Oil painting of John Austen III

Object name: Oil painting on canvas of John Austen III

Object number: CHWJA: JAH417.1

Category: Object

Description: Oil painting on canvas of Jane Austen’s paternal great-great-grandfather John Austen III (c.1629 – 1705) in a gilt gesso frame.

Made: circa 1680-1700

Context: John Austen III, Jane Austen’s paternal great-great-grandfather, was a wealthy wool trader from Broadford in Kent.  His only son, John Austen IV, married Elizabeth Weller from nearby Tonbridge in 1693.  Unbeknown to his wife and father, John IV had run 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 and Sensibility where Mr Dashwood implores his son John to look after his step-mother and half-sisters, Eleanor and Marianne, after his death which John agrees to do but fails to honour his promise.

Elizabeth (Weller) Austen 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 painting was donated by a member of the Austen family.

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