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george austen

George Austen, Jane Austen’s father

Very little has been known about George Austen’s mother, Rebecca Hampson; what had been on record consisted of not much more than vital events, and some of their dates. That she was the daughter of Sir George Hampson of Gloucester, a doctor of physick and a baronet, is established fact, as is her first marriage to William Walter, with whom she had a son William Hampson; and after William Walter’s death, her marriage to William Austen, and the births of their four children. Her birth date had been extrapolated from the age stated on her grave in Tonbridge, erroneously as it turns out. Until S. G. Hale’s fortuitous discovery of her marriage to William Austen in registers of clandestine marriages, discussed later in this article, we didn’t know details of either of her marriages.

Although I cannot report the discovery of any letters towards constructing a biography, nor of any portraits, the indexing projects of genealogical companies such as Ancestry.com have revealed information which better focuses our curiosity about Rebecca and her two husbands. However, the first previously unrecognised fact predates online research by many years. Austen biographies had not mentioned the name of Rebecca’s mother, but The Complete Baronetage, published in 1902,1 states that George Hampson married Mary Coghill, daughter of John Coghill of Bletchingdon in Oxfordshire. The Coghills were a long-established Yorkshire family, until Mary’s grandfather Sir Thomas settled his branch at Bletchingdon. It is from that village, just north of the city of Oxford, that the first new facts emerge. 

George (not yet Sir George) Hampson and his wife Mary had their seven children baptised in the parish church, St Giles. Presumably they lived there; the fifty miles between the city of Gloucester and Bletchingdon would have been a dangerous distance over which to carry a newly born child, for the sake of baptism. Rebecca was baptised on 17 September 1693. The entry is unusually detailed, naming her godparents: John and Mrs Coghill (presumably her maternal grandparents), and Mrs Knapp (her maternal aunt Elizabeth, née Coghill). The stone slab in St Peter and St Paul’s, Tonbridge, recording her death in 1733, states that she was then 36; she was 39.

Dunning-800px-Allan_Ramsay_-_Queen_Charlotte_1744-1818_with_her_Two_Eldest_Sons_-_Google_Art_Project

Nothing is known of Rebecca’s childhood, nor of the date on which her father relocated the family to Gloucester. Now we have to fill gaps with assumptions. William Jarvis and Gilbert Hoole established, as they wrote in their article in the Annual Report of 1985,3 that her first husband William Walter, another doctor of physick, came from Tonbridge. He may have gone to Gloucester as an assistant to George Hampson, but we don’t know. We must assume that William and Rebecca married, but a search through the parish registers of St Michael’s, and St John’s, the two parishes with which the family are known to have been associated, has not provided any evidence; nor has Ancestry, so far, suggested another parish.

Now the new discoveries become more interesting. The couple had not one child, William Hampson Walter, but three. There is an entry in the parish register of St Owen’s, Hereford, for the baptism on 11 August, 1719, of Leonora, daughter of William Walter and his wife Rebecca.4 Although there is no corroborating evidence to confirm that it was this couple I am confident, because of the date and the combination of names. Hereford is not too far from Gloucester; William may, perhaps, have been seconded there for a time.

There must be significance in the choice of the name Leonora for Rebecca’s first and last daughters, but I have not found a precedent within her family. Another researcher has reported, although without evidence, that Leonora was buried on 19 November of the same year. She certainly did not appear in any later records. The date of her baptism in August 1719 provides a benchmark for the date of William and Rebecca’s marriage – one would expect that to have taken place by the end of 1718.

Their second child, William Hampson Walter, was baptised back at St Michael’s, Gloucester, on 31 August 1721. He survived into his late seventies, and is well documented, so I won’t dwell on him

The third Walter child was a boy named St George, who was baptised at St John the Baptist, Gloucester, on 25 June, 1723. The next record is, sadly, for his burial at Tonbridge on 29 September, 1725. George was the name of both Rebecca’s and William’s fathers, and she used it again in naming George Austen. This register entry shows that William and Rebecca were in Tonbridge during the year before his death. It had been thought that Rebecca did not visit the town till after that event, probably to look into the leasehold properties that he had held there.

