Jane Austen’s donkey carriage
Object name: Donkey Carriage
Object number: CHWJA:JAH365
Description: Wooden donkey carriage, belonging to Jane Austen. There is space for two people to sit on the bench seat, with a small space for luggage beneath. Hooks are provided underneath for a bag of fodder for the donkey. Two pairs of hooks also provided on the shafts for coupling the harness so that the carriage stops when the donkey stops, as there are no brakes for the wheels. When in harness, the seat is centred exactly above the axle thus minimising the weight the donkey has to pull.
Made: Early nineteenth century
Context: This carriage is believed to have been made locally probably to Jane’s brother, Edward’s, order soon after the Austen women arrived at Chawton. It was the simplest and cheapest to run form of transport, not needing stables and grooms like a full size carriage and horses would. The donkey was able to graze in the orchard field then beyond the garden. A donkey’s walking pace is a brisk 4 mph and the journey into Alton for shopping would take about 20mins. The roads were compacted gravel, often wet, muddy, and with many horse droppings, so using the carriage was preferable to walking.
Jane Austen’s niece, Caroline Craven, who often stayed at Chawton as a child, writing in her later years remembered ‘I think my Grandmother seldom used it, but Aunt Jane found it a help to herself getting into Alton’.
Jane herself referred to the carriage in four letters including on 24 January 1817 (after a harsh winter):
‘our Donkeys are necessarily having so long a run of luxurious idleness that I suppose we shall find that they have forgotten much of their Education when we use them again’
The carriage was restored in 1998.
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