southampton a few years earlier. According to Sheila Johnson Kindred, in her book about Charles’s wife Fanny and his service in North America, Charles won no fewer than thirteen prizes. But eight came when he was a junior officer, including the one he used to buy the crosses for his sisters. Of the prizes he won beginning as a commander in Bermuda and Nova Scotia in 1805, he shared at least four with other ships. In 1806, his solo capture of the Nuestra netted him £112. In 1808, his capture of the Estelle brought him £540 and change (almost exactly the savings he lost in Henry’s bank failure). Kindred estimates his biggest prize was no larger than £890. The prize court ruled that three of Charles’s seizures were improper, returning the ships to the owner. When this happened, the captain had to pay administrative costs. There were other, more tragic, ways to lose a prize. In November 1808, Charles seized a French schooner and put twelve of his crew onboard to take the vessel back to Bermuda. The captured ship disappeared in a storm. Charles wrote a poignant letter to Cassandra about the loss. He didn’t discuss the lost prize money but lamented instead the deaths of his men, including two “mids”—midshipmen who were barely more than boys (Kindred 31; loss of the ship is mentioned in Jane’s letter of 24 January 1809).
As the Hubbacks put it, “The work on the North-America station was unprofitable as regards prize-money” (207). With an allowance for uncertainty, it’s likely that Charles earned no more than £2,500 to £3,000 extra in prizes.
How, then, might the impoverished Wentworth, a young and unconnected captain, obtain the plum assignments that made ten times that much in prize money? Austen has Wentworth win his commander rank at Frank’s signature battle of San Domingo in 1806. But Frank was a captain; going in as a lieutenant, Wentworth would have won a much smaller portion. Even his first major earnings slip away in 1806: “He had been lucky in his profession, but spending freely, what had come freely, had realized nothing” (27).
After the Asp, however, things changed. Wentworth not only obtained a frigate but also one of the best locations for capturing prizes. “‘Ah! those were pleasant days when I had the Laconia!’” he exclaims. “‘How fast I made money in her.—A friend of mine, and I, had such a lovely cruise together off the Western Islands’” (67). These were the Azores, prime hunting grounds where British ships could intercept the enemy entering or leaving the Mediterranean.
Naval politics should have prevented such a posting from going to an unknown officer, however dashing. Here, Wentworth relied on Admiral Croft, who was Rear Admiral of the White—Nelson’s fleet, one of Britain’s three. Anne’s brief interjection—“‘He was in the Trafalgar action’” (21–22)—would have told much to a contemporary audience. Going forward, the prestige of Trafalgar would have given the fictional Admiral Croft great sway with postings for officers under his wing—particularly a brother-in-law whom he liked and respected. This influence—the kind Frank lacked after Trafalgar—is what would have given Wentworth his chance in a frigate placed to take many prizes.
“Luck” is a word used often with Captain Wentworth, and it was often luck that proved the difference for naval officers. According to Kindred, the Endymion captured several rich merchantmen shortly after Charles left; his share would have been £4,000. While Charles was serving in North America, a Captain Hawker took thirty-three prizes, netting £1,600 in 1809 alone. Another officer, Captain Simpson, took enough treasure ships to earn £30,000 in two years. But luck works both ways—Simpson died before getting home. Wentworth’s final voyage on the Asp is the one scene in the novel in which Austen goes overboard, for Wentworth nonchalantly mentions that he was able “‘to fall in with the very French frigate I wanted’” and bring in the prize (66). Even with a brilliant captain and the best crew, how would a small, weather-beaten sloop have taken a “leopard of the ocean” with twice as many guns? It was again his luck, referenced several times in the passage. Overall, however, £25,000 in total prizes, yielding a tidy income of £1,250 per annum, would have been within reach for Anne’s eventual husband. In paying homage to the navy, Austen may have wanted to acknowledge the possibilities for her brothers, even if they did not come fully true.
Though Persuasion does not directly show naval life, it does reveal the full spectrum of outcomes for a naval career. Admiral Croft and Captain Wentworth return wealthy. Captain Harville comes home injured and making do on a small pension. The “hopeless” Dick Musgrove dies in service. Captain Benwick’s career is just under way. Like Fanny Price’s marine father in Mansfield Park, Captain Harville illustrates the downside of naval life. Mr. Price shows the angry outcome of a soldier self-medicating his combat wounds, whereas Captain Harville maintains a positive outlook, leaving Anne “lost in the pleasanter feelings which sprang from the sight of all the ingenious contrivances and nice arrangements of Captain Harville, to turn the actual space to the best possible account” (98). Like Frank at home, he stayed busy: drawing, varnishing, carpentering, making toys, and so on; when all else was done he “sat down to his large fishing-net at one corner of the room” (99). When asked one time if the dashing Wentworth’s character was based on him, Frank modestly replied that he did not know but that “parts of Capt. Harville’s were drawn from myself—at least some of his domestic habits, tastes, and occupations”—including his sewing skills, used for curtains and for nets to protect his berries from pests (Southam 316 n46).
