Room 5: The Topaz Crosses

Topaz crosses, gold chain and letter from Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen, 26 May 1801

‘Topaze crosses’

Charles Austen, while in service as an officer in the Royal Navy, bought these topaz crosses for his sisters Jane and Cassandra. In Mansfield Park, the heroine Fanny Price similarly receives the gift of a cross from her brother William (who is also in the Navy). Fanny wears it with a “plain gold chain, perfectly simple and neat”, given to her by Edmund – just like this one, again gifted by Charles, which Jane wore with her own cross.

Find out more about the crosses…

Letter from Jane to Cassandra, 26-27 May 1801

In this letter, dated 26-27 May 1801, Jane writes to Cassandra with mock indignation (but obvious delight): ‘of what avail is it to take prizes if he lays out the produce in presents to his Sisters. He has been buying Gold chains and Topaze Crosses for us; he must be well scolded … I shall write again by this post to thank and reproach him. We shall be unbearably fine.’

Here the letter is shown upside down, with Jane’s note about the ‘topaze crosses’ marked in a red box. This is written as a postscript, beginning five lines from the foot of the page and working upwards.

Find out more about this letter…

Charles bought the cross and chain using ‘prize money’. This was the term used by the ‘Prize Law’ for money paid out to those in the British Royal Navy who were present during the capture or sinking of an enemy ship. The money was distributed throughout the crew, but lieutenants like Charles (as well other captains and commanding officers) received bigger proportions than everyone else.

In Jane’s novel Persuasion, Charles Hayter describes hearing Captain Wentworth say that he was ‘very sure that he had not made less than twenty thousand pounds by the war’ – over a million pounds in today’s money.