Album of sketches by Admiral Sir Francis Austen

Object name: Album of topographical sketches of the West Indies and Canada relating to Admiral Sir Francis Austen

Object number: CHWJA:JAH471.1

Category: Objects

Brief physical description: A sketchbook an album measuring 225mm x 300mm, with half calf, marbled boards, somewhat worn. Containing 73 watercolours and drawings. Inside the cover are twentieth-century ownership inscriptions in pencil on inner front board.

Date: 1840s

Context: This album of watercolours and drawings was made primarily by Jane’s older brother, Admiral Sir Francis William Austen (1774-1865), and his daughter Cassandra Eliza Austen (1814-1849), in the 1840s.

The album consists of some 73 landscape and maritime watercolours and drawings depicting scenes in the West Indies, Bermuda and Canada, visited by Francis Austen on his naval career.

The images comprise: c.12 topographical reliefs probably by Francis (“Porto Santo”, “Peak of Teneriffe at Sunset April 3rd”, “St Lucia”, “Souffriere Mountain, St Vincent”, “Guadaloupe”); and 12 signed with the initials “C.E.A.” and many dated (“St Pierre, Martinique, Feb 14 1846. French Steamer Styx”, “Port Royal at Sunset March 19 47”, “Halifax from the road to Point Pleasant, Sept 3rd 47”, “Kingston and Port Royal, Jamaica”); further drawings of shipping (“HMS Illustrious & Persian/ Bermuda”, “”HMS Pickle”) and landscapes abroad (“Clarence Hill Bermuda May 27 1845” (2), “Shultzs Inn Great Lake Halifax”, “Quebec”) and at home (“Godmersham Church”, “Godmersham Park, Kent”) with a portrait of a young gentleman; plus 45 photographs of European landscapes etc.

A pencil inscription on the front paste-down by a descendant and dated February 1972 erroneously attributes the signed watercolours to Cassandra Esten Austen (1808-1897), daughter of Francis’ other ‘sailor brother’, Charles. Cassandra Esten also accompanied her father on his voyages and by all accounts had a similar childhood and upbringing as her cousin Cassandra Eliza.

Credit: This object stayed in family ownership until 2023 when the museum acquired at auction, with help from the Friends of the National Libraries and the V&A Beecroft Bequest.


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