Intersection of war, family, and fiction
In another cataclysmic war between England and a continental power, Prime Minister Winston Churchill had one of his daughters read him Pride and Prejudice while he was ill. Afterward, he wrote a letter now on display at Jane Austen’s House Museum, in which he said, “What calm lives they had[,] those people. No worries about the French Revolution or the crashing struggle of the Napoleonic Wars.” This easy interpretation has plagued Austen from the very start, the assumption fostered by her family and early reviewers that Austen does not concern herself with the war or political events.
Churchill, however, was speaking of Austen’s characters. Her readers would have had no such calm. For years they dreaded a possible French invasion. Revolts and rebellions broke out regularly, many over the war, leading to the fear of a violent repeat of the French revolution. Citizens read in every newspaper of the crashing military struggle. They recognized the import of the militia being in Brighton. They understood the potentially fatal consequences for anyone transferring from the militia to the army—even if that character is a scoundrel. Land battles usually caused thousands of casualties; sea battles usually caused hundreds. Ultimately, the nation suffered at least 311,000 deaths in the war, and the wounded and missing brought total casualties close to a million—roughly 10 percent of the population (White), or the equivalent of 33 million American or 6.7 million United Kingdom casualties today. Every military rank noted, every regiment or ship listed, would have triggered the same “quick alarm” in a contemporary reader that new naval wife Anne Elliot felt (252). Even the heroic return of the navy in Persuasion has its dark side, for the reference to Trafalgar would recall the thousands of sailors lost there. Mention of Captain Harville’s injuries would subtly remind readers of the tens of thousands of wounded veterans begging on the streets.
More recent commentary has recognized that, however calm they seemed on the surface, Austen’s stories of ordinary life often touched upon contemporary matters. They certainly would have carried a subliminal message to contemporary readers of the “dread of a future war” (P 252). Yet there is a danger in finding too many political and military messages in the three or four families living in a quiet country village. Referencing Jane Fairfax’s father “dying in action abroad” in Emma (163), Jonathan Sachs says that “such absences were not lost on Austen’s contemporaries. . . . Austen’s relative silence might be read as a stronger, more subtle engagement with the pressing issues of the day” (43–44). Except that her father’s death is a necessary plot device to orphan Jane, and the passing reference to Lieutenant Fairfax’s death is one sentence in a 156,000-word book that is otherwise silent on military matters. It’s within bounds to say, as Southam does, that Persuasion is “a determinedly morale-boosting novel” that shows “the Navy in its best light.” One cannot agree with Southam, however, that Austen “set out” to write a naval hagiography (271). She set out to write a love story, and the naval background matters only to the degree that Austen makes readers care about Anne and Frederick.
Similarly, Jocelyn Harris may go a step too far when she says that Persuasion reveals Austen to be “a truly political writer” (90). The novel makes social comment through the dispossession of self-satisfied elites by a meritocratic class of men. It uses Austen’s knowledge of the service to build characters and plot, and it erupts in places in pride for her brothers. The undertones of the war make the love story more poignant, but Persuasion is, first and foremost, the story of our heroine and her enduring love. In the climactic scene at the White Hart, Anne says that women love longest, “‘when existence or when hope is gone’” (235). This comment, overheard by Wentworth, leads him to declare in writing: “‘Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you’” (237). It is Captain Harville’s words, however, that provide the context and spur the reconciliation. Austen gives her most moving speech about war and family separation not to the woman who is left behind but to the naval officer who is departing:
“Ah! . . . if I could but make you comprehend what a man suffers when he takes a last look at his wife and children, and watches the boat that he has sent them off in, as long as it is in sight, and then turns away and says, ‘God knows whether we ever meet again!’ And then, if I could convey to you the glow of his soul when he does see them again; when, coming back after a twelvemonth’s absence perhaps, and obliged to put into another port, he calculates how soon it be possible to get them there, pretending to deceive himself, and saying, ‘They cannot be here till such a day,’ but all the while hoping for them twelve hours sooner, and seeing them arrive at last, as if Heaven had given them wings, by many hours sooner still!” (234–35)
The power of Harville’s remarks comes in their emotion and particularity. Other writers could have done a good job describing an officer’s sadness as he leaves his family behind, but the word “suffers” jumps out almost in boldface as something a real person has experienced. Details include a practicality that few civilian writers would know or think to use, that a naval ship often docked at a different port than planned, e.g., Plymouth instead of Portsmouth, because of the vagaries of wind and weather or the condition of the ship or food stocks. The result would be that a captain would send for his family. (Even the awkwardness of the phrasing sounds real.) Then, to lessen the pain of anticipation, the officer tries to fool himself into believing his family will not come as soon as they might, so they arrive “as if Heaven had given them wings!”
