|Frank and Mary Gibson
Written by Julie W
(Thursday, 15 January 2009, at 8:51 a.m.)
Letter 48 is really a poem by Jane Austen written on the occasion of Frank and Mary Austen visiting Godmersham for their honeymoon in July 1806. She advises Edward's children to be on the watch for the couple and to welcome the new bride into the family.
Frank had met Mary Gibson while organising the Sea Fencibles in Ramsgate in 1803. His order from the Admiralty was worded as follows:
Whereas it has been judged expedient for the more effectually preventing the landing of an Enemy in this Country, that the Inhabitants of the Towns and Villages on the Coast, who shall voluntarily offer themselves for its protection, shall be enrolled in their respective Districts, under the name of Sea-Fencibles; and whereas we think fit to appoint you to command all such Men as shall enroll themselves under the description above-mentioned; - From Sandown exclusive to the No. Foreland inclusive- You are hereby required and directed to repair forthwith to Ramsgate, and take upon you the command of all such Men as may from time to time enroll themselves within the said District, for the Defence of the Coast, accordingly. see Le Faye Jane Austen : A Family Record p139
In Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers (1905) written by J H Hubback,Frank's grandson and his daughter,Edith,we are given this account of the sea fencibles and their role:
This service was instituted chiefly on the advice of Captain Popham, who had tried something of the same kind in Flanders in 1793.
The object, of course, was to protect the coast from invasion. The corps was composed of fishermen, commanded in each district by an officer in the Navy, whose duty it was to quarter the men on the beach, exercise them, and to have the beaches watched whenever the weather was favourable for the enemy to land. The men were exercised once a week, and were paid at the rate of a shilling a day, with a food allowance when on service.
Captain Austen's report on the coast of the district lying between the North Foreland and Sandown is a document of considerable detail, dealing with the possible landing-places for a hostile army. He comes to the conclusion that in moderate weather a landing might be effected on many parts of this coast, particularly in Pegwell Bay, where "the enemy would have no heights to gain," and, further, "that any time of tide would be equally favourable for the debarkation of troops on this shore." But "in blowing weather, open flat boats filled with troops would doubtless many of them be lost in the surf, while larger vessels could not, from the flatness of the coast, approach sufficiently near." Of course, all is subject to "the enemy's evading our cruisers, and getting past the ships in the Downs." pp112-113,
While staying at Ramsgate he met and became friendly with Mr John Gibson and Mary was his daughter. They became officially engaged in 1804, but could not marry immediately due to rank's finances. Shades of Persuasion,eh?
The Hubbacks specualte that Jane and Cassandra were initially dismayed by Frank's choice of wife and think that it was a plan of theirs that Frank should marry Martha Lloyd:
This engagement, though "Mrs. F. A." became one of the best loved of the sisters-in-law, must at the outset have been a slight shock to Jane and Cassandra, who for long had been cherishing a hope that Frank would marry their beloved friend Martha Lloyd. A few extracts taken from the letters will show their affection and their hopes.
"I love Martha better than ever, and I mean to go and see her, if I can, when she gets home. . . . I shall be very glad to see you at home again, and then—if we can get Martha—who will be so happy as we? . . . I am quite pleased with Martha and Mrs. Lefroy for wanting the pattern of our caps, but I am not so well pleased with your giving it to them. Some wish, some prevailing wish, is necessary to the animation of everybody's mind, and in gratifying this you leave them to form some other which will probably not be half so innocent. I shall not forget to write to Frank."
The connection of ideas seems very clear. Perhaps it may have been some memory of these old times, and the wishes of his sister who had passed away, that induced Francis to make Martha his second wife in 1828.
See Pages 112-114 Chapter 8,as above.
Not long after his father's death Frank was appointed as captain to the 80-gun HMS Canopus. Under French ownership the ship was known as Le Franklin: she was a French ship of the line designed by engineer Jacques-Noël Sané, and was built in Toulon between 1794-7.
She was captured by Admiral Nelson at the Battle of the Nile, and commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS Canopus.
From 1863, she was used for harbour duty, and she was sold for scrap in October 1887.
Poor Frank- he was doomed to miss the battle of Trafalgar in 1805,(he was in the Mediteranean at Malta when he received news of the French Fleet leaving Cadiz, set off for Trafalgar, but arrived too late.