Dunning-Image 2 St George's baptism 1723

 

dunning-Image 3 St George's burial 1725-1

Rebecca married again some nineteen months later, to another William – William Austen.

We do not know how they met, but we can guess. William Austen’s brother-in-law George Hooper, the husband of his sister Elizabeth, represented the fifth generation in a family of Tonbridge attorneys. George Hooper was well known to William Walter, who nominated him in his will as one of the two trustees. It would have been natural for the Walters to visit the Hoopers on their 1725 visit, where they may have encountered William Austen. Within the close-knit circle of Tonbridge gentry, there must have been other opportunities to meet. 

Stephen Hale, a member of the Society of Genealogists and of the Jane Austen Society, was the best-qualified person to recognise the significance of an entry for 13 January, 1727/8, in the registers of Clandestine Marriages in the Liberty of the Fleet, for William Austen of Tonbridge, Surgeon, and Rebecca Walter, also of Tonbridge.7 The Liberty of the Fleet was an area on the western edge of the City of London, surrounding the Fleet Prison for debtors, which was largely free of ecclesiastical oversight. There were many ‘marrying houses,’ where indebted clergymen could earn money to pay for their keep and ultimate release; however the specific locations of clandestine marriages were seldom noted in the registers. It is estimated that over 300,000 marriages took place there between 1720 and 1754. For many couples, it was simply a matter of convenience – they may both have come to London from distant parishes, and could marry quickly on the purchase of a licence. For others, they were definitely clandestine.

Why did William and Rebecca marry secretly, away from Tonbridge? No doubt they anticipated opposition from family and society. The couple’s age difference was greater than had been assumed – Rebecca was 34 and William 27. Fathers contributed property or finance on the first marriage of offspring, but not normally to a subsequent union; besides that, Sir George Hampson’s death had preceded William Walter’s by some twenty months. By remarrying, Rebecca sacrificed her half-share in her first husband’s property to their son. Whatever wealth William Austen had at his young age accumulated, and whatever status Rebecca had as the daughter of a baronet, their position in society was going to be precarious.

It is clear from a letter written by William’s aunt, Mary Tilden (née Weller), that he felt awkward. In the Annual Report of 2009 Mark Ballard, a Kent County archivist, transcribed some lines from her letter of 4 April 1728, written to her brother Edward Weller. They are worth repeating: 

In your last you hinted … you thought there was now nothing of Cous. Will Austen’s amour which I then wonder’d at, but I suppose my Brother [Robert] has told you what reason we have to think he is now married. I think he acts very foolishly in not declaring it and living as if it was so. I find him close & sullen if anything is mention’d to him of it tho I believe he’d have us think he is married. I said something to him a day or so ago and he answer’d me very ruff and unrespectfull. I found he was tutchd when I said the widow I believ’d was not that sincere person he believed.8

Mary’s misgivings concerning William’s behaviour are understandable, but we don’t know why she was suspicious of Rebecca. It appears that this first marriage of William’s was a love match and that Rebecca was prepared to sacrifice financial security for the emotional comforts of partnership. The couple wanted to be united despite the possibility of insecurity. What security they did gain was short-lived; Rebecca died only five years later, on 6 February 1732/3, shortly after the birth of the second Leonora. William died on 7 December, 1737. The eldest of their surviving children, Philadelphia, was nearly eight years of age; George, Jane Austen’s father, was six; and Leonora, nearing four. 

The new records presented here are only markers of events; we still know very little about the lives and characters of Rebecca and her two Williams. I began this article saying that this new evidence better focuses our curiosity; it leaves us wishing for more.

