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Monday, February 22, 2016

From Chawton to Virginia: Jane Austen's Niece Catherine-Anne Hubback

Edited 3/2/16 to incorporate new information.  If you know more, please contact me!

I've recently been seeing pictures of bright green grass and flowers in the gardens of southern England and I find myself longing to be there, rather than here at home, where brown grass and a lingering pile of snow say it’s definitely not springtime yet.  Today I paid a visit to the grave of a remarkable woman who probably felt the same longing for the early English spring, someone who forms a connection between my home county and Jane Austen’s:  Catherine-Anne Hubback, Jane Austen’s niece.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Haymarket, VA.  Originally a courthouse, the building became a church in 1830.  During the Civil War it was a Union hospital, and many soldiers from both sides were buried there.  It was substantially rebuilt in the late 1860s; brickwork of different colors is evidence of the windows having been altered.  Today, the churchyard is calm, with mature boxwoods and cedars among the headstones, but just beyond its borders are the neighborhoods and commercial strips of a modern suburb.
Thanks to Lisa Brown, a New York JASNA member who recently told me that this Austen relation was buried in the DC area, I realized that Hubback’s grave is only seven miles from the house where I grew up.  The area is full of Civil War history – as a teenager I went on regular weekend rambles in the Manassas battlefield, and my dad had a drawer full of found bullets and other artifacts – but I never dreamed there was an Austen connection so close by.

In the churchyard of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Haymarket, Virginia, a tall headstone reads:
Wife of John Hubback
Of the Inner Temple
London, England
Born July 7, 1818
Died Feb. 25, 1877

“Of the Inner Temple” identifies John Hubback as a barrister.  One could be forgiven for assuming, from the headstone alone, that Catherine was a Victorian matron who enjoyed the wealth and status that came with her husband’s profession.  Her life was very different, however. 

Catherine Hubback's headstone is the tall moss-stained one.

Catherine-Anne Hubback was born at Chawton Great House in 1818, the eighth child of Jane Austen’s brother Francis-William Austen (who later became Admiral of the Fleet).  Despite this auspicious start, she faced unusual challenges in life.  When Catherine married John Hubback in 1842, they honeymooned in Worthing before setting off on a Continental tour.  They quickly had three sons, but while the children were still small, John’s serious mental illness was recognized and he was put into care at Westbrook House Lunatic Asylum in Alton, Hampshire.  Catherine and her sons went to live with her father at Portsdown Lodge.  (Biographical details from Deirdre Le Faye’s Chronology of Jane Austen and Her Family.)

Catherine turned to writing fiction to support herself and her children, producing ten novels (well thought of at the time, now largely forgotten) in just thirteen years.  Sara Wheeler states that a Hubback relation took the two elder sons as apprentices in the grain trade.  The middle son, Edward, found a post in a grain brokerage in San Francisco, and the youngest, Charles-Austen Hubback, answered an advertisement and secured a job at a mill in Prince William County, Virginia. In 1870, at the age of 52, Catherine emigrated to the United States and traveled alone by rail to join Edward, to whom she gave what money she had to advance his business interests.  She enjoyed California, traveled to see the sights, and tried her hand at writing stories with an American flavor, but achieved publication with only one.  To assist her sons, she made money by making lace, tinting photographs, and teaching.  Letters she wrote during this period have been published;  details of this fascinating phase of her life with quotes from the letters appear in a Persuasions article by David Hopkinson.
Chapman's Mill at Thoroughfare Gap, Virginia, as it stands today.  While I can't say this is the mill where Charles Hubback worked, it is just a stone's throw from where he lived and where Catherine Hubback is buried.   (From chapmansmill.org)
After Edward married, Catherine crossed the continent again to take up residence with Charles in the area around Gainesville and Haymarket, VA.  The mill had closed and he had gone from job to job, working in a vineyard, plowing, and chopping wood; he farmed on a small scale, and a later census (1880) lists his trade as "carpenter"--all quite a come-down from his grandfather Sir Francis Austen's lofty status.  According to family history,  Charles was a “clever gardener,” but farming in that area must have been challenging in the aftermath of the Civil War.  The area where he had settled was on key transportation routes along which soldiers, sometimes as many as 25,000 at a time, had passed at various times throughout the war.  The town of Haymarket (founded in 1799) was almost entirely burned by Union soldiers in 1862.  There were lingering physical impacts on the land, along with economic instability during the reconstruction period.  Yet Charles and his mother were not the only English newcomers to try to make a living in the area:  in the same churchyard are the graves of several other English immigrants.

One of these other English families were the Lywoods, who emigrated from Newton Stacey in Hampshire and arrived around the same time as Charles Hubback.  The Lywoods, who evidently were better-off than the Hubbacks, settled at Bacon (or Beacon) Hall, a large farm between Haymarket and Gainesville, where they raised sheep imported from England.  Charles and Bernhardine Hubback's son Francis was born in 1874 at Bacon Hall, but was Charles a hired hand, or an esteemed neighbor?  The Lywoods had a vineyard, so I think it most likely that Charles was their employee for a time.  (I hope to read Catherine Hubback's letters from Virginia, which may answer the question definitively.)

The headstone of Harriet Lywood.  After years of extreme cruelty at the hands of her husband, Harriet was granted a divorce.  She is buried at St. Paul's next to her son Leonard Wyndham Lywood.

Charles and Bernhardine Hubback had at least five children in Virginia--county birth records record four, and a fifth, who apparently did not live long, appears in death records.  (Genealogist and Austen descendant Ronald Dunning lists six, only four of which overlap with the ones recorded in Virginia records.) One child was “Fanny Carsandra Hubban” who died at four months of age. Her middle name recalls two earlier Cassandras, her great-aunt and great-grandmother, and her first name probably honors Catherine's sister Fanny-Sophia.

As for Catherine Hubback, she had little chance to establish herself in Virginia and get to know her son's growing family.  On February 25, 1877, in the middle of a Virginia winter much harsher than those she had known in England or California, she died of pneumonia. Charles did not put down roots in Virginia either:  a few years later he and his family moved to California.

Catherine had never met Jane Austen, who had died almost exactly a year before she was born. Catherine certainly knew of her famous aunt, however, having heard stories from her aunt Cassandra.  She identified with Jane to the extent that she wrote a completion of Austen’s novel The Watsons, titling her own book The Younger Sister.  Family connections were important:  she began but never finished a memoir of her father, and she provided extensive information to her cousin James-Edward Austen-Leigh for use in his biography of Jane Austen.  In time, Catherine’s son John-Henry Hubback took up his pen to write Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers (1906), in collaboration with his daughter Edith.  Catherine carried certain mementos of her family to America with her; Deirdre Le Faye's Chronology records ‘a pair of small gold Bracelets with Topaze Clasps,” possibly originally Elizabeth Austen’s; the portrait miniature of Eliza de Feuillide that is now at Jane Austen’s House Museum; and a set of lace dress ornaments that had descended in the family to Catherine.

Catherine Hubback (Photo: Brodnax Moore, from findagrave.com)
Alice Villasenor has written about Catherine Hubback's completion of The Watsons; her dissertation can be found here:  http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15799coll127/id/281202.  An overview of Catherine Hubback's novels can be found at http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/hubback/intro.html and http://www.victorianweb.org/previctorian/austen/tsw8.html


  1. I live in Prince William County - in Manassas - and I had no idea there was such a close connection with my favorite author !

    1. I grew up there, and it was a big surprise to me too!