Almost Bound for Botany Bay?

Almost Bound for Botany Bay? By Mark McGinness.

The Jane Austen Society states their heroine (left) never ventured further north of Litchfield. Educated, mainly at home, she shared a bedroom with her sister, Cassandra, and, although there were visits to London, and some time in Bath, her life revolved around her family in Hampshire and Kent.

Yet in November, 2016, the British Chancellor, Philip Hammond, pledged £7.6 million to rescue Wentworth Woodhouse in South Yorkshire, the largest privately-owned residence in the Kingdom, claiming that it was the inspiration for Pemberley.

Wal Walker, an Australian descendant of the Earls of Stafford, early owners of the house, has gone further, in an extraordinary two-volume biography, Jane & D’Arcy (Arcana Trust, 2017), making the audacious claim — not just that Jane visited Wentworth Woodhouse but that she secretly married one of its scions.

Walker, interlacing contemporary factual accounts with extracts from the novels, painstakingly builds his circumstantial case. He suggests that in late summer 1786, D’Arcy Wentworth, a soldier-surgeon from the impoverished Irish branch of the Wentworths, met Jane and her sister, Cassandra, in Reading where they were both briefly at boarding school.

They met again a few years later when D’Arcy attended a monthly Assembly in Basingstoke with his friend, William Wickham. (Wickham hailed from Bingley in the West Riding). D’Arcy then called upon her after she went to London in April, 1789, to help her neighbour, Anne Lefroy. He later took her to a reception at Wentworth Woodhouse being hosted by his kinsman, the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, in honour of the Prince of Wales.

As Walker has it, love was declared and D’Arcy and Jane crossed into Scotland and, dear reader, he married her — at Gretna Green in the second week of September, 1789. After travelling to Edinburgh, they returned to London and rented lodgings in Clipstone Street off Great Portland Street, taking the name of Wilson. Quoting Walker, D’Arcy was “confident he would have a salaried appointment in Botany Bay, and they would sail there together to take it up.” Earl Fitzwilliam had recommended his cousin to Evan Napean, the Under Secretary at the Home Office. It was late October in 1789.

But within a week, D’Arcy was charged with highway robbery (it is established fact that he had been charged of the same offence three times in 1787 when he was found Not Guilty on two counts and acquitted on the third).

According to the Public Advertiser of November 16, 1789, D’Arcy’s wife, ‘Mrs Wilson’ (Walker attests this was Jane), was interviewed and “claimed her name was Taylor; that she came from Worcestershire, but did not know anything of her family at present.” The Times of December 10, 1789, reported that D’Arcy, by now something of a celebrity, was again acquitted.

The judge was informed that D’Arcy was taking up an appointment as Assistant Surgeon and was to sail with the Second Fleet for Botany Bay in the Neptune. This proposal was referred to as ‘self-transportation’. …

The family feared for their reputation and disgrace for Jane. So her father forbad the match. Jane acquiesced. “She had spent seven weeks and one day as D’Arcy’s wife and forty days alone without him in London.”

The family agreed the episode would be a closed book. Jane’s correspondence from this time is missing. But, says Walker, “Jane had a great desire to hear and to say D’Arcy’s name aloud. By making D’Arcy a surname, she gave her characters the freedom to speak it without reserve. By this means she ensured his name and her great love for him have resounded across the years.”

That’s Darcy Wentworth’s son, William Wentworth, on the About page of this blog.

It was William Charles’s great-grandson and namesake, Bill Wentworth (1907 – 2003), who confided in his nephew, Wal Walker, about the family’s link to Austen.

Bill is mentioned on the About page too.

What can one make of these astonishing claims? … In September, 1789, Jane was not only ‘not one and twenty’ – she was not even four and ten. (Even Lydia Bennet was sixteen when she eloped with George Wickham)

And so on.

Might be true. I grew up with a bunch of relatives and ancestors named Wentworth, Darcy, Fitzwilliam, and so on. While I never read Jane Austen’s books but simply read about them and saw them in movies or on TV, Jane Austen confused the heck out of me because I never knew which bits were true and which bits were fiction. It was déjà vu all over again, with family stories and Jane Austen’s stories like hearing two different versions of the same thing from very different sources who never acknowledged the other source — were they really the same thing?