About the author:

Ronald Dunning

Ronald Dunning, Author

Ronald Dunning is the creator of Ancestry.com: The Jane Austen Page ” which is undergoing an update as his research continues. He learned through his grandmother that her family was in some way related to Jane Austen. After moving from Canada to England in 1972, he pursued this intriguing information and discovered that Frank Austen [Jane’s brother] was her great-great-grandfather. Find more information in Deb Barnum’s 2012 interview with Mr. Dunning for Jane Austen in Vermont, An Interview with Ron Dunning on his Jane Austen Genealogy ~ The New and Improved Jane Austen Family Tree!

Also, click on this link to Sir Thomas More and Jane Austen  on this blog by Ronald Dunning.

 

Notes

. The Complete Baronetage, ed. G. E. Cokayne, pub. William Pollard & Co. Ltd., Exeter, 1902. Vol.2, p.177

  1. With the permission of the Oxfordshire History Centre. St Giles, Bletchingdon, parish registers. Ref. PAR36/1/R1/2.
  2. Annual Report, 1985: ‘William Walter – An Investigation by Gilbert Hoole and William Jarvis’
  3. Ancestry.com. St Owen’s, Hereford;  Family History Library Film Number 1041600
  4. Gloucestershire Archives. St John the Baptist, Gloucester, parish registers. Ref. P154/9 in 1/5
  5. With the permission of the Kent History and Library Centre, ref. P371/1/A/4
  6. Annual Report for 2010, p.79, ‘Jane Austen’s Grandparents: William and Rebecca Austen.’  The marriage was listed in at least three registers of Clandestine Marriages, held at The National Archives in Kew: RG7/67, RG7/85, and RG7/403.
  7. Annual Report for 2009, p.71, ‘Jane Austen’s Family in the Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone;’ Mark Ballard and Alison Cresswell. Kent History and Library Centre, ref.  KHLC U1000-18 C1-12

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Sir Thomas More will be familiar to many of us from Robert Bolt’s stage play and 1966 film, A Man For All Seasons, and from Hilary Mantel’s more recent book, Wolf Hall. For those persons who confine their reading to the six novels of a certain Georgian lady and don’t recognize his name, he was Lord High Chancellor of England from October 1529 to 16 May 1532, under King Henry VIII. He steadfastly refused to condone Henry’s desire to break from the Catholic Church to facilitate his divorce from Catherine of Aragon; Henry’s solution was to order his execution.

 

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Neither the historical record nor the dramatisations document his descendant lines to any extent, but Sir Thomas and his wife Jane Colt established a fertile line of progeny. A genealogist and descendant, the late Martin Wood, in his book The Family and Descendants of St Thomas More) [1] thought that the tally so far could number one hundred thousand. What has never been on the public record is a direct family connection between Sir Thomas and Jane Austen. The link is in the maternal line of Mrs. Austen, Cassandra Leigh, through her maternal great-grandmother, Anne Dawtrey.

George Austen and Cassandra Leigh both had some knowledge of their fathers’ ancestries but, I suspect, little of their mothers’. Cassandra was proud of her paternal lineage – her great-grandfather was the 8th Lord Chandos, her great-uncle was the first Duke of Chandos, and her distant cousin Edward Leigh was Baron Leigh of Stoneleigh. Her mother Jane Leigh (née Walker) lived with the Austens at Steventon for the last four years of her life, and the first four of their marriage. Of the Austens’ parents she was the one best known to them, and it seems safe to assume that she’d have talked about her forebears. However the current record of Cassandra’s maternal family extends back only to her great-grandmother, and it’s likely that she knew nothing of earlier generations.

Until recently I had not given Anne Dawtrey any attention – her son-in-law (and Cassandra’s maternal grandfather) John Walker, ‘Doctor of Physick at the University of Oxford,’ had both dominated and frustrated my attention. I have to report that he continues to elude not just me, but several archivists at the University of Oxford as well.

The only detail recorded for Anne, confirmed by the licence allegation for her marriage to James Perrott (dated 23 November, 1667) [2], was that she was of Petworth in Sussex. When I got round to looking, the Dawtreys revealed themselves to have been a long-established Petworth family, with additional estates in Essex and Suffolk. They were wealthy enough to leave Last Wills and Testaments that are preserved at The National Archives [3]; and bore Arms (that is, heraldic Arms), so their pedigree is recorded in the Sussex County Visitations [4]. Working through those and other sources, I was able to establish that Anne’s great-great grandfather was William Dawtrey, who had been elected MP for Sussex in 1563 and died in 1591, and that his wife was Margaret. 

