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The Formative Years of George Austen, Jane’s father

George Austin

A look at James Cawthorn, George Austen and the Curious Case of the Schoolboy Who Was Killed by Martin J. Cawthorne

George Austin


Jane Austen’s father, George Austen has many connections to the city of Bath.

On the 26th April 1764 he married, by special licence, Cassandra Leigh in St Swithin’s, Walcot.  The Austen family were regular visitors to Bath and in December 1800, after 35 years ministering in Steventon, George Austen announced his retirement and moved to Bath, where he spent his final years.  He died in the city on the 21st January 1805 and is buried at St Swithin’s Church where a memorial to him has been erected.

Jane Austen lived at home with her parents all her life and the Rev George Austen played a significant part in her life.  Apart from a brief period at boarding school, Jane was largely educated at home; George also provided writing equipment for her to develop her literary talent.  The Rev Austen features in Jane’s correspondence and as a result much is known about his adult life. Very little, however, has been written about George Austen’s early life, before he met and married Cassandra Leigh.  It is known that he was orphaned at the age of six before going to school in his home town of Tonbridge, Kent, from where he won a scholarship to study at St John’s College, Oxford.  However, very little has been written about these formative early years of his life – until now.

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The Journal of Eveline Helm, Part Four – To the Regency Ball…

Dear Reader, 

I hope that this journal of my time in Bath should prove to be helpful to you. In reading it may you be spared the numerous faux pas and embarrassments that I was not. I truly feel that if this work should prevent even one other young lady from public ridicule in the Assembly Rooms of Bath then it will have been wholly worthwhile. 

Humbly yours, 

Eveline Helm.


June 1797

The time is nearly upon us when my Aunt, my Uncle and myself will be making our first appearance at a ball at the Upper Rooms! I am at present experiencing such a mixture of emotions at this thought. Part of me is wild excitement at the prospect of at last being able to attend the grand frivolities I have so long dreamt of, ever since Miss Lucy Stevens mentioned them so many years ago when she had just lately returned from her first visit to the city. Another part of me is intense nerves – what if I should embarrass myself, as I did so thoroughly at the Pump Rooms this morning? What if everyone sees the new velvet ribbons which I have spent all afternoon sewing onto my best gown and, rather than focusing on what a fine rich emerald colour they are, look beyond them and instantly recognize that my best white muslin dress is not of this season? That it is in fact of the beginning of last season; with it’s more modest bust line and it’s lack of fullness at the sleeve shoulder! Who would ask a girl to dance who is so utterly behind the times in such a fashion conscious city?

My Aunt and I did visit the haberdashers this morning following our visit to the Pump Rooms, and we did order new dresses, but sadly, even with a premium paid so that they may be completed as a rush job, they would not be ready for two more days (an extravagance which I begged my Aunt not to undertake on my behalf, but she would not hear of my saying that she need not go to such an expense on my account).

“There is no need to worry my dear,” my Aunt said to me once this news was given us. “We can adapt what you have with new ribbons, and we may purchase some new gloves. Yes, I really am sure that we can make everything look most satisfactory! After all, tonight is only the dress ball and there shall be no one there in anything so very fine. That will be saved for the fancy ball on Thursday.”


Bath, I have learnt, has rather more balls than in the country – as is only to be expected. At home we have a public ball at the local assembly rooms every Tuesday evening. In Bath however there is a dress ball every Monday night and a fancy ball every Thursday, for which everyone reserves their best gowns and most complex hair stylings, and for which I am hoping that we shall this week have our new gowns ready. Normally it would cost five shillings to go to a ball, but happily our subscription to them, which was purchased earlier at the Pump Rooms, allows us to attend for free. Although having said that, the subscription to each did cost fourteen shillings, which if you were not going to be staying in Bath for very long wouldn’t be worthwhile purchasing, but as it is we are planning to stay for a few weeks so as long as we go to every ball on offer we shall make our subscribing well worthwhile. This should not be a problem as my Aunt is just as keen to go to each and every ball there is as I myself am. Though I am relieved that we shall be starting with a dress ball as it is rather less stately affair than the fancy ball.

At the dress ball there are only country dances, and the complex cotillions are reserved for the fancy ball. I do hope when the time comes that my dance skills do not let me down and I am starting to regret not practicing more as my dancing master urged me to do. How was I to know then that I would be so tested! Though there is of course no guarantee that I shall be asked to dance a cotillion on Thursday if I do decide I am ready – I know no one in Bath besides my Aunt and Uncle, and who would chance making a fool of themselves by asking an unknown partner who may not know the steps to dance. I might well keep my bright white gloves in my reticule as a sign that I am not prepared to dance the cotillion this week; Aunt Charlotte has told me that that is the unspoken code in Bath – ladies who wish to dance a cotillion take the whitest of white gloves to wear to show that they are available, and then change them to a cream or ivory afterwards as not every lady feels comfortable dancing such a complex dance. My Uncle only increased my doubts about these dances earlier as we were making our way back from Milsom Street having made our purchases.

