|Colonel Thomas Austen|
Reproduced by kind permission of the owner -
from a private collection
Colonel Thomas Austen, (1775 - 1859) the third owner of the portrait, was Jane's second cousin, and a great friend of Edward Knight, her brother. They were both fanatical cricketers, and played in the Duke of Dorset's (the founder of the MCC's) team, called at one point, 'The Gentlemen of Kent'. Elizabeth Austen, my husband Henry's great, great grandmother, knew him well. We know from her that he rode very well to hounds, was a fine shot, and also played the violin. His mother, Elizabeth Motley Austen (née Wilson) had had a great admirer called Sir Horace Mann who also taught him to play brilliant cricket.
His army career was very distinguished, and he was made Governor of the Algarve during the Penninsular wars, (where he was reprimanded by the top brass for being too easy on French spies!)
He fought in America in the 40th regiment of foot, the Green Jackets, and under Wellington, and visited South Africa, Canada, and the West Indies.
The motherless girls were referred to as Margaretta's 'protegés', and when the portrait of Jane was given to Elizabeth Hall on her marriage to Colonel Thomas Harding-Newman in 1818, it explains why she knew the family, Jane, and the portrait so well. She was given it because she was 'a great admirer of the novelist', not just of her books, but of Jane herself.
Colonel Thomas's possessions were all also entailed, but his friend Thomas Harding-Newman had proposed to Jane, his wife-to-be had known her, so perhaps he felt the pleasure he was giving them outweighed the entail problem! Henry and I met the Harding-Newman family; they are quite charming, and said that their ancestor was not the handsomest chap in the world, (the family name for him was 'Old Mossy Face') and they could understand why Jane had turned him down!
So Jane was separated from Cassandra in 1818, to descend for one generation through the Harding-Newman family, leaving her sister at Kippington.
Colonel Thomas married again in 1826 aged 50 (after Margaretta's death in 1825) to the local belle Caroline Manning aged 18; but again the marriage was childless. His heir was his nephew, John-Francis Austen, to whose descendant, Charlotte Marianne, or May Austen, Cassandra's portrait descended in direct line.
Colonel Thomas and Margaretta stayed at Godmersham for the wedding of Elizabeth Austen to Edward Royd Rice, in 1818 on October 6th, the day before Edward Knight's birthday, and the story goes that the bride of 18 ran around the tops of the garden walls after the ceremony still wearing her wedding dress! It must have been a wonderful party!
Colonel Thomas Austen died in 1859, by all accounts a much loved patron and landowner.
Anne Rice June 2011
I have loved hearing about the connections between this branch of the family and Jane Austen's family. Next time, I shall be adding my own comments about this particular part of the provenance, and by kind permission of Professor Claudia Johnson, the Murray Professor of English Literature at Princeton University, I will be reproducing some of her writing on the subject!