Here are the Mediterranean , Gibraltar and the Trafalgar pages from the Persuasion Gazetteer so that you can envisage the distances Frank had to travel.
Before his death Admiral Nelson was impressed by Frank:
I hope to see (Francis Austen) alongside a French 80 –gun ship and he cannot be better placed than in the Canopus which as once a French Admirals ship,and struck to me.Captain Austen I knew a little of before; he is an excellent young man. Le Faye as above p151
Frank was quite bitter about missing all the action of battle: look at his correspondence with Mary during this period:
"Canopus AT SEA, off GIBRALTAR, October 15, 1805.
"MY DEAREST MARY,—Having now got over the hurry and bustle which unavoidably attends every ship while in the act of compleating provisions, water and stores, I think it high time to devote some part of my attention to your amusement, and to be in a state of preparation for any opportunity which may offer of dispatching letters to England. But in order to make myself understood I must endeavour to be methodical, and therefore shall commence the account I have now to send you from the date of my last, which was finished and forwarded by the Nimble brig on the 2nd of this month. We had then just joined the fleet from the in-shore squadron, and, I believe I mentioned, were about to quit it again for Gibraltar and Tetuan. We sailed that evening with four other ships of the line, a frigate, and five merchant vessels under convoy, and on the following morning fell in with the Euryalus, which we had left off Cadiz to watch the enemy. Captain Blackwood informed us by signal that he had received information by a Swedish ship from Cadiz that the troops had all embarked on board the men-of-war, and it was reported they were to sail with the first easterly wind. Though much confidence could not be placed on the accuracy and authenticity of this intelligence, it was, however, of such a nature as to induce Admiral Louis to return with four of the ships to Lord Nelson, leaving the Zealous and Endymion (both of them crippled ships) to proceed with the convoy to Gibraltar. We rejoined the Commander-in-Chief on the morning of the 5th, and were again dispatched in the course of the day.
"The wind being directly against us, and blowing very strong, we were not able to reach Gibraltar until the 9th, when every exertion was made to get on board such supplies of stores and provisions as we were in want of, and the Rock could supply. This was effected in three days, at which time the wind changed to the westward and became favourable for our watering at Tetuan, where we anchored on the evening of the 12th. We sailed again last night to return to the fleet, having got on board in the course of two days, with our own boats alone, 300 tons of water, and every other ship had got a proportionate quantity. You will judge from this that we have not been idle. We are now expecting a wind to take us out of the Mediterranean again, and hope to accomplish it in the course of the next twenty-four hours; at present it is nearly calm, but appearances indicate an easterly wind. We are, of course, very anxious to get back to the fleet for fear the enemy should be moving, for the idea of their doing so while we are absent is by no means pleasant. Having borne our share in a tedious chace and anxious blockade, it would be mortifying indeed to find ourselves at last thrown out of any share of credit or emolument which would result from an action. Such, I hope, will not be our lot, though, if they do venture out at all, it must happen to some one, as a part of the fleet will be constantly sent in to compleat as fast as the others arrive from having performed that duty.
"Our stay at Gibraltar was not productive of much gaiety to us; we dined only twice on shore, and both times with General Fox, the Governor. We had engagements for several succeeding days on our hands; but this change of wind making it necessary for us to move off, our friends were left to lament our absence, and eat the fatted calf without us. I believe I have mentioned in a former letter that the young lady I admired so much (Miss Smith) was married to the Colonel Keen, whom Sutton will not acknowledge as an acquaintance. As a matter of civility, I called with the Admiral Louis to make them a morning visit, but we were not fortunate enough to find them at home, which, of course, I very much regretted. The last evening of our stay at Gibraltar we went, after dining with the General, to see Othello performed by some of the officers of the garrison. The theatre is small, but very neatly fitted up; the dresses and scenery appeared good, and I might say the same of the acting could I have seen or heard anything of it; but, although I was honoured with a seat in the Governor's box at the commencement of the performance, yet I did not long profit by it, for one of his aide-de-camps, happening to be married, and his lady happening also to come in during the first scene, I was obliged to resign my situation, happy to have it in my power to accomodate a fair one. The play was 0thello, and by what I have been able to collect from the opinions of those who were more advantageously situated for seeing and hearing than myself, I did not experience a very severe loss from my complaisance. I believe the Admiral was not much better amused than I was, for, at the expiration of the first act, he proposed departing, which I very readily agreed to, as I had for some time found the house insufferably close and hot. I hardly need add that the evening was not quite so productive of pleasure to me as the last theatrical representation I had witnessed, which was at Covent Garden some time in the beginning of February last, when I had the honour of being seated by a fair young lady, with whom I became slightly acquainted the preceding year at Ramsgate.