During the war, both of Austen’s brothers were forced to leave their young families for extended sea duty at the worst possible times. Frank left his new wife, Mary, for year-long convoy duty just at the birth of their first child, after a very difficult pregnancy; he was also away for the birth of at least one other child. Charles, just weeks after the deaths of his wife and new baby from delivery complications, had to leave his three other grieving young children for an extended tour in the Mediterranean. One who knows this background is left with the firm belief that Jane has heard one of her own brothers speak of this very specific and heartrending way of seeing his family off and of protecting his emotions until he sees them again—and “the glow of his soul” when he does.
The naval touches are personal, not political.
1Both topaz crosses are now displayed at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, U.K. For many years, the cross with the “fatter,” oval-shaped arms was thought to be Jane’s. This belief was based on the misidentification of the date of a photograph. As of 2018, the museum now says it is uncertain which cross belonged to which sister.
2An article with such a range must rely on a wide variety of sources. On the geopolitical level, sources include Will and Ariel Durant’s Age of Napoleon; Niall Ferguson’s Empire; and Robert Tombs’s The English and Their Empire. On the state of the nation, sources include Jenny Uglow’s In These Times; Sheryl Craig’s Jane Austen and the State of the Nation; and Sue Wilkes’s Regency Spies. On general military matters, sources include Adkins and Adkins’s The War for All the Oceans; Andrew Roberts’s Napoleon and Wellington; Alexander Gordon’s Hussar in Winter; and Patrick O’Brian’s Men-of-War. On the military service of the Austen family, sources include Brian Southam’s Jane Austen and the Navy; Hubback and Hubback’s Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers; Sheila Johnson Kindred’s Jane Austen’s Transatlantic Sister; Linda Slothouber’s Jane Austen, Edward Knight, and Chawton; several biographies of Austen, particularly that of Park Honan; and several articles by Clive Caplan. More particular sources are cited in the text.
5Southam believes that Henry’s army agency and bank, through James, may have led the Austens to James and Moira, but at this time Henry handled rural regiments and officers, and his loans were relatively small. He did not then run with the wealthy. It seems more likely that the Gambiers led the family to Moira, with the James connection stemming from that relationship. Or perhaps serendipity brought all the players together simultaneously.
6The Hubbacks report this letter in detail. Southam’s version, used here, is based on a transcript in possession of Mr. Alwyn Austen, which Southam says is more accurate than the version in Sailor Brothers. Honan has a longer preamble that may include comments in Frank’s log as well as the letter (221).
7Southam’s story about Charles and the Aurora comes in new material to be added in a planned second edition of Sailor Brothers by the Hubbacks. Historian Clive Caplan, however, considers the story to be “bogus.”
8An admiral would have a flagship, often the most powerful ship, from which he commanded the fleet or a subdivision of it. The “flag” officers would run the ship itself. Frank Austen was several times a flag captain. Though technically in command of the ship, he would not, with an admiral looking over his shoulder, have had the captain’s normal autonomy.
9The Austen military tradition carried forward. Edward Knight’s son Henry became a major in the 8th Light Dragoons; and three Knight descendants are listed on the wall of honor at the Chawton, U.K., Village Hall, having died in World War I or II. Charles Junior, who eventually died at sea, had a son, Henry, who served in the navy and the army and died in a fall while stationed in South Africa. The younger Charles also had two daughters, Fanny and Edith, who married naval officers. In addition to the three sons who served under Frank, his grandson (of George) Ernest Leigh Austen became a naval captain. Frank’s grandson (of Catherine), John Henry Hubback, and Hubback’s daughter Edith, wrote the first history of Frank and Charles’s careers, Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers (1906). They were assisted by notes, logs, letters, and papers from John Hubback’s cousin Ernest Leigh. In 2005, descendant Lt. Cmdr. Francis Austen attended a conference at Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the Austen brothers’ service in North America.
10While James Edward said he believed no flaw had ever been found in her naval descriptions, in fact there is one error, related to William Price’s being posted to the Thrush. Jane likely saw this vessel being outfitted in Portsmouth before 1810, but by the time of the novel it had been converted to an ammunition barge that did not go to sea.
11The record is believed to be held by one Billy Kolmer, who passed his lieutenant’s exam at age fifteen and did not receive his commission until age fifty-seven. Given his age, the promotion may have been ceremonial, with advancement followed by immediate retirement. As now, the retirement promotion would have increased his pension, a way of recognizing his dedication. Kolmer’s history was related by Dr. Robert Fryman in a talk at the Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America, 10 October 2015, in Louisville, KY.