Sunday, 25 October 2015

Jane Austen and the Rice Portrait - Who was Eliza Hall?

The Rice Portrait
This article concerns the identity of Eliza Hall. *

The Rice Portrait is believed by its supporters to have been commissioned by Francis Austen of Sevenoaks, Jane's very wealthy great uncle. It is then thought to have been passed to his son, Francis Motley Austen and thereafter to the latter's second son, Colonel Thomas Austen, the first having predeceased his father. Thomas Austen inherited in 1815, but did not take possession of his father's house and contents until the death of his mother in the spring of 1817. Jane died in the July of that year.

The first documentary evidence of the portrait is a letter written by Rev. Dr Thomas Harding Newman in 1880. By this time he had become the owner of the portrait and according to him it had come into his family as a gift from Colonel Thomas Austen. The evidence is contained in a letter written by him and dated Dec 30 1880, addressed to Harding-Newman's friend Dr John Rouse Bloxam:

I should like to give another painting of Jane Austen, the novelist by Zoffany to her relative your neighbour Morland Rice. It is of a girl about 15 and came into my family the gift of Col Austen of Chippington [sic] to my mother-in-law, or rather stepmother, my father’s second wife; who was a great admirer of the novelist. I can remember Col. Austen visiting this place. Latterly when at Bramber I have failed to fall in with my old friend. I don’t think he can have forgotten me. I was at Oxford when he knocked his head against a post and ascertained that the post was the harder of the two.

Rev. Dr. Thomas Harding-Newman's step-mother, his father's second wife was Eliza Hall. She married Colonel Thomas Harding-Newman in December 1817 and there is speculation therefore that the portrait was a wedding gift from Colonel Thomas Austen. However there is no documentary evidence of this and we do not know with any certainty exactly when the portrait was given to Eliza Hall. Rev. Dr Harding-Newman was six years old when his father re-married and if he could recall Colonel Austen visiting 'this place' ie. the family home of Nelmes in Essex, these visits may well have taken place some time after their marriage. The portrait may have been given to Eliza Hall at any time before her death in 1831. 

But who was Eliza Hall and why might Colonel Austen have felt it appropriate to give her a portrait of Jane Austen? As far as I know, there has been no research published into her identity and yet her family connections are significant.

Baptism entry for Elizabeth Ann Hall

Eliza, or more properly, Elizabeth Ann Hall, was born at Egham, Surrey on March 4, 1789 to Thomas Hall (b.1757) and his wife Elizabeth née Humffreys (b.1760).

Thomas Hall's father, Thomas Kirkpatrick Hall (b.1725) owned and operated several major sugar plantations in Jamaica and 'owned' large numbers of slaves to work those plantations; Thomas Hall's elder brother Hugh Kirkpatrick Hall of Holly Bush, Derbyshire was the main beneficiary of these plantations when their father died in 1772. The Hall family records are now held at the University of California, San Diego, and there is a lot more information about the history of the Hall family's extensive dealings in Jamaica HERE which the university has helpfully made available to download.

Thomas Hall married Miss Elizabeth Humffreys at Ludlow on 3 December 1787. Elizabeth was the daughter of the late William Humffreys of Llwyn, Llanfyllin, Montgomeryshire, who had died in 1772, and his wife Ann Lloyd. A copy of William Humffrey's will is in the Hawley archive in Lincolnshire. (We'll see later why it ended up in the Hawley archives.)

After Eliza Hall's birth in 1789, Thomas and Elizabeth Hall went on to have five more children - twins Sophia and Thomas in 1790, William in 1791, Charles in 1793 and the last, George, was born in 1794. There were no more children and, while I have so far been unable to establish the date of Elizabeth Hall née Humffreys' death, it is possible that she died  either in childbirth or soon after George was born. The Rice family tradition is that Eliza Hall lost her mother when she was relatively young and I have found nothing to contradict this.

When Eliza Hall married Colonel Thomas Harding Newman on 29 December 1817, both Eliza and her father Thomas Hall's address on the marriage settlement is given as Cumberland Street, Portman Square, London. You can view a copy of the Epitome of the Settlement HERE.

Marriage entry for Eliza Hall and Thomas Harding Newman

Eliza and Thomas Harding Newman lived at the Newman family home of Nelmes, near Hornchurch in Essex. (The house was demolished in 1967.) They had three children, John Henry Newman, Eliza Hall Newman and Julia Harding Newman. Thomas Harding Newman also had three children from his first marriage to Harriet Cartwright, who had died in 1815, they were Thomas Harding Newman, Benjamin Harding Newman and Harriet Newman.

So how might Eliza Hall have known Jane Austen? Well, it transpires that she was closely related to the Hawleys of Leybourne Grange, near Maidstone in Kent. The Hawleys were friends of Jane and are mentioned in her letters and they in turn were very closely connected through marriage with another family very close to Jane Austen - the Bridges of Goodnestone Park.

Eliza Hall's aunt, her mother's eldest sister Ann Humffreys, had married barrister and High Sheriff of Kent, Sir Henry Hawley of Leybourne Grange, Kent and 4 Harley Street, London, at Ludlow in 1785. Henry Hawley was a widower. His first wife, Dorothy née Ashwood, had died in 1783, leaving him with four young children: Henry 7, Dorothy Elizabeth 5, Harriott 3 and baby Charlotte, who was just nineteen months old when their mother died. Ann Humffrey must have therefore acted as a surrogate mother to her four young step-children as well as bearing four of her own - Frances, James, Eliza and Louisa Hawley.