“I do remember there was an occasion last year when your Aunt and I were in town, and she had persuaded me to attend a ball.”

“No that he needed much persuading despite what he may say,” Aunt Charlotte interjected. My Uncle carried on:

“When a gentleman turned the wrong way in his set and stepped so hard on his partner’s foot that she was unable to continue the dance and a sedan chair had to be engaged to take her home early. The gentleman was unable to show his face in the Assembly Rooms for almost two weeks and felt obliged to call on her on a regular basis to enquire after her health. Thanks to this he very nearly found himself obligated to propose to her. Beware Eveline,” he had said stopping so that my Aunt and I who were one on each of his arms also had to stop. “If you dance a cotillion who knows what might befall you! You might muddle our footwork, trip, stumble into the arms of a gentleman as you fall and find you have to marry him for the sake of decency! You have been warned!”

“Well really, Mr Denison,” my Aunt admonished. “Don’t be so ridiculous.” I felt relieved that my Aunt thought that this was too extreme an outcome of a dancing mistake, until she continued: “As if Eveline would muddle her footwork!” My Uncle laughed lightheartedly.

“Of course! My mistake. You are right, my dear. Our Eveline is safe.”

I am certain that they were largely only teasing me, but nevertheless it hasn’t helped to settle my nerves for tonight.


I have just checked the clock on the fireplace mantle. It is half past seven o’clock and as the balls start as soon after seven o’clock as is possible I believe we shall be leaving soon to arrive at a fashionable hour, and as such I ought to cease writing my journal and make my way downstairs. Especially as I do not know how long I can successfully avoid covering my fingers in ink while writing, since my current quill is not the newest or most clean writing implement.

However, I am unsure if James has managed to secure sedan chairs for us yet, but if he has not I am positive that he will be back shortly with some, as despite the fact that being situated so pleasantly as we are on The Paragon, barely five minutes’ walk from the Upper Rooms, it is nevertheless for the sake of appearances that we are to arrive in sedan chairs as most people who can afford to do so choose to. Riding in a sedan chair, by the by, is another thing which I have never done before, so this evening continues my day that is very much full with first experiences; which does rather explain why I am so nervous, and I feel a little more justified in being so given this fact. Nevertheless, I shall take my courage in both gloved hands, focus on my rising excitement, put my fears to the back of my mind, and make my way downstairs at this moment. (One final thought however; I do hope that the carriers of the chair don’t slip and drop me as I fear they might…)

webJenni Waugh HeadshotThe journal of Eveline Helm’s time in Bath has made its way online thanks to Jenni Waugh, one of our tour guides at the Jane Austen Centre.

She writes: “I couldn’t resist sharing Eveline’s exploits. I hope everyone else finds them as interesting and entertaining as I did!”

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Has Lord Elgin Lost His Marbles?

Lord Elgin_by_Anton_Graff_around_1788Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin – Lord Elgin – and 11th Earl of Kincardine (20 July 1766 – 14 November 1841) was a Scottish nobleman and diplomat, known primarily for the removal of marble sculptures (also known as the Elgin Marbles) from the Parthenon in Athens.

Elgin was born in Broomhall, Fife, the second son of Charles Bruce, 5th Earl of Elgin and his wife Martha Whyte. He succeeded his older brother William Robert, the 6th Earl, in 1771 while he was only five. He entered the army as an ensign in the 3rd Guards. He was elected as a Scottish Representative Peer in 1790, remaining one until 1807.

In 1791, he was sent as a temporary envoy-extraordinary to Austria, while Sir Robert Keith was ill. He was then sent as envoy-extraordinary in Brussels until the conquest of the Austrian Netherlands by France. After spending time in Britain, he was sent as envoy-extraordinary to Prussia in 1795. Elgin was appointed as ambassador to The Porte in December 1798.

On 11 March 1799, shortly before setting off to serve as ambassador at Constantinople, Elgin married Mary, daughter and heiress of William Hamilton Nisbet, of Dirleton; Elgin finally arrived at Constantinople on 6 November 1799.

Elgin was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire between 1799 and 1803; he showed considerable skill and energy in fulfilling a difficult mission, the extension of British influence during the conflict between the Ottoman Empire and France. He departed Turkey at last on 16 January 1803.


Acting on the advice of Sir William Hamilton, Lord Elgin procured the services of the Neapolitan painter, Lusieri, and of several skilful draughtsmen and modellers. These artists were dispatched to Athens in the summer of 1800, and were principally employed in making drawings of the ancient monuments, though very limited facilities were given them by the authorities. About the middle of the summer of 1801, Elgin received (as is said) a firman, from the Porte which allowed his lordship’s agents not only to ‘fix scaffolding round the ancient Temple of the Idols [the Parthenon], and to mould the ornamental sculpture and visible figures thereon in plaster and gypsum,’ but also ‘to take away any pieces of stone with old inscriptions or figures thereon.’ Due to the loss of the original firman, it isn’t sure that the translation is correct.

