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|JA and the Wars, Part 2 - (1795-96)
Written by Captain Everett
(3/6/2003 11:08 p.m.)
Although JA wrote in a time of War, armed conflict rarely enters into her works. This is the second in a series of posting which will explore the chronology of her writings, set against world events, with a sidelight into what her brothers were doing in the military. Any comments, corrections or additional information are most welcome, remembering to keep discussion relevent to JA. The previous instalment can be found is linked below.
The winter of 1794-95 was long and cold. The previous year’s harvest was poor leading to shortages and high prices. The military expedition to the Lowlands had ended in failure, with the army suffering terribly over the winter, finally being evacuated in the spring. Francis helped in the removal of troops from Ostend and Nieuwport that spring. Charles, graduated from the Naval Academy in September and was posted to the Daedalus, and took part in a similar operation off East Freeland, where he got badly frost-bitten.
Henry’s regiment was in winter quarters not far from Steventon. It was during this winter that the Derbyshire Regiment was in Hertford and Ware, possibly providing a model for the ____shire Militia in "Pride and Prejudice." (Jane also had some familiarity with the South Devon Regiment, as well as the Surrey Regiment, which Captain Weston was a member of in "Emma".) The conditions in the barracks of the Oxfords were terrible, as the buildings were unfinished and many necessities were lacking. Fortunately for Henry, he was granted two months leave to continue his studies at Oxford. During this winter, Henry also took on the job of Regimental Paymaster. This was a position of considerable responsibility, up to £15000 could pass through his hands in a year.
It is during 1795 that it appears likely Jane Austen began writing "Elinor and Marianne" (later revised into "Sense and Sensibility"). It might be asked if these bleak times had any influence in the shaping of that story. The Dashwoods, while not reduced to pauperism, were the victims of greatly reduced circumstances.
Henry continued to do duty with the Oxfordshire Militia. This would, of course, have brought him into contact with many other military units, both Regular and Militia. Amongst the former, it appears likely Henry did duty at this time with the Twelfth (Prince of Wale’s) Light Dragoons, likely in or around Brighton. When she wrote "Northanger Abbey" (first draft started two years later) it was this regiment she named in connection with the character of Captain Frederick Tilney. (It is a bit of a mystery as to why the 12th L.D. were specifically mentioned in the text, although it is possible she did not intend the name to be included in the published work. Might Frederick be based upon an officer she met, or at least was mentioned by Henry, as an associate, a friend, or an antagonist?)
The crop failures of the previous year led to shortages and high prices both in the UK and on the Continent. In England the price of bread rose by almost 25%. A number of food riots occurred, where mobs seized flour or bread, sometimes damaging or destroying mills or bakeries. This was not a new phenomenon, as it had occurred in the past. Then, authorities were more inclined to let it blow over, as things had always returned to normal in the past without leaving any permanent resentment. However, with the example of the Terror, and rumours of revolutionary sentiments percolating amongst the lower orders, those in power became alarmed. Increasingly, magistrates would call upon the Militia, or even Regular Army to help restore order. (The Government did finally attempt to offer some relief from the hardship amongst the poor through the Speenhamland Act.)
Far more frightening to the authorities, were incidents where the militia actually sided with the rioters, as happened at Portsea and Newhaven. There had long been a policy of drawing the actual soldiery from other counties. This would prevent a conflict of interest should they have to control a riot which consisted of family and friends. However, there was much to dissatisfy the men of the Militia. Accommodations for the military have always been Spartan. However, the great expansion of the Army and Militia meant proper barracks and other amenities were lacking. Discipline was hard to enforce (floggings, as in "S&S" aside), especially when many of the officers absented themselves.
