Penhey Commentary on the OFN: Part 1

Robert J. Penhey, British Historian*
[Edited & annotated by Larry Pearce]
(available also in “Abbreviated” edition)

Internal evidence implies that the text was written in the years around 1900. The reference to the “present Queen Victoria” dates it not after 1901. The marriage of the writer’s grandfather in 1813 is consistent with this, supporting the conclusion that it was written after Victoria’s accession to the throne in 1837.

The name “Austen” originates from the French “Augustin,” the name of a saint (Latin name Aurelius Augustinus) of the [Roman] Catholic Church from the period shortly after its separation from the Orthodox. This is not to say that the Austin/Austens are blood relations of the said bishop. His name probably relates in turn to the grand nephew of Julius Caesar, Octavianus, who took the title Caesar Augustus. He was the one in charge in Rome at the turn of the Era. Surnames [such as Austen] were originally descriptive epithets to distinguish one baptized Charles from another. An ancestor of the Charles of the text probably worked for an Austen (Augustinian) monastery in some capacity, or simply wished to be associated with a later St. Austin (Augustine) who brought the Catholic version of Christianity to Britain (about 605) and began the process of ousting the Celtic Church, which was a version of the Orthodox cut off from the Greek Church by the geographical position of the Roman one. Austin set up his headquarters at Canterbury in Kent, the county of Charles’ birth. [Ironically, according to Gerhard Herm, “Rome’s former Celtic subjects had, after 403, to deal not only with attacks from without; they also had to fend of barbarians who were native to the island. There were Germans on the Channel coast. Roman commanders had allowed these blond savages to settle in Kent as a reward for military service.” Constantinople viewed this pagan threat with such seriousness that an army was sent to Britain. The hero of this bloody war, called the “Hallelujah Battle,” was named Ambrosius Aurelianus, and he is regarded as the last Roman commander in Britain. Some historians have regarded him as the “factual kernel in the myth” later coined King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (The Celts 274-8). Remember that Charles Austen and Susan Austen Pearce’s father was also named Ambrose, undoubtedly a very popular name in Kent.]  The vowel change from I to E [in Austen] most likely happened in England [after the time of Augustine’s arrival].

[Re: Dudley, Derbyshire] Bartholomew’s Gazetteer names no Dudley in Derbyshire. The book is quite detailed and would certainly have mentioned a place big enough to have been a postal town even if it were no longer one. The nearest Dudley to Derbyshire is the well known one which was, until 1974, in a small corner of Worchestershire. It is in a part of the Birmingham conurbation known as the Black Country, a name arising from the effects of its coal and metal industries. Since 1974, it has been in the new county called the West Midlands. The 1843-4 Parliamentary Gazetteer gives only the Dudley in Worchestershire.

[Re: Charles’ military service] I have never before heard of a man’s enlisting formally in both the army and the navy. It would be possible to enlist in one, serve one’s term, leave and then enlist in the other. That has been done though it is not at all usual. Some members of the navy and of the army were transferred to the air force when that was first established as a separate arm, but that was a special case and the men could not have known about it on enlistment.

There certainly were Austens in the navy. Jane Austen, the novelist, had two brothers who each attained high rank in that service. They were beginning their careers during the period of the war with the French Republic and establishing the foundations of their high ranks during the Napoleonic wars. The younger of these was Charles John Austen (1779-1852) who died as Commander in Chief of the East India Station. However, beyond this coincidence, there is no sign, in the relevant generation of the novelist’s family, of a connection with the Austens of Pine Creek [Allegheny Co., PA].

