Six times Jane Austen wrote about ships in her letters

By Jennifer Abella

Jane Austen was no stranger to ships — at least in her letters. Two of her brothers, Francis (Frank) and Charles, were in the Navy. Here are six times she wrote to her sister, Cassandra, about ships and ship life:


Dec. 24-26, 1798: Admiral Gambier in reply to my father’s application writes as follows. — “As it is usual to keep young officers in small vessels, it being most proper on account of their inexperience, & it being also a situation where they are more in the way of learning their Duty, Your Son [Charles] has been continued in the Scorpion; but I have mentioned to the Board of Admiralty his wish to be in a Frigate, and when a proper opportunity offers & it is judged that he has taken his Turn in a small Ship, I hope he will be removed.”


Feb. 11, 1801: The Endymion has not been plagued with any more prizes.–Charles spent three pleasant days in Lisbon.–They were very well satisfied with their Royal Passenger, whom they found fat, jolly & affable, who talks of Ly Augusta as his wife & seems much attached to her.

[The Royal Passenger was the Duke of Sussex, who had a morganatic marriage with Lady Augusta Murray.]

St. Albans

Jan. 10-11, 1809: The St Albans perhaps may soon be off to help bring home what may remain by this time of our poor Army, whose state seems dreadfully critical.

[About this time the army was retreating from Corunna, Galicia.]


Jan. 30, 1809: A letter from Hamstall gives us the history of Sir Tho. Williams’ return; — the Admiral, whoever he might be, took a fancy to the Neptune, &  having only a worn-out 74 to offer in lieu of it, Sir Tho. declined such a command, & and is come home Passenger. Lucky Man! To have so fair an opportunity of escape. 

[A 74 was a man-‘o-war with 74 guns.]


April 25, 1811: … Capt. Simpson told us, on the authority of some other Captn just arrived from Halifax, that Charles was bringing the Cleopatra home, &  that she was this time in the Channel — but as Capt. S was certainly in liquor, we must not quite depend on it. 

Communication gaps

Dec. 1-2, 1798: I have just heard from Frank. He was at Cadiz. … Frank writes in good spirits, but says that our correspondence cannot be so easily carried on in future as it has been, as the communication between Cadiz and Lisbon is less frequent than formerly. You and my mother, therefore, must not alarm yourselves at the longer intervals that may divide his letters. I address this advice to you two as being the most tender-hearted of the family.

Source: “Jane Austen’s Letters,” fourth edition, edited by Deirdre Le Faye.


About Jennifer Abella

Jennifer Abella is a TV/movie/pop culture/knitting/sewing/Jane Austen geek. Oh, and a total Anglophile. Follow her on Twitter: @nextjen.

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