“Now that you are become an Aunt, you are a person of some consequence & must excite great Interest whatever you do. I have always maintained the importance of Aunts as much as possible…” Jane Austen to her niece, Caroline Austen October 30, 1815
Catherine Anne Hubback (nee AUSTEN) was the daughter of Sir Francis William Austen (1774 -1865), Admiral of the Fleet, and niece of author Jane Austen (1775 -1817) Catherine Anne Hubback was the eighth child and fourth daughter off the eleven children born to Sir Francis Austen and his first wife, Mary Gibson.
Catherine never knew her “Aunt Jane” as she died the year before Catherine Anne was born, but she grew knowing her celebrated aunt's work through her Aunt Cassandra, Jane Austen's sister who was a frequent visitor.
Catherine met John Hubback (1811 -1885) , a barrister from a North country mercantile family at her father's house, Portsdown Lodge, near Portsmouth. They were married in 1842 and had four children. The eldest, Mary, lived only long enough to be christened in 1843. They then had three sons, John Henry (1844 -1939), Edward Thomas (1846 -1924), and Charles Austen (1847 – 1924), perpetuating the great literary family name.
The couple lived at Malvern, then Wales, and later Birkenhead. In 1847 John Hubback suffered a complete mental breakdown brought on by intense overwork and was committed to Brislington House Asylum in 1850 where he was to spend the rest of his life until his death in 1885. Catherine returned to her father's house and to distract herself from perpetual anxiety, and in the hope of earning money to support herself and three children, she started writing. In 1850 she published a version of Jane Austen's unfinished novel of 1803 -05, The Watsons, as The Younger Sister.
Catherine dedicated the novel to the memory of Jane Austen and wrote
“Though too young to have known her personally, was from early childhood taught to esteem her virtues and admire her talents.”
Over the next thirteen years, nine more novels were published and Catherine Anne Hubback became a minor novelist, much admired by “middle class young ladies”, among them the grandmother of American novelist Henry James. In the mid Victorian era some perverse judgements were made. The Rival Suitors, published in 1857 was called by one reviewer, "The best of all Mrs Hubback's novels, and one which proves her to be nearly allied by genius as she is by blood to the first of English female novelists, Miss Austen”.
Catherine clearly capitalised on her relationship with the famous aunt she never knew. She wrote to her son, John in 1871,
“I mean in future to have my name printed as Mrs C. Austen Hubback and make believe the A stands for that. I have written it at length so nobody knows and Austen is a good nom de plume.”
Catherine Hubback was a most ardent, spirited, and imaginative woman; “vivid”, was how her son John described her. In 1871 aged 53, she followed John to America where he had emigrated and become a prosperous grain merchant. Catherine Anne Hubback died aged 59 on 25th February 1877 at Gainsville, Virginia at the home of her third son, Charley, who had also emigrated to the USA. John Hubback died aged 74 at Brislington House Asylum on 24th February 1885 and is buried in St Luke's Churchyard, Brislington, His gravestone in front of the West door reads:
“ALSO IN MEMORY OF CATHERINE ANNE ,HIS WIFE
DAUGHTER OF SIR F.W AUSTEN GCB, ADMIRAL OF THE FLEET
SHE DIED IN VIRGINIA,USA, 25TH FEBRUARY 1877”
“AND THERE WAS NO MORE SEA”
If you would like to learn more about Jane's life and times, peruse our book shop for some great non-fiction reads.
Jonathan Rowe wrote this piece as part of a talk on “Brislington’s Literary Associations” which was recently given for the Brislington Conservation & History Society in conjunction with an exhibition, currently showing at Wick Road Library in Brislington. One of our Society members is the grandmother of two of Jane Austen great nieces ( X 6!) descended from Edward Knight.DID YOU KNOW? The Duchess of Cambridge is Jane Austen's 11th cousin, six times removed!