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The Boys at Steventon: Mr. Austen’s Students 1773–1796

Between around 1773 and 1796, from a couple of years before Jane Austen’s birth to the year in which she turned twenty-one, her father, George Austen, tutored a number of boys who lived with him as boarders at the rectory at Steventon.  What follows provides biographical details for nineteen students who were probably at Steventon; there may well have been more.  I have ordered the students chronologically based on their dates of attendance at Steventon, and I believe I have identified at least one student, Philip Pinnock (1784–1831), who has hitherto not been placed at Steventon.  I have attempted to summarize what we know of the students in the table that forms Appendix 2.  Most of these students stayed for multiple years, ranging from around two to five on average.  They usually went on to university and from there entered the standard professions available to young men of Austen’s time—i.e., the law, the church, medicine, etc.—although it seems some were fortunate enough to have independent means.  Tracking their lives into the nineteenth century is not only interesting in and of itself but provides additional context and background to Austen’s own novels and the lives that her young male characters would have led.1

The details around Mr. Austen’s students and their subsequent lives have received relatively little attention to date.  In some cases, very little has survived, but in others we know, or can find out, a fair amount.  Some of our information comes from Austen herself, and, as we shall see, Mrs. Austen wrote at least three poems relating to the students.  Much of the information below has been gleaned from records now available online via the Ancestry website or from archives and record offices.2  The lives of these men are of especial value to those of us interested in Austen.  As boys, they would have been tutored alongside the Austen sons and possibly Jane and Cassandra.  They would have slept under Mr. Austen’s roof and eaten at his table.  They would have been part of the household, with Mrs. Austen no doubt being a maternal figure.3  They would have seen the young Jane Austen and her siblings growing up at first hand and, indeed, would have grown up alongside them.  Many of them lived well into the nineteenth century.  It is tantalizing to think what they could have told us, had they only been asked.

The full essay is available in the PDF, which you can download here.



1For a detailed investigation of professions open to young men in Austen’s time see Rory Muir’s Gentlemen of Uncertain Fortune: How Younger Sons Made Their Way in Jane Austen’s England.

2All dates without a specific source derive from parish records accessed via Ancestry.

3Anna Lefroy, however, stated that Mrs. Austen was qualified, “in an unpretending way, to assist in [Mr. Austen’s] labours of tuition” (Le Faye, Family Record 10).

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