"Do you happen to recollect anything of the evening? I think you do, and that you will not readily forget it.
"October 18.—The hopes with which I had flattered myself of getting out of the Straits two days ago have not been realised, and, from the circumstances which have since occurred, it is very uncertain when we shall get to the fleet again. The wind on the evening of the 15th came to the westward and forced us back to Tetuan, where we remained till yesterday evening, at which time a frigate came over with orders for Admiral Louis to give protection to a convoy then collected at Gibraltar for Malta, as far as Cartagena, after which he is to return to the Commander-in-Chief. We accordingly came over to the Rock this morning, and are now proceeding as fast as possible with the trade to the eastward. Our force consists of five sail of the line and three frigates, which last we shall leave in charge of the convoy as soon as we have seen them safe past the Carthagena squadron. I can't say I much like the prospect. I do not expect to derive any advantage from it, and it puts us completely out of the way in case the enemy should make an attempt to get to sea, which is by no means improbable, if he knows Lord Nelson's force is weakened by the detachment of so many ships. It is since I last wrote to you I believe that your No. 3 has come to hand; it was brought by Brigadier-General Tilson, and was enclosed under cover from Henry. It has been months on the journey. There are still three of yours missing, Nos. 5, 6 and 7, some of which I suppose are gone to seek me in the West Indies, but I trust they will do so in vain there. We have heard from the fleet off Cadiz, and learn that it has been reinforced by the arrival of five men-of-war from England, some of which I hope have brought letters, or they might as well have stayed away. Sir Robert Calder is gone home in the Prince of Wales, which I am sorry has happened during our absence, as by it a very fine opportunity of writing has been lost, which is always a source of regret to me when it occurs. I cannot, however, accuse myself of any neglect, and you will, I hope, as readily acquit me of it; indeed, when you know the circumstances, I am sure you will, though I daresay you will feel rather disappointed to hear a man-of-war has arrived from the Cadiz fleet and find no letter arrived from me, unless you happened to recollect that I expected to go to Gibraltar and, therefore, would probably have been absent when she left the station.
"October 21.—We have just bid adieu to the convoy, without attending them quite so far as was originally intended, having this day received intelligence, by a vessel despatched in pursuit of us, that on Saturday, 19th, the enemy's fleet was actually under way, and coming out of Cadiz.
"Our situation is peculiarly unpleasant and distressing, for if they escape Lord Nelson's vigilance and get into the Mediterranean, which is not very likely, we shall be obliged, with our small force, to keep out of their way; and on the other hand, should an action take place, it must be decided long before we could possibly get down even were the wind fair, which at present it is not. As I have no doubt but the event would be highly honourable to our arms, and be at the same time productive of some good prizes, I shall have to lament our absence on such an occasion on a double account, the loss of pecuniary advantage as well as of professional credit. And after having been so many months in a state of constant and unremitting fag, to be at last cut out by a parcel of folk just come from their homes, where some of them were sitting at their ease the greater part of last war, and the whole of this, till just now, is particularly hard and annoying.
"You, perhaps, may not feel this so forcibly as I do, and in your satisfaction at my having avoided the danger of battle may not much regret my losing the credit of having contributed to gain a victory; not so myself!
"I do not profess to like fighting for its own sake, but if there have been an action with the combined fleets I shall ever consider the day on which I sailed from the squadron as the most inauspicious one of my life.
"October 27, off Tetuan.—Alas! my dearest Mary, a]l my fears are but too fully justified. The fleets have met, and, after a very severe contest, a most decisive victory has been gained by the English twenty-seven over the enemy's thirty-three. Seventeen of the ships are taken and one is burnt; but I am truly sorry to add that this splendid affair has cost us many lives, and amongst them the most invaluable one to the nation, that of our gallant, and ever-to-be-regreted, Commander-in-Chief, Lord Nelson, who was mortally wounded by a musket shot, and only lived long enough to know his fleet successful. In a public point of view, I consider his loss as the greatest which could have occurred; nor do I hesitate to say there is not an Admiral on the list so eminently calculated for the command of a fleet as he was. I never heard of his equal, nor do I expect again to see such a man. To the soundest judgment he united prompt decision and speedy execution of his plans; and he possessed in a superior degree the happy talent of making every class of persons pleased with their situation and eager to exert themselves in forwarding the public service. As a national benefit I cannot but rejoice that our arms have been once again successful, but at the same time I cannot help feeling how very unfortunate we have been to be away at such a moment, and, by a fatal combination of unfortunate though unavoidable events, to lose all share in the glory of a day which surpasses all which ever went before, is what I cannot think of with any degree of patience; but, as I cannot write upon that subject without complaining, I will drop it for the present, till time and reflection reconcile me a little more to what I know is now inevitable.
