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Governor Phillip meets Jane Austen

Governor Phillip

By Heather Clarke
Did Governor Phillip meet Jane Austen in Bath?  It is quite possible.

Governor Phillip
Captain (later Admiral) Arthur Phillip RN (11 October 1738 – 31 August 1814) was the first Governor of New South Wales.

Arthur Phillip retired to Bath in 1793 to recover his health after five years as the governor of the colony of New South Wales.  While on occasions he was obliged to live elsewhere, the elegant city of Bath continued to be his favoured place of residence for the rest his life.

Jane Austen first visited Bath in 1797 and dwelt there with her family between 1801 and 1806.

Jane loved dancing and attended balls in many places across the south of England: – Basingstoke, Deal, Lyme, Canterbury, Ashford, Faversham and Southampton. She specifically mentioned the annual ball hosted by the Dorchesters of Kempshott Park to which all their Hampshire neighbours were invited (1799), the Earl and Countess of Portsmouth’s ball (1800), and a ball in Southampton (1808). All of her novels feature balls or dancing.
Jane loved dancing and attended balls in many places across the south of England: – Basingstoke, Deal, Lyme, Canterbury, Ashford, Faversham and Southampton. She specifically mentioned the annual ball hosted by the Dorchesters of Kempshott Park to which all their Hampshire neighbours were invited (1799), the Earl and Countess of Portsmouth’s ball (1800), and a ball in Southampton (1808). All of her novels feature balls or dancing.

Bath was at the cultural heart of Georgian and Regency society.  The most fashionable people flocked to Bath in the season to enjoy the curative powers of the mineral waters and to consort with the fine company gathered there.  Central to this were the splendid Assembly Rooms, “the most noble and elegant of any in the kingdom”2.  Together with card-playing and concert-going, dancing was a key element to the experience.  Dances were held every night, with at least two balls given each week during the season.  These enchanting affairs were presided over by a master of ceremonies with the strictest decorum; however, the dances themselves encouraged a certain degree of flirtation.  Balls began with minuets, followed by country dances, cotillions and reels.

Both Governor Phillip and Jane Austen are known to have attended balls – did their paths cross?  They certainly would have danced the same fashionable dances of the season.  Every year collections of the latest dances were published; these invariably bore the inscription As they are performed at Court, Bath, and all Public Assemblies, highlighting the pre-eminence of Bath and the significance of dance in genteel society.

Jane, aged 21, visited Bath for the first time in 1797. She may have danced Captain Cook’s Country Dance from Corri, Dussek & Co’s Twenty-four New Country Dances for the Year 1797.
Jane, aged 21, visited Bath for the first time in 1797. She may have danced Captain Cook’s Country Dance from Corri, Dussek & Co’s
Twenty-four New Country Dances for the Year 1797.

Comparing the lives and places Arthur and Jane frequented, it is clear they both trod in the same places, moved in similar circles and perhaps had a number of mutual acquaintances.

Although Phillip was mostly not a permanent resident in Bath at the same time as Jane (1801-1806), he did spend a considerable amount of time there and upon retiring in 1805 purchased “a large and commodious house at No 19 Bennett Street”.  As befitted a person of Phillip’s standing, this was situated in one of the most prestigious areas of the city, a handsome new Georgian dwelling, just above the Assembly Rooms.

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D’Arcy Wentworth: Heroic Inspiration?

 


Jane Austen’s Aunt was once at risk of transportation to Botany Bay for shoplifting. It is piquant that Austen

named two of her major male characters Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice and Captain Wentworth in

Persuasion, because a leading inhabitant of New South Wales in those years was D’Arcy Wentworth,

disreputable but acknowledged kinsman of Lord Fitzwilliam. D’Arcy Wentworth’s career smacks more of Georgette Heyer

than Jane Austen, since he was a highwayman four times acquitted. Rather than push his luck further, he went, a

free man, as assistant surgeon with the Second Fleet in 1790. As a young teenager Jane Austen may have read about

him in the Times.

Remembered in Australian history, his origins somewhat fudged, as father of the better-known W.C. Wentworth, D’Arcy

turns out to be a complex and significant character. All his life he was an outsider. Born in Ireland in 1762, he

was the youngest son of a Protestant innkeeper whose family had come down in the world. D’Arcy qualified as an

assistant surgeon in London, but then gravitated to vice and crime; through flash arrogance, Ritchie thinks, rather

than a self-destructive urge.

Once in Australia, Wentworth spent his first six years on Norfolk Island, the margin of marginalised New South

Wales. Back in Sydney, he still seemed too raffish for intimacy with the New South Wales Corps clique, the

Macarthurs and their like. Because of his professional skills and an economic clout built up through trade, notably

in rum, Wentworth could not be ignored. Walking alone, he trod delicately through the feuds and alliances which

culminated in Governor Bligh’s overthrow in 1808.

Bligh had suspended Wentworth for allegedly using government prisoners on his own private projects; so it was not

surprising that Wentworth sided with Macarthur and the men of property who made the Rum Rebellion. But he did not

draw too close to them, and when Governor Macquarie arrived in 1810 Wentworth soon won favour with him.

By the end of 1810 the erstwhile outcast was principal surgeon, justice of the peace, commissioner for turnpike

roads, and superintendent of police — the last appointment beginning a venerable New South Wales tradition of

contentious appointments. Not surprisingly in one who learned his political ethics in eighteenth century Ireland,

Wentworth tended to be a lax and negligent administrator, happy to leave the work to subordinates while he got on

with the serious business of enriching himself. Except when his business interests brought out the bully in him he

was a humane justice who punished leniently. He weathered the criticisms following Commissioner Bigge’s reports in

the early 1820s. When a court of quarter session was set up in 1824 he would have been its chairman but for failing

health. Not bad for an ex-highwayman.

Success in the cut-throat business and factional politics of early New South Wales often depended on the quality of

aristocratic influence which could be brought to bear in London. Where Macarthur had to exert himself in courting

Lord Camden or Sir Joseph Banks, Wentworth had the inside running through his shadowy kinship with Lord

Fitzwilliam. In addition to direct patronage, Wentworth had access to the earl’s London agent, the long-suffering

and trustworthy Charles Cookney, who looked after commercial matters and fostered Wentworth’s sons when they were

sent to England for education.

These sons were the children of the convict Catherine Crowley, Wentworth’s common law wife until her death in 1800.

He never married, but through serial monogamy produced at least twelve children, the last born some months after

his death, aged sixty-five, in 1827. The eldest son, William Charles, was the apple of D’Arcy’s eye, and some of

Ritchie’s subtlest and most telling insights chart the changing relationship between father and son.

Where D’Arcy was cool, diplomatic, and rationally self-interested — a gentleman of the road, maybe, but still a

gentleman — William was roughshod, Byronic, and passionate. The father compartmentalised his life with almost

chilling efficiency. He never wrote to his Irish family and seldom allowed personal rancour to interfere with

business. In William’s character private and public motives fused stormily. He fought the Macarthurs not just

because they were powerful, but because they snubbed his courtship of their sister.
Geoffrey Bolton is Senior Scholar in Residence at Murdoch University. This article originally appeared in

The Australian Book Review (June, 1998) and is reprinted with their permission. Further information about the D’Arcy family can be found in The

Wentworths: Father and Son, by John Ritchie (ISBN: 1 522 84751 X).