The actual removal of ancient marbles from Athens formed no part of Elgin’s first plan. The collection thus formed by operations at Athens, and by explorations in other parts of Greece, and now known by the name of the ‘Elgin Marbles,’ consists of portions of the frieze, metopes, and pedimental sculptures of the Parthenon, as well as of sculptured slabs from the Athenian temple of Nike Apteros, and of various antiquities from Attica and other districts of Hellas.

Part of the Elgin collection was prepared for embarkation for England in 1803, considerable difficulties having to be encountered at every stage of its transit. Elgin’s vessel, the Mentor, wrecked near Cerigo with its cargo of marbles, and it was not till after the labours of three years, and the expenditure of a large sum of money, that the marbles were successfully recovered by the divers. On Elgin’s departure from Turkey in 1803, he withdrew all his artists from Athens with the exception of Lusieri, who remained to direct the excavations which were still carried on, though on a much reduced scale. Additions continued to be made to the Elgin collections, and as late as 1812, eighty fresh cases of antiquities arrived in England.


The removal of about 1/2 of the frieze metopes, frieze and pedimental sculpture was a decision taken on the spot by Philip Hunt, Elgin’s chaplain (and temporary private secretary, i.e. representative, in Athens), who persuaded the voivode (governor of Athens) to interpret the terms of the firman very broadly.

Lord Elgin bribed local Ottoman authorities into permitting the removal of about half of the Parthenon frieze, fifteen metopes, and seventeen pedimental fragments, in addition to a caryatid and a column from the Erechtheion. He used these antiquities to decorate his mansion in Scotland and then later sold them to the British Museum in an attempt to repay his escalating debt. Continue reading Has Lord Elgin Lost His Marbles?

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Henry Cecil, 1st Marquess of Exeter

Henry Cecil, 1st Marquess of Exeter (14 March 1754 – 1 May 1804), known as Henry Cecil from 1754 to 1793 and as The Earl of Exeter from 1793 to 1801, was a British peer and Member of Parliament and inspiration for Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem, The Lord of Burleigh. His private life was the subject much society chatter and reads like the plot of a Georgette Heyer novel. He has, undoubtedly been the inspiration for countless tales of romance and intrigue.

Henry Cecil 1st Marquess of Exeter in 1803, a year before his death, painted by Henry Bone.
Henry Cecil 1st Marquess of Exeter in 1803, a year before his death, painted by Henry Bone.

Exeter was the son of the Hon. Thomas Chambers Cecil, second son of Brownlow Cecil, 8th Earl of Exeter. Thomas Chambers Cecil led a profligate life, and although for a time an MP he was forced to live abroad in Brussels, where he married Charlotte Garnier, a lady of uncertain origin, said by some to be a Basque dancer. When Henry was born in 1754 he was the heir presumptive to his uncle Brownlow Cecil, 9th Earl of Exeter, and for this reason was sent when still a baby to Burghley House to be brought up. Continue reading Henry Cecil, 1st Marquess of Exeter

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Alexandre de La Reynière: Father of the table

GrimodDeLAReyniereAlexandre Balthazar Laurent Grimod de La Reynière (20 November 1758, Paris – 25 December 1837), trained as a lawyer, acquired fame during the reign of Napoleon, for his sensual and public gastronomic lifestyle. Son of Laurent Grimod de La Reynière, he inherited the family fortune on the death of his father, a fermier général, in 1792. He was a member of the Société du Caveau.

Though his father built a stylish house in Paris with a garden that looked onto the bosquets of the Champs-Élysées and kept a great table, the younger Grimod had been born with deformed hands and was kept out of sight, a circumstance that developed his biting wit and dark sense of humour. The younger Grimod de La Reynière began his public career on his return from studies in Lausanne by collaborating in the review Journal des théâtres in 1777–78, continuing to write reviews of theatre, some of which he published himself, as Le Censeur Dramatique. During his parents’ absence he gave grand dinner parties in the Hôtel Grimod de La Reynière, at one of which his father returned suddenly to find a pig dressed up and presiding at the table. The story made the rounds in Paris, and a breach with the family ensued, which culminated in a lettre de cachet that disinherited him and confined him to an abbey close to Nancy, where at the table of the father abbot he began to learn the art of good eating. He was a correspondent to the scandal chronicle, Correspondence secrète, politique et littéraire (1790) relating to Paris during the reign of Louis XVI, and formed a liaison with the actress Adèle Feuchère, who bore their love child in 1790.

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