Memoir of Admiral Sir Francis Austen

Object name: Manuscript biographical memoir of Admiral Sir Francis Austen

Object number: CHWJA:JAH470

Category: Manuscript

Brief physical description: Manuscript biographical memoir of Jane Austen’s elder brother, Admiral Sir Francis William Austen, R.N. (1774-1865), giving a laudatory account of his early life and his long naval career until 1863. On page 68 the writing changes to another hand – believed to be Francis Austen’s hand in old age, when he suffered from arthritis. The manuscript book consists of some 78 pages. Marbled wrappers, somewhat worn, occasional foxing. 198 x 160mm.

Date: c.1863

Context: It is believed that the memoir is an autobiography, in Francis Austen’s own hand,  although it is written in the third person. Whilst the descriptive narrative moves swiftly, there are moments of deeper reflection and detail, indicating that it was a personal memoir. The manuscript as a whole remains unpublished although short extracts have been published in various biographies of the Austens.

The memoir begins with an account of Frank Austen’s life from his childhood in Chawton and his entering the Navy, going on to describe his carrying despatches to Lord Nelson at Palermo, the blockade of Genoa and service  in Egypt, a stay with his family in Bath in 1802, further travels in the West Indies with Nelson’s fleet as captain of the Canopus and the death of Nelson, Frank’s marriage and settling in Southampton with his mother and sisters, a sojourn on St Helena on East India company business, on the China station, and finally retirement to Chawton.

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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