Academic journal article Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal

Lord Moira and the Austens

Academic journal article Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal

Lord Moira and the Austens

Article excerpt

Brian Southam's masterly Jane Austen and the Navy introduces the Ear) of Moira to the Austen family at the time Jane's nautical brother Francis attempted to gain independent command of a frigate in 1805. Francis's commanding officer, Rear-Admiral Thomas Louis, considered the young officer's wish to be

"perfectly reasonable" and said he would make no objection to his "quitting his Flag." To strengthen his hand, Francis called ... on the help of a prominent public figure and military man, Lord Moira, who gave him a letter to hand to [Admiral Lord]] Nelson personally. (Southam 93)

Southam goes on to discuss how Francis Austen might have come to Lord Moira's attention, astutely pointing out that a "likely route" was through another Austen brother, Henry, "by now established as an Army and Navy Agent and on his way to becoming an established banker" (93). Francis never got his frigate, and Southam offers some cogent reasons why not. But there is more to the story than that.

The intent of this article is to provide fuller details of connections between Lord Moira and the Austen family based upon the Huntington Library's extensive Moira archive. (1) Clive Caplan, in "Jane Austen's Banker Brother: Henry Thomas Austen of Austen & Co., 1801-1816," includes two quotations from later Henry Austen letters at the Huntington but does not cite the correspondence transcribed here. Any previous publication of correspondence from the Huntington archive cited in this article is acknowledged, but the many references citing only Huntington folio numbers represent material which, to the best of my knowledge, has been unremarked by modern scholars.

The Huntington archive reveals that one previously unnoticed intervention by Lord Moira proved vital to the career of Jane Austen's youngest brother Charles. Lord Moira, although unsuccessful in getting Francis Austen his frigate, did obtain Charles his First naval command. This intervention, and other dealings between Lord Moira and members of Jane Austen's family, are discussed in chronological detail below.

Both Austen brothers saw action during the Napoleonic Wars. Francis won promotion to Captain in May 1800 "following a brilliant single ship action in March, when he captured a French brig of war attempting to break the British blockade of Napoleon's army in Egypt" (Le Faye, Chronology 237). Charles won promotion from Lieutenant to Commander in 1804. There is no doubt that he showed heroism in "a series of engagements, including the capture of three men-of-war and two privateers" (Southam 53), and this reason is normally cited for his promotion. But the Huntington correspondence shows there was more to it than heroism, as so often with individual preferment in British Navy affairs.

Although Charles was promoted Post-Captain in 1810 and saw more action thereafter than his brother, neither achieved any real distinction, and Charles's reputation was tarnished, through no fault of his own, by an incompetent local pilot causing the wreck of his frigate off the coast of Turkey in 1816. Nor did either brother win significant prize money, a loss rectified in Jane Austen's imagination when she made her Captain Wentworth in Persuasion return to England in 1813 with shares amounting to 25,000 [pounds sterling].

The Austen brothers' disappointments were, much later, partly alleviated by the fact that the rank-by-seniority system of the British Navy allowed Francis and Charles, because of their longevity, to end their careers as admirals. Francis became Rear-Admiral in 1830 and died as Admiral of the Fleet in 1865. Charles advanced to Rear-Admiral in 1846 and died while on active duty in Burma in 1852.

Lord Moira's own story, rather like the first thirty years of Francis and Charles Austen's naval careers, began in hope and ended in despair. No such redemption as the Austen brothers experienced came to Moira at the end of his life, in spite of his extraordinary military and political career. …

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