"We arrived off the Rock of Gibraltar two days ago, and having heard of the action as well as that our fleet was in want of assistance to repair their damages and secure their prizes, we proceeded on with a fine, fresh wind at east to run through the Straits; but before we were out of sight of the garrison the wind chopped round to the westward, directly in our teeth, and came on to blow a very heavy gale of wind, which effectually prevented our proceeding. We bore away for this place and wait a change of wind and weather, not a little anxious for our friends outside, who could have been but ill prepared to encounter such a severe storm as they must have experienced on a lee shore, and probably with crippled masts. Indeed, I hardly expect to hear they have all escaped.
"Off Cadiz, October 31.—Having at length effected our escape from the Mediterranean prison and rejoined our friends, I will proceed to such particulars as have come to my ears relative to the action, and present situation of our ships. The object of the enemy was avowedly to get into the Mediterranean, but at the same time they did not, as their conduct proved, wish to avoid a battle, expecting, no doubt, their superiority would have ensured them at least a drawn action, and that they would have disabled our fleet so much as to deprive us of the means to prevent their proceeding to Toulon; but in this they were fortunately mistaken. Indeed, they acknowledge that they had considered Lord Nelson's whole force as only twenty-seven, and knowing that he had detached six into the Mediterranean expected to find him with only twenty-one ships, and the irregular mass in which our ships bore down to the attack prevented their counting them, so that till after the action was closed the French Admiral did not discover how great a force he had encountered. The van of our fleet which led the attack have suffered very much, especially the Victory, Royal Sovereign, Téméraire, Belleisle, Mars, and Bellerophon; but some of the rear vessels hardly got into action at all. Had we been there our station would have been the fifth ship from the van, and I trust we should have had our share.
"The battle was hardly concluded when the weather set in so stormy (and continued so for nearly a week) as to prevent our taking possession of many ships which had surrendered, and of keeping several others. Nineteen are known to have struck; four of which have since got into Cadiz; three are in our possession; and the rest, to the number of twelve, are either burnt, sunk, or driven on shore. Of thirteen, which are now in Cadiz, out of their whole force the greatest part have lost nearly all their masts, and are so completely disabled as to make it impossible they can be again ready for service during the winter. On the whole, therefore, we may fairly consider their loss as equal to twenty sail of the line.
"Our ships have been so much dispersed since the action, by the blowing weather, that Admiral Collingwood has not yet been able to collect reports of their damages or loss; but he has strong reason to hope every ship has been able to keep off the shore, and are now in safety. The action appears in general to have been obstinately contested, and has doubtless been unusually bloody; but it has also been so decisive as to make it improbable the Spaniards or French will again risque a meeting with a British fleet. Had it taken place in the open sea, away from the rocks, shoals, and leeshores there is no doubt but every ship would have been taken, but we engaged them under every disadvantage of situation.
"I was on board the Euryalus yesterday, in which ship Admiral Collingwood has his flag at present, and was introduced to the French Admiral Villeneuve, who is a prisoner there. He appears to be about forty-five years of age, of dark complexion, with rather an unmeaning countenance, and has not much the appearance of a gentleman. He is, however, so much of a Frenchman as to bear his misfortunes with cheerfulness.
"I do not yet know in what way we are to be employed, but imagine that, as the Canopus is a perfect ship at present, we shall be left with such others as are fit to remain at sea, to watch the enemy in the port; while those ships which have been damaged will go to Gibraltar to refit. Many of them will, I daresay, be sent home, as well because proper masts cannot be procured for them here, as that it will now be unnecessary to keep so large a fleet on this station.
