Account book of Elizabeth Austen

Object name: Account book of Elizabeth Austen

Object number: CHWJA:JAH42

Category:  Books

Description: A small, soft cover booklet containing the accounts of Elizabeth Austen (née Weller), Jane Austen’s great grandmother, for the years 1705 to 1719. Approx. 50 pages. The cover has a printed pattern of birds and decorative figures onto which has been handwritten in ink:

Eliz: Austen

This Book contains ye  yearly accounts with my Children
1705, 1706, 1707, 1708, 1709
1710, 1711, 1712, 1713. 1714.
1715. 1716. 1717. 1718. 1719.

Made: 1705-1719

Context: Elizabeth Weller from Tonbridge in Kent, Jane Austen’s great grandmother, married John Austen IV of Broadford in 1693. John was the only son of John Austen III, a wealthy wool trader.

Unbeknown to his wife and his father, John IV ran up many debts and when he died in 1704 at the age of just 34, he left Elizabeth with seven young children and copious unpaid debts to settle. On his deathbed he asked his father to look after his wife and children and ensure that the family’s household goods did not have to be sold off to pay his debts. This his father agreed to do but after his son’s death, he promptly ‘forgot’ his promise. Perhaps this family story provided Jane with inspiration for the storyline in Sense & Sensibility where Mr Dashwood implores his son John to look after his step-mother and half-sisters after his death which John agrees to do but fails to honour the promise.

Elizabeth however was a woman of exceptional spirit and resourcefulness; she sold many of her belongings, let out her house for the highest rent she could get and took a position as a housekeeper at a school in Sevenoaks.  The job came with free board and lodgings and a free education for her children; in doing this not only did she give her children (including Jane’s grandfather William) a decent start in life, she also eventually managed to pay off all her husband’s debts.

The careful budgeting this must have demanded is reflected in this small book in which she details her accounts, made annually at Michaelmas, which she describes as ‘Receipts and Disbursments’ for her children, and monies for household expenses such as ‘Schooling and Books; Physick; pocket money; mourning’.

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