Margaret’s surname had been recorded as Rogers in the Visitations; it was only on finding William’s biography in the website of The History of Parliament [5] that I learnt that she was in fact a Roper, and that she was the daughter of William Roper of Eltham, Kent. It didn’t take long to discover that this was the William Roper who had married Margaret More, the devoted daughter of Sir Thomas More. (William Roper was Sir Thomas’s first biographer; Margaret More, besides supporting her fsther during his trial, retrieved his head from the executioner; it is now interred in the Roper vault under the Chapel of St. Nicholas in St. Dunstan’s, Canterbury.)

Anne Dawtrey was a 4th-great-granddaughter of Sir Thomas; Jane Austen was an 8th-great-granddaughter. While researching Jane’s maternal pedigrees I have found many very interesting ancestors, but none so surprising as Sir Thomas. The chance that she knew this is negligible! If these details have any bearing on Jane Austen herself, it’s in the way that they illustrate that her descent was through some of the most interesting people in British history.

In the preceding paragraph I wrote “none so surprising as Sir Thomas.” But here’s another detail that comes close. Sir Thomas More’s parents, Sir John More (a Judge of the Common Pleas and of the King’s Bench) and Alice Graunger, had four surviving children, of whom he was the second eldest. His youngest sibling, Elizabeth, married John Rastell, and they too established a successful line of progeny.  One of their great-grandsons was amongst the worthiest of Jane Austen’s distant cousins, the great English poet John Donne.

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About the author:

Ronald Dunning is the creator of the Ancestry.com “Jane Austen Family Tree,” which is undergoing an update as his research continues. He learned through his grandmother that her family was in some way related to Jane Austen. After moving from Canada to England in 1972, he pursued this intriguing information and discovered that Frank Austen [Jane’s brother] was her great-great-grandfather. Find more information in Deb Barnum’s 2012 interview with Mr. Dunning for Jane Austen in Vermont, An Interview with Ron Dunning on his Jane Austen Genealogy ~ The New and Improved Jane Austen Family Tree!

References:

[1] The Family and Descendants of St Thomas More. Martin Wood. Gracewing, Leominster, 2008. ISBN 978 0 85244 681 2

[2] Marriage Allegations in the Registry of the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Harleian Society Vol. XXIII, 1886. p.142

[3] Probate Records:

William Roper, PROB 11/60/365 (in which he names his ‘daughter Dawtrey’)

William Dawtrey (d.1591) PROB 11/78/329

Sir Henry Dawtrey (d. 1646) PROB 11/196/139

William Dawtrey (d.ca 1679) PROB 11/361/238

[4] Visitations of Sussex for 1530 and 1633-4; Harleian Society, London, Vol.LIII, 1905; p.32

[5] History of Parliament Online: http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1558-1603/member/dawtrey-william-1591

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Inquiring readers, One of the benefits of overseeing a long-lasting blog is the number of Jane Austen aficionados one meets via email and online. Ronald Dunning, a descendant of Jane Austen’s brother, Francis, recently emailed me to discuss his new genealogy site and Jane Austen family website. After I visited the sites and read Deb Barnum’s excellent post on the topic at Jane Austen in Vermont, I invited Mr. Dunning to explain how he managed to fill in so many members on his family tree. When all was said and done, what excited me most was when I saw the resemblance between Mr. Dunning and his illustrious ancestor. The Austens do indeed live on. Enjoy!

Sir Francis William Austen, Admiral of the Fleet, and descendant Ronald Dunning

Hi Vic! I’m a 4th-great-grandson of Frank Austen, and a committed genealogist. I’ve been working for quite a few years on an extended and inclusive genealogy of the Austen family, which can be seen at RootsWeb: http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~janeausten. It’s an ongoing project, subject to addition and revision, but has reached an advanced state of maturity. Various writers on the Austen family in England and the US have used it, and I’ve even found it cited as a reference source for biographies at Wikipedia.