The early part of the 19th century, notably in 1803, was period of English fear of invasion by France. [Napoleon contemplated a hazardous and utterly unnecessary military action against Great Britain based on risky and fantastic assumptions and preparations. This was to be the longest and most elaborate of his entire career, straining every muscle of the French people and their many subjected allies in order to achieve his latest “pipe-dream-become-idee fixe”. In Britain over a quarter-million volunteers joined the beefed up regular army of 116,000 men. The number of warships in the Royal Navy was dramatically increased. The long, irregular coastline was divided into 28 coastal districts guarded by some 700 small gunboats (Alan Schom, Napoleon Bonaparte 308, 328).] The parallels with the reactions to the similar threats of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and of Operation Sealion in 1940 [WW II] are striking. The defenses all relied on control of the seaward approach to England, though in 1940 the major arm in that control was in the air above the sea. The second line of defense was on land and was in each case, shall we say, unconvincing, though probably stronger in 1803 than at the other times. In each case, an elaborate early warning system was set up and played a progressively important role when considering the three crises chronologically. In 1940 this was crucial. It is not surprising then that the writer confused the invasion scare of 1803 (ultimately removed effectively by the defeat of the Franco-Spanish fleet off Cape Trafalgar in October 1805) with the Armada of 1588. [Trafalgar was commanded by Lord Nelson – another famous Pearce Family name to be discussed later – and a fleet of 27 ships in what is called “the greatest victory in naval history” (Schom 369). According to one historian, “Nelson is the best loved name in English ears” (G.M. Trevelyan, History of England 578).] There is a document in Lincolnshire Archives concerning precautionary measures lest there be invasion. It is dated May 1798 and contains no mention of any Pearce in its lists of people capable of rendering service in the event of invasion. [Is this because the name in question is Austen, not Pearce? Is this an oversight by Mr. Penhey? Also, Charles lived in Kent County. I include this error to show the depths Mr. Penhey went to in researching. Apparently there were no Pearces in or near Bourne in the military at that time.] It goes into some detail concerning allocation of men to calvary, infantry etc., arms, tools, vehicles, fodder, livestock owned by individuals, flour, bread baking capacity and so on. But, there is no mention of a Pearce.

There was plenty of what [the grand-daughter] calls reconnoitring. This was part of the early warning system. Throughout the decades of the wars there were endless patrols for the dual purpose of obtaining warning of French offensive naval action and closing French ports to imports from the non-European world [such as sugar from the West Indies]. It was a long, hard slog but it was very effective. This is why it was in France in this period rather than in another place or time that the sugar beet was first developed as a significant crop. [It is also raised, along with corn and other grains, in the fens, or reclaimed lowlands adjacent to and east of Bourne. Agriculture was and still is the major industry in Bourne. Richard Pearce was supposedly a miller by trade, which is why upon coming to America he bought and operated the mill side of Pine Creek, as we shall hear later.] For much of the time France still had access to European agricultural production, but this did not solve the problem. Before the blockade, France had tended to supply the other countries rather than importing from them. Thus, when world supplies were no longer available, although they were not as great as they later became, all of Europe ran short. However, the main impediment to food supply overland to already quite large food consumers, such as Paris, was the lack of an effective means of doing it in this pre-railway period. Blockade-runners were paid much more handsomely for delivery into the Seine, where river transport to Paris was simple, than for delivery to the Loire, which was a longer river route and much more difficult.

[Re: Charles’ admission to the Royal Palace] King George IV reigned from 1820 to 1830, which does not fit the writer’s chronology well. However, as Americans tend to know, his father, George III, had bouts of madness in his later years. This meant that the son, who was at this stage Prince of Wales rather than king, became effectively the king. His title was Prince Regent. He took it in 1810. Evidence within the [narrative] indicates that Charles Austen had daily contact with the Palace in 1807 at the latest. However, future George IV was born in 1762. As Prince of Wales, he established his own social circle and it may have been with this that Charles Austen was connected, the reference to the time of George IV meaning that of the man who became George IV. Adelaide and Charlotte, Princess Royal, were of this generation. [Future Austen and Pearce daughters were to be named after them, a usual custom for the British, but unusual for new Americans after the War of 1812, except for Whigs and Loyalists.]

[This is the end of Part I. Part II features additional commentary on (GX2) Uncle Charles’ encounters with royalty and life in Castle Gate Manor before coming to America. He was the brother of our (GX2) Grandmother Susan Austen Pearce.]

* These musings of Mr. Penhey, a resident of Bourne, Lincolnshire, England, were sent to me after a brief visit to his home during a vacation trip. I was referred to him by the Bourne Library. He has the reputation of being very knowledgeable in both local and national historical affairs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.