The older Hawley children were contemporaries of Jane Austen and her siblings and were very well known to Jane. The eldest child, Henry, born in 1776, was an acquaintance of Jane's brother Edward Austen (who later changed his name to Edward Knight). Deirdre Le Faye, in her incredibly detailed A Chronology of Jane Austen and her Family, has noted some of Henry Hawley's movements. In June 1802, for example, she notes that Mr Hawley, Mr Austen [Edward Austen Knight presumably] and a Mr Douce paid for a joint passport to travel to Paris, they were recommended by Sir Henry Hawley.

All three daughters of Henry Hawley from his first marriage are mentioned by Jane Austen in her letters: 'We are to meet a party from Goodnestone, Lady B [Lady Bridges née Dorothy Hawley], Miss Hawley [Harriott Hawley] and Lucy Foote' Jane reported to Cassandra in her letter of 3 November 1813. Meanwhile, Mrs J Bridges [Charlotte Hawley] is mentioned in the list of opinions of Emma which Jane  recorded. She preferred it to all the others according to Jane.

The Bridges family, baronets of Goodnestone Park, Kent, were intimately connected with the Austens and are also mentioned frequently in Jane's letters. Dorothy Hawley married William Brook Bridges in 1809  and later became Lady Bridges and Charlotte Hawley married John Brooke Bridges in 1810. John Bridges died just two year's later, and must have been unwell for some time, for in May 1811 Jane wrote to Cassandra: 'Poor John Bridges! we are very sorry for his situation and for the distress of the family. Lady B. is severely tried. And our own dear brother suffers a great deal, I dare say, on the occasion.' William and John Bridges' sister, Elizabeth, married Jane's brother Edward Austen in 1791 and had eleven children, before dying in 1808, shortly after the birth of the last.

There is also speculation that another son of the Bridges family, Reverend Edward Brook Bridges may have proposed to Jane, speculation used in the excellent screenplay Miss Austen Regrets. She certainly remarked upon the attention he was giving her. 'It is impossible to do justice to the hospitality of his attentions towards me; he made a point of ordering toasted cheese for supper entirely on my account,' Jane wrote to Cassandra in 1805. It is a remark Jane makes in a letter to Cassandra in 1808 which has led to speculation that Edward's keenness to make toasted cheese may have led to a more serious proposal. 'I wish you may be able to accept Lady Bridges's invitation, tho' I could not her son Edward's,' she says, although for all we know, this could have been nothing more than an invitation to supper. But Edward does get mentioned frequently in Jane's letters. When she hears of his engagement, which was 'quite news', she says, 'I wish him happy with all my heart.'

Jane Austen knew Sir Henry Hawley and his wife Ann who were married for over forty years and living in London and in Leybourne, Kent, just 30 miles or so from Jane's brother Edward Austen Knight's estate at Godmersham Park. It is very possible that Jane Austen also met their niece Eliza Hall, although there is no evidence that she did in the letters that we have. (Only about 160 of Jane's letters survive however, and there are gaps of years where we have no letters at all.)

Sir Henry Hawley died in 1826, his wife Ann Hawley née Humffreys died three years later. Henry Hawley's daughter Dorothy Hawley (Lady Bridges) died in 1816 but his second daughter, Charlotte, lived until 1847. She re-married in 1823. Her second husband was Thomas Gardiner Bramston of Skreens, which was an estate not far from her cousin Eliza's home of Nelmes. He died suddenly in 1831, just a few months after becoming MP for Essex. The 1841 census shows Charlotte Bramston née Hawley at Springfield Lyons, Chelmsford, together with her sister Harriott Hawley and step-sister Eliza Hawley.

1841 census
Henry and Ann Hawley were alive long enough to see the portrait Colonel Austen had given to their niece, as were Eliza Hall's cousins Charlotte, Harriott and Eliza Hawley.

Eliza Hall's family connections mean that the theory suggested by Deirdre Le Faye now seems  unlikely. She believes the portrait to be of Mary Anne Campion, the daughter of Colonel Thomas Austen's sister Jane. The Colonel was hardly likely to confuse his niece with his cousin, but the suggestion is that he gave the portrait to Eliza Hall, knowing it was not a portrait of the novelist, but passed it off as such to please Eliza, taking the 'proverbial view that a nod's as good as a wink to a blind horse.' Leaving aside the vexed question of why Colonel Austen would do such a thing (and presumably include his wife in the deception), one of Eliza Hall's relatives would surely have pointed out that it was not Jane Austen!

Eliza and her father lived at Cumberland Street (now known as Great Cumberland Place) north of Marble Arch, while her aunt Ann Hawley lived  at Harley Street, just the other side of Portman Square. Hardly a great distance apart! To imagine that no-one in Eliza Hall's circle knew Jane Austen, we now know, is impossible. Her aunt, uncle and her cousins knew her well, and there is a good chance that Eliza Hall had met Jane Austen too.

Eliza was reported by The Gentleman's Magazine to have died at Exmouth in  August 1831, she was presumably at the home of her brother Thomas who lived at nearby Littleham. She was aged 42. In 1840 her husband married his third wife, Anna Maria Parry, at Clifton, Bristol. She was the daughter of the late Charles Parry, Vicar of Speen. Thomas Harding Newman lived until 1856 after which his eldest son, Rev. Dr. Thomas Harding Newman inherited Nelmes and its surrounding lands which at that time constituted some 265 acres, along with the portrait of Jane Austen which had belonged to his step-mother.

Eliza Harding Newman née Hall was not just an admirer of Jane Austen, she may well have known her personally, and if she had not, she was extremely well connected - and related - to people who knew Jane well. When we see how closely she was connected to Jane Austen's circle the decision of Colonel Austen to give Eliza Hall the portrait of Jane Austen now makes perfect sense.

*In the light of helpful feedback since this article was first published I have since updated the text of the opening paragraphs of this article to explain more clearly the known facts about how the portrait came into the ownership of the Harding-Newman family