Joan Corder

I’ve just posted a new website dedicated to Jane Austen’s Family, which was announced to the public at last week’s JAS AGM. The address is www.janeaustensfamily.co.uk. The first content is Joan Corder’s “Akin to Jane” – a 1953 manuscript listing as many descendants of George and Cassandra Austen as the author could find. Joan recorded something like 320 descendants of George and Cassandra Austen, which is very good going for 1953. The biographical detail in the manuscript makes it invaluable. She could never find a publisher and the book exists only in a couple of manuscript copies, one of which is at the Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton. When I first began working on the site, I wasn’t sure whether it would interest anyone – I was simply driven on by my obsession with family history – but it’s been well received, to my delight. The Museum is pleased that they can now retire Joan Corder’s fragile original.

Joan’s page on Jane Austen in Akin to Jane Austen. The fragile original has been replaced with interactive online pages.

With the benefit of modern genealogical facilities, I’ve increased the tally from 320 to over 1200 – all of whom are to be found on my RootsWeb site. I have to admit that I have included very little anecdotal information, it is mainly genealogy; and all details except the surname are withheld for anyone born after 1915, though I have them on my computer database.

Austen (l) and Austen-Leigh (r) family coat of arms.

You asked for an anecdotal example for Jane Austen’s World readers that would flesh out the details of my research. I immediately thought of James Brydges, 8th Baron Chandos of Sudeley and Elizabeth Barnard – Cassandra Leigh’s great-grandparents. Cassandra was of course Jane Austen’s mother.

Hearing Miss Barnard was engaged to a party with a fashionable conjuror, who showed the ladies their future husbands in a glass, he by a proper application to the cunning man beforehand, and by a proper position at the time, was exhibited in the glass to Miss Barnard: clapping her hands she cried, ‘Then Mr. Bridges is my destination, and such he shall be.’”

This lovely anecdote was recorded in a footnote, in The Complete Peerage,under the entry for James Brydges, the 8th Lord Chandos of Sudeley. The lady in question, Elizabeth Barnard, did become his wife. Elizabeth’s father Sir Henry Barnard was a “Turkey merchant,” a trader whose business interest was in importing from Constantinople. Her husband James Brydges was himself the Ambassador of the “Turkey Company” (properly the Levant Company) in Constantinople from 1680 to 1686.

Sir James Brydges (1642–1714), 8th Baron Chandos, Turkey Company Ambassador to Constantinople

Elizabeth gave birth to twenty-two children. We are familiar with the mortal threat to women’s lives from childrearing – three of Jane Austens’ sisters-in-law suffered that fate. Elizabeth survived her twenty-two deliveries and lived to the age of 77. Not all of her children fared so well – only fifteen were baptized, and of those, three sons and five daughters survived infancy. This was far from unusual – Antonia Fraser, in her study of 17th-century woman, The Weaker Sex, stated that it was normal for only a third of children born to a large family to survive. Their eldest child, Mary Bridges, was one of the survivors. The link to Jane Austen can now be traced within a few generations. Mary married Theophilus Leigh; they were Cassandra Leigh’s paternal grandparents and the parents of Theophilus Leigh, who served as Master of Balliol College in Oxford from 1726 until his death in 1785. Theophilus Jr.’s brother Thomas Leigh married Jane Walker, and they were Cassandra Leigh’s parents. Cassandra, who married George Austen, gave birth to eight children, including Jane Austen in 1775. (And she too survived to a ripe old age, outliving her daughter Jane by 10 years.)

Click on image for details. Image @A Reading Affair

I hope you enjoyed this small sampling of the information that my sites offer about Jane Austen’s family. Deb Barnum from Jane Austen in Vermont has interviewed me, and written a very thorough review and detailed explanation of how to find information on the sites.

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