"By the death of Lord Nelson I have again lost all chance of a frigate. I had asked his lordship to appoint me to one when he had the opportunity, and, though I had no positive promise from him, I have reason to believe he would have attended to my wishes. Of Admiral Collingwood I do not know enough to allow of my making a similar request; and not having been in the action I have no claims of service to urge in support of my wishes. I must, therefore, remain in the Canopus, though on many accounts I am more than ever anxious to get into a frigate.
"November 4.—We have just rejoined the fleet after having been detached to examine the coast and assist distressed ships, and hear the Euryalus is to sail very shortly for England with the Admiral's despatches, containing, I presume, the details of the action, with the particular loss of each ship, all of which you will learn from the public papers more correctly than I can possibly relate them, for, indeed, I have as yet learnt scarce anything more than I have already given you.
"I am anxiously expecting letters from England, and as our last news from Lisbon mentioned four packets being due I hope soon to hear of their arrival, and to be again blessed with the sight of a well-known handwriting, which is always a cordial to my heart, and never surely did I stand more in need of some such support. I yesterday received a letter from Henry, dated the 1st of October, which was brought out by Captain MacKay of the Scout, who is an acquaintance of mine, and an intimate friend of my brother Charles. The Scout came away on too short a notice to admit of Henry's writing to you or he would have done it. He sends me pleasing accounts of all my family, which is, of course, gratifying to me.
"I must now, my dearest love, bid you farewell, having said all I had got to say. Make my kindest remembrances to all your family at Ramsgate and elsewhere."
Hubback,as above pp148-161
I must say I do wonder if Mary shared all his feeling: she must have been quite pleased he survived.....
Despite missing the Battle of Trafalgar, Frank did manage rather like Captain Wentworth (!),to become engaged in the battle of St Domingo in the Caribbean: he wrote this letter to Mary a day after the battle:
"Canopus, OFF ST. DOMINGO, February 7, 1806.
"MY DEAREST MARY, —The news of an action with an enemy's squadron flies like wildfire in England, and I have no doubt but you will have heard of the one we had yesterday soon after the vessel which goes home shall arrive. It will, therefore, I am sure, be a source of satisfaction to you and my other friends at Ramsgate to have proof under my own hand of my having escaped unhurt from the conflict. We had intelligence while laying at St. Kitts, on the 2nd instant, that a French squadron had arrived at St. Domingo, and immediately quitted that place in pursuit. Happily yesterday morning at daylight we got sight of them at anchor off the town of St. Domingo, consisting of one ship of 120 guns, two of 80, two of 74, and three frigates. Soon as we appeared in view, they got under sail, not to meet, but to avoid us. We had one 80-gun ship, five of 74, and one of 64, besides two frigates and four corvettes. Our situation was such as to prevent their escape. The action commenced at half-past ten, and was finally over by half-past twelve, when three of the enemy's ships were in our possession, and the other two dismasted and on the rocks. The frigates escaped. Had we been two miles farther off the land we should have got the whole. We must, however, be truly thankful for the mercies which have been showed us in effecting such a victory with a comparatively inconsiderable loss. The Admiral is sending the prizes, and such of our own ships as have suffered most, to Jamaica, where, I suppose, we shall follow as soon as we have ascertained that the two ships on shore are in such a state as to prevent their getting off again. I am in hopes this action will be the means of our speedy quitting this country, and perhaps to return to Old England. Oh, how myheart throbs at the idea! The Canopus sails so bad that we were nearly the last ship in action; when we did get up, however, we had our share of it. Our people behaved admirably well, and displayed astonishing coolness during the whole time.
"The first broadside we gave brought our opponent's three masts down at once, and towards the close of the business we also had the satisfaction of giving the three-decker a tickling which knocked all his sticks away. We were so intermingled with the enemy that it was impossible to confine our attack to one, and though no one vessel struck to us in particular, I am sure we had a share in each. The Admiral is sending off his despatches, and I have only a few minutes which I have been able to steal from my duty on deck to write these few hurried lines. They will, I trust, be equal to a volume. . . .
"P.S.—We have not suffered much in masts and rigging, and I fancy not an officer is killed in the whole squadron." Hubback as above pp174-176
Due to the prize money he gained he was now in a position to marry, and so he and Mary were married at Ramsgate on 24th july,1806.
With great generosity the newly married couple invited the Austen ladies and Martha Lloyd to make their home with them in Southampton which was then a fashionable watering place. More on that tomorrow...oh, and did I tell you, I love Frank ;-)