Miniature of Charles Austen

Object name: Miniature on ivory of Rear Admiral Charles John Austen C.B.

Object number: CHWJA:JAH317

Category: Objects

Description: Miniature on ivory of Jane’s youngest brother Charles Austen (1779-1852) in naval uniform.

Made: 1846

Context: Following in the footsteps of his elder brother Francis, Charles entered the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth in 1791 at the age of just 12.  At the age of 15, he was appointed to HMS Daedalus as a midshipman. Over the following 20 years, he was an active participant in the long war with France during which he was promoted, first to Lieutenant and then Captain.

In 1801, he used some of the prize money he received from the capture of an enemy ship to buy his sisters, Jane and Cassandra, a Topaz cross and gold chain each, an act which was to have echoes in Mansfield Park more than a decade later when Fanny Price’s naval brother William buys her an amber cross.

Charles was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1846 and in April 1852, at the age of 72, he was still on active service commanding the naval forces at the capture of Rangoon. During the campaign, he contracted cholera from which he died in October 1852.

Charles was described by a nephew as ‘having a sweet temper and affectionate disposition, in which he resembled his sister Jane..’ and an officer present at the time of his death wrote ‘Our good Admiral won the hearts of all by his gentleness and kindness…..His death was a great grief to the whole fleet.  I know that I cried bitterly when I found he was dead.’

In the 1920’s, two of Charles’ granddaughters – Jane and Emma Florence Austen – fell on hard times and sold many of their Austen artefacts to an early collector of Jane Austen material called Frederick Lovering. Following his death, the collection he had amassed, which included this miniature of Charles, was auctioned at Sotheby’s in May 1948.

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