AUSTEN, John (aft.1673-1742), of Derehams, S. Mimms, and Highgate, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. aft. 1673, 1st s. of Thomas Austen of Derehams by Arabella, da. and h. of Edward Forsett of Ashford and Marylebone, Mdx. unm. suc. fa. 1701; cr. Bt. 16 Nov. 1714.1
Although hailing from Mildenhall, Suffolk, the Austen family had settled at Hoxton in Shoreditch, Middlesex, before the end of the 16th century. Austen’s early Stuart ancestors conducted business in the City, and his great-grandfather became a deputy of Billingsgate ward. However, following considerable growth in their landholdings, the Austens moved to the more rural setting of South Mimms, and their county standing was recognized in June 1693 when Austen’s father was appointed a deputy-lieutenant for Middlesex. Austen snr. does not appear to have played any significant political role, but a ‘Thomas Austin’ was a member of the Middlesex jury which acquitted the Seven Bishops in the famous trial of June 1688, a Whiggish stance in accordance with the subsequent career of the Middlesex Member.2
Austen’s date of birth remains elusive, but it is clear that he was under 30 at the time of the Middlesex election of December 1701, when he stood alongside Nicholas Wolstenholme in the Whig interest. Both were ridiculed by their opponents for their youth, and Austen’s campaign was also hampered by illness. However, he managed to secure second place in the poll, and his success was regarded as a Whig gain by Lord Spencer (Charles*). His activity in the House is unfortunately obscured by the presence of Robert Austen II, the Member for Winchelsea, who also shared his Whiggish principles. He may well have achieved some prominence in his first Parliament, for an Austen served as teller in three divisions. Following the death of King William, he again stood alongside Nicholas Wolstenholme for the county, but both were narrowly defeated.3
Austen did not contest the general elections of 1705 and 1708, when the Whigs reasserted their supremacy, but the death in February 1709 of sitting Member Sir John Wolstenholme, 3rd Bt., gave Austen the opportunity to regain a place at Westminster. The current weakness of the Middlesex Tories was subsequently demonstrated by his unopposed victory, which had been predicted well in advance. He quickly revealed his party loyalties, being listed as one of the supporters of the naturalization of the poor Palatines in early 1709, and a year later he voted for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. The presence in the House of Joseph Austin, MP for Perth Burghs, hinders analysis of Austen’s activity, although neither appears to have made a substantial contribution to Commons business. Given the similarity of their political outlook, either Member may have been the ‘Mr Austin’ who acted as teller alongside the Whig Lord William Powlett on 18 Dec. 1709 in a division on the Cirencester election. However, the Middlesex MP can be plausibly identified as a member of the drafting committee chosen on 16 Feb. 1710 to regulate select vestries within the bills of mortality, a matter which reflected Whig concern to curb High Church influence in the capital. Consistent with this position, soon afterwards he signed a Whig address from the Middlesex justices and grand jury, which condemned recent disorders committed in the name of non-resistance and passive obedience.4
The Middlesex election of 1710 proved disastrous for the Whigs, and Austen finished bottom of the poll. He did not seek to regain his seat in 1713, but was restored to prominence after the Hanoverian succession, when he was raised to the dignity of baronet. Perhaps emboldened by this honour, he contested Middlesex in 1715, but could only manage third place. He tried again in 1722, and was successful, but decided not to seek re-election in 1727. Significantly, at that time he was in the process of selling off his real estate, and financial concerns may possibly have influenced his decision to retire from politics. As early as 1710 he had disposed of the manor of Tyburn for £17,000, and after the sale of Highbury in 1725 he appeared increasingly eager to realize his landed wealth. In 1729–30 he was ready to part with considerable property in Hoxton, and went on to find purchasers for Derehams in 1733, and for the manor of Ashford in 1741. Remaining unmarried, he contented himself with a residence at Highgate, and, aside from electioneering, his only conspicuous expense was an impressive art collection, probably inspired by his father’s example. Following Austen’s death on 22 Mar. 1742, his body was interred at South Mimms, and his fortune passed to Mary Wright, a spinster whom he described in November 1740 as ‘living with me’. There is no evidence to suggest that she bore him any children, and, after her death in 1753, Austen’s art treasures were put up for auction.5
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Perry Gauci
- 1. London Mar. Lic. ed. Foster, 53.
- 2. Vis. London (Harl. Soc. xv), 33; List of Principal Inhabitants of London, 1640, p. 2; Survey of London, viii. 60; CSP Dom. 1693, p. 181; Luttrell, Brief Relation, i. 446.
- 3. Bodl. Ballard 11, f. 168; Post Boy, 16–18 Dec. 1701.
- 4. Add. 70420, newsletter 15 Feb. 1709; Add. ch. 76111.
- 5. VCH Mdx. v. 284; viii. 56; Survey of London, viii. 74, 85; G. Clinch, Marylebone and St Pancras, 4; HMC Portland, v. 15; Lysons, Hist. Acct. of Mdx. Parishes, 2; HMC 15th Rep. VII, 179–82; PCC 73 Trenley; Catalogue of Collection of Sir John Austen .