Saturday, 1 October 2016

A Kentish Neighbour - Mrs Humphry

In Deirdre Le Faye's 2011 edition of Jane Austen's Letters Letter 8, dated Sunday 8 April 1798, is from Jane Austen to Philadelphia (Phylly) Walter. Jane is writing to express her condolences at the death of Phylly's father, William Hampson Walter.

Philadelphia Walter and Jane Austen were both granddaughters of Rebecca Hampson. Rebecca's first husband was Philadelphia's grandfather William Walter; her second husband was Jane Austen's grandfather, William Austen.

Phylly's father William Hampson Walter was therefore the step-brother of George Austen. The two remained close and maintained an affectionate correspondence throughout their lives. (See Maggie Lane Jane Austen's Family Through Five Generations for more on the wider Austen family)

William Hampson Walter died at the age of 77 on Good Friday 6 April 1798, after a short illness and buried at the church at Seal the following Thursday. (I am indebted to the excellent resource maintained by Ronald Dunning, a descendant of Francis Austen, for this information. You can read an interview with Ronald Dunning on the blog Jane Austen's World HERE).

We know that the Austens were immediately informed of the sad event because the reply from Jane Austen is written only two days later, on Easter Sunday.

Jane wrote: As Cassandra is at present from home, You must accept from my pen, our sincere Condolence on the melancholy Event which Mrs Humphries Letter announced to my Father this morning.

Le Faye's footnote reads: 'Mrs Humphries A Kentish neighbour of the Walter familty - recte Humphry.'

In the Biographical Index Le Faye records: 'Humphry family: Revd William Humphry was the incumbent of Seal, Kent, and consequently his family were neighbours of the Walters; it was no doubt his wife who wrote to the Austens in 1798 to announce the death of William Hampson Walter.'

Deirdre Le Faye does not mention however that Revd William Humphry was the brother of artist Ozias Humphry.

William Humphry had been Vicar of St Peters, Kemsing and Seal since 1770. The living was in the gift of the Duke of Dorset who was also a patron of Ozias Humphry and it was Ozias who had petitioned the Duke to grant his brother the living. William Humphry's incumbency lasted for forty-five years until his death in July 1816.

William and Ozias Humphry were very close and Ozias frequently visited his brother at Seal. In June 1782 Ozias wrote to his brother about the impending cricket match at Sevenoaks Vine between Kent and Hampshire:  Dear Brother, I trouble you with this to beg to know for certain from you when the great cricket day and Ball will be at Sevenoaks, because it is my Intention to come and to bring with me Mr. Jackson of Exeter for a day or two. 

It was William Humphry's wife Elizabeth Humphry who wrote to the Austens to inform them of the death of George Austen's step-brother in 1798 and which prompted the reply by Jane Austen.

Elizabeth Humphry's maiden name was Woodgate. She married William Humphry in 1778. The Woodgates were, like the Austens, a long established Kentish family living in Tonbridge. You can read more about the Woodgate family HERE.

In 1787 Elizabeth's brother William Woodgate inherited Somerhill House on the outskirts of the town. Built for Richard de Burgh in 1611, the library in the south wing was the second longest room in Kent, surpassed only by the Gallery at Knole House, the Duke of Dorset's residence at nearby Sevenoaks. By the time William Woodgate inherited the house, it was sorely in need of restoration; Horace Walpole who visited in the 1750s or 1760s said 'the house is little better than a farm, but has been an excellent one and is entire though out of repair.'

Summer Hill (Somerhill) House

JMW Turner painted the house in 1810, the painting is now owned by the National Galleries of Scotland (sadly not on display).

On the same excursion, Turner also visited and sketched nearby Rosehill Park in Sussex, home of 'Mad Jack' John Fuller. (It is noteworthy that the previous owner of Somerhill House was named 'de Burgh' and that Rosehill Park sounds so similar to 'Rosings Park'. John Fuller was a close friend of Hester Thrale, later 'my dear Mrs Piozzi' as Austen referred to her; he unsuccessfully proposed to her daughter Susannah Thrale.)

William Woodgate married Frances Hooker in 1769. The Hookers were another prominent family in Tonbridge; Frances Hooker's father, John Hooker owned Tonbridge Castle. He bought the castle in 1736 and as soon as he bought it he began dismantling it and selling of pieces of land. You can read HERE how he sold one plot known as the Lords Garden in 1740, half to Francis Austen of Sevenoaks (Jane's great-uncle Francis) and half to the Woodgates and how closely the Woodgates and Austens in Tonbridge were linked. Francis Austen acted as attorney to at least one member of the Woodgate family.

Tonbridge Castle 1808 

Frances Hooker's sister Mary Hooker had married Henry Austen, George Austen's cousin, in 1763. Henry was five years George's senior  - he was still at Tonbridge school when George Austen started attending there aged nine. Both entered the clergy with George Austen following on from his cousin Henry first as curate of Shipbourne and later into the living of Steventon when Francis Austen gave Henry the living at West Wickham. Jane Austen's mother and father visited them at Tonbridge in 1783. In another link between these families, a house on Tonbridge High Street known as Fosse Bank (thought to be number 182) belonged to Francis Austen of Sevenoaks who sold it to Thomas Hooker in 1780. Thomas in turn gave it to his brother-in-law, Henry Austen. You can read more about  the Austen links to Tonbridge HERE

When William Woodgate died in 1809 he left bequests of five guineas to various friends to buy memorial rings, including Revd William Humphry and Henry Austen. Willliam Woodgate died a wealthy man; according to a rather mercenary letter Ozias Humphry subsequently wrote to Lord Clarendon; he said of William Woodgate: 'by his frugality and skill in agricultural concerns he enlarged his original fortune very considerably, insomuch that at his Death the Property he possessed is estimated at full three hundred thousand pounds.' Ozias Humphry after outlining the comfortable situation of the various members of William Woodgate's family, concluded with: 'By this it must appear that I have many inducements to visit my Family in Kent.'.

The families of Austen, Woodgate and Hooker were closely linked through marriage, land ownership and profession, and the Humphrys formed part of this circle. Ozias Humphry knew the Austens and had painted Francis Austen in 1780 as a commission for the Duke of Dorset.

Francis Austen wrote to Ozias Humphry  on 11 July 1780 to tell him how pleased he was.

Dear Sir,

The Duke of Dorset does me great honour in wishing to have my picture and as tis to be your hand I feel myself very happy with the thought of this being in his Grace’s collection and will submit myself to sit for you whenever will be convenient to yourself. I mean after this weeke as I returne home from Maidstone on Friday or Saturday and don’t know of any particular engagements that will interfere. I shall have company at my house on Monday but not till about or near dining time and I know of no other engagements. I am

Dear Sir

Yr most obed’t servant

Fr. Austen

Francis Austen by Ozias Humphry

In November of that year, Ozias Humphry was staying with Stephen Woodgate at his residence, because a letter from his friend Jo Green (Reference  HU/2/114 Royal Academy) was directed there. He is staying there again in  October 1788, (Reference HU/4/10 Royal Academy) the year the Rice portrait is believed to have been painted.

This family tree demonstrates how closely these families are intertwined:

We know therefore that Jane Austen wrote to Ozias Humphry's sister-in-law, that the Humphrys knew the Kent branch of the Austen family as well as the Woodgates and that Ozias Humphry was staying in the area at the date the portrait is thought to have been painted, 1788. These close connections of course are not conclusive evidence that Ozias Humphry is the artist responsible for the Rice Portrait. But they certainly point in that direction.

No comments:

Post a Comment