In 1786, a twelve year old boy named Francis entered the Royal Navy Academy in Portsmouth, England. He was called “Fly” by his family and his intellect and hard work soon impressed the staff of the Academy. As many as 97% of the boys who entered the school were placed aboard ships and served as midshipmen as they completed their studies. Because of his academic abilities, Fly was allowed to stay at the school the entire four years in order to complete his training before being ordered aboard a ship. He graduated at the top of his class.
Francis would die at the age of 91 and at the time of his passing he held the rank of Senior Admiral of the Fleet; the highest rank in the British Navy. During the years separating those two events, Frank proved himself as capable on ships as in the classrooms. He fought in the wars with Napoleon, the War of 1812 and was captain of several ships.
His greatest single achievement may have been when he commanded a 16-gun sloop, the HMS Peterel into action against two French merchant ships and captured them both. After ordering prize crews aboard to sail the ships to British waters and therefor being shorthanded, he was attacked by three French war ships. He out maneuvered two of them and forced them to ground themselves and then he captured the third, a 14-gun sloop named the “Ligurinne.” He fought in the War of 1812, where he captured an American privateer, “Swordfish.” During the Mexican-American War he was a fleet commander stationed in Jamaica where he protected British commerce and disrupted the slave trade.
Francis was known as the “Praying Admiral” as he was a deeply religious man and he used naval regulations to provide for his crews.
Five years after Francis entered the Academy, another young man, Charles followed him. Charles was Francis’s younger brother. He had been born in 1779. Not as studious as Francis, Charles soon found himself at sea where he was expected to continue his studies while also serving aboard a British war vessel. He proved capable of the expectations and excelled at both.
Where Francis was stoic and hard to approach, Charles was laid back and easy going until the action started. As a young officer, he took four other men and a small boat. Under the cover of night the men rowed the boat alongside of a French sloop, the 18-gun Scipio and captured it, holding the 149 member crew at bay until the following dawn, when they signaled their ship, the HMS Indian, to take possession.
His ability to command crews and his understanding of tactics allowed Charles the opportunities to command several ships of the line. He commanded the 36-gun HMS Phoenix, the 46-gun HMS Aurora and the 74-gun HMS Swiftside.
Like his brother, Charles rose to the rank of Admiral but he died young of cholera.
These two men with such commonalities also shared another part of their lives. They were the brothers of the writer Jane Austen.
I smile when I think of the times these two accomplished warriors, these two high ranking officers and leaders of men were introduced by, “…He is the brother of the writer, Jane Austen.”