23 June 2021 marked the 242nd birthday of Captain Charles Austen. However, it is his wife Fanny Palmer Austen whose story we want to share as part of our Hidden Heroines blog series.
Fanny was a young woman with a unique connection to Chatham Dockyard. Fanny was one of a very small number of women whom lived onboard a warship as wife of a Naval Captain. Not only this, Fanny lived on one of the most famous warships built at Chatham, HMS Namur, from late 1811 – 1814.
Her letters reveal a rare and honest account of the challenges she faced. They provide an insight into what it was like to be a naval wife and mother living at sea during the later years of the Napoleonic Wars. They also show a glimpse into day to day life, allowing us to read how she undertook the unusual task of making a family home for Charles and their young daughters on board a warship.
Fanny also had a close connection to her sister-in-law, Jane Austen, the acclaimed 19th century novelist, and was a source of inspiration for the naval wives in Austen’s novel, Persuasion.
As part of our online talks programme supporting Hidden Heroines: the untold stories of the women of the Dockyard, award winning and best selling author Sheila Johnson Kindred, writer of Jane Austen’s Transatlantic Sister: The Life and Letters of Fanny Palmer Austen (2017), delivered a special insight into Fanny’s life, entitled – ‘Fanny Palmer Austen: Challenges and Achievements in Making a Family Home onboard HMS Namur’.
Enjoy Sheila’s talk:
If you are interested in buying Sheila’s book:
Sheila Johnson Kindred also has a fascinating essay series which can be found here.
You can find out more about Fanny Austen through Hidden Heroines: the untold stories of the women of the Dockyard. You can also visit the restored timbers of about 10% of the Namur’s frame, located in the 18th century Mast House and Mould Loft at The Historic Dockyard Chatham. These timbers were only discovered in 1995, hidden mysteriously beneath the floor. These timbers are the last surviving remains of what was once Fanny and Charles Austen’s home, a place where their little daughters laughed and played, where family members visited, and where Jane Austen’s latest novels were most likely read.