Henry was among those absent from the Oxfordshire Militia on April 17, 1795, having returned briefly to Oxford to study. (He had received a message requesting his return, but he pleaded illness.) On that day, four hundred men left their barracks in Blatchingford and marched "in a disorderly manner" with bayonets fixed to nearby Seaford and took over the town. All the flour and other food was seized and sold at reduced prices. The next day, about 500 marched to Newhaven. Again, provisions were taken, and artillery horses were used to haul it away. Strong drink was also freely distributed. Most of the men eventually returned to their barracks at the request of their officers. However, sixty men stayed behind in Newhaven. Two days later a battery of Horse Artillery was set up on the hills overlooking the town and fired two shots over the mutineers’ heads. A detachment of the Lancashire Regiment of Fencible Dragoons rode into town and captured the rioters. Apparently, no civilians joined in the disorder.
Rather than disband the regiment, it was decided to disarm them, and try the ringleaders On June 13, the punishments were carried out at Brighton. Of the three to be flogged, two were pardoned, one remanded into custody, three received 300 lashes apiece, one transported, and two shot by a party of drawn from the mutineers. Ten thousand of the Garrison witnessed, including RA, five militia, and three fencible regiments, as well as the 12 LD. Henry was amongst those attending the executions. Two others were hung at the Special Assizes at Lewes for stealing flour. (The mutiny and the executions became widely known and were reported in the London "Times.")
That summer, Henry was back with Regiment at Sheerness Camp. They underwent an intense period of drill, and training, aimed at restoring discipline and credibility. In September, the regiment returned to Chelmsford Barracks, part escorting 150 French prisoners for part of the way. In October, he took another leave of absence.
In October, the London Corresponding Society organised a massive demonstration, reportedly as high as 150,000, just outside the city. In an unrelated incident, the King’s carriage was hooted and stoned in London. This of course caused a great deal of alarm. (Interestingly, this also led to a surge in pro-Royalty sentiments.) The most excitable minority wondered if the events in France would be repeated in England, some even prophesied guillotines appearing in town square.
It may be that Jane Austen picked up on those alarmist sentiments and recreated them when she began writing her early version of "Northanger Abbey" in the summer of 1798. Catherine Morland, with an overactive imagination fuelled by too many novels, "talked of expected horrors in London…pictured to herself a mob of three thousand men assembling on St. George’s Fields; the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood…." (The situation being saved by a detachment of the 12th Light Dragoons, up from Northampton.) However, the general tone, and the image of Captain Tilney "knocked off his horse by a brickbat from an upper window" would seem to indicate Jane Austen did not share these sentiments. Granted, it was written with the benefit of hindsight, but it might also indicate that Jane had a greater insight into her fellow countrymen than some.
The year 1795 also saw the outbreak of a number of slave revolts in the West Indies. That fall, Francis was transferred to the Glory and slated for convoy duty for an expedition to the West Indies to put down the slave revolts. Disorganisation delayed its departure until November when a hurricane in the departure damaged many ships and caused many casualties. They finally sailed in January. Accompanying them was Tom Fowles, one of Reverend Austen’s student borders, sailed for the Caribbean as private chaplain to John Craven..
That January, Henry was continuing his studies, with some thoughts to joining the 86th Foot, a Regular Army regiment. It was slated to (and eventually did) capture the Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope. (Jane wrote, "I heartily hope that he will, as usual, be disappointed in this scheme.") That same month, Charles became a Midshipman at Portsmouth, serving under his cousin Jane William’s husband.
The year 1796 saw Napoleon Bonaparte make his name in Italy.
That summer, Charles, was serving aboard the frigate Unicorn (32 guns). On June 3 the Unicorn encountered three French ships, and gave chase. One of them, La Tribute (44 guns) tried to escape in a running fight over ten hours and covering 210 miles. Finally, the French ship was dismasted and captured. No casualties were suffered by the British. (Captain Williams was later knighted, allowing Jane to jokingly refer to her cousin’s husband as "HRH".) Henry was with the Home Fleet.
In October, Jane began writing "First Impressions" (later revised into "Pride and Prejudice"), perhaps drawing upon her own experiences, and Henry’s stories, to flesh out the characters in the _____shire Militia.
To be continued....
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