Before she was famous- Jane Austen in the newspapers.


Jane makes one of her first appearances in the newspapers in on 6th September 1813. In an event only publicised in the local newspaper   the Hampshire Chronicle   Jane donated one of the lower amounts- half a guinea (10 shilling and sixpence, a week’s average wage for a urban worker ) to the newly established Basingstoke and Alton branch of the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge- an organisation which did what it said on the tin. It produced cheap Bibles and tried to encourage moral reformation. To subscribe to it   meant a desire to be respectable. To have your money accepted and publicised in the newspaper was an acknowledgement of your social position.

Jane’s position in   local society can be inferred from the details in the newspaper. All the committee members were male; Jane, like the other women on the list, were not committee members but additional subscribers, who made a donation rather than purchasing a yearly membership. It is highly unlikely that   Jane attended the meeting at the Bolton Arms Inn- and this was an age when many respectable women did attend meetings of charities. Her letters to Cassandra  around that time suggest that she may not have even been in the county

There are two references; a Miss Austen and a Miss Jane Austin. This may or may not be the same person

Jane had to wait until death to become newsworthy again. Once again, it was a   local event. This notice appeared on the last page of the Hampshire Chronicle as news from July 19th 1817, the day after her death


Perhaps interestingly, this was not a paid for obituary but a piece of local news; her late father was previously a local cleric and it is unlikely that Jane would have received a mention if she had been a daughter of a local shoe maker.

On July 30th, a more or less identical notice appeared in the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, with the omission of her home address.

The newspapers are quiet until 1832; on Christmas Day 1832 the national newspaper the Morning Post made a reference to Jane. This was an advertisement- with the heading “Miss Jane Austen’s novels” ( in the plural, so there must have been some understanding that there was more than one.) Richard  Bentley, the publisher was presenting Sense and Sensibility as part of a series called The Standard Novels and Romances; there were two more identical advertisements, both in London papers, in the week before publication.

The Spectator magazine must have got hold of an early copy, as it has reviewed it by December 31st. The Morning Post reported on its findings. The paper noted their length of time since her death  “  the public took time to make up its mind”. It also hints that the general reader was engaged before the critics

The response to Sense and Sensibility meant that 1833 was Jane’s best year in the papers. By January the Hampshire Chronicle was rediscovering one of their own; “the novel affords diversified scenery of real life, and abounds in moral sentiment, conveyed in the most amusing incidents”.


By March the Morning Post had reached its own, mostly favourable opinion. It took a few pages of reading, but the paper was impressed by her “natural fluency and unsophisticated earnestness”   Her novels rang true- they had “vraisemblance” and knowledge of human character. The was, the reviewer suggested, the ”new novelist of domestic truth”.

In April 1833, Volume 25 of Standard Novels and Romances included Emma. In July, Volume 27 included Mansfield Park and Bentley had sold over 100,000 copies of his series and Austen was clearly his star. The Scotsman liked Mansfield Park – “an admirable domestic tale…at which Miss Austen was has been long acknowledge as unrivalled”-clearly her books were being read in the 1820s by the public before the reviewers in the newspapers.

By August, Pride and Prejudice was the published in Volume 30. In October, all six novels were published in a cheap edition by Bentley, placing Jane on a par with some very well know Regency writers and poets….




My book on the reality of Jane Austen’s  Britain is out on November 30



“The Dark Days of Georgian  Britain” Pen and Sword

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Israel Chapman- Body Snatcher

Israel Chapman was born in about  1794, in Chelsea, London and died in the Jewish poor house in Australia on 4th July 1868. Little can be worked out from his early life- the lack of compulsory state records and the fact that his Jewish background put him outside the normal system makes that difficult. However, he had a young brother, Noel, born 1809 in Chelsea, and Israel was a coach driver- a job that could put you in contact with body snatchers. At some point he married a women called Catherine.

Israel Chapman was well known to the legal establishment. In the mid 1810s he was living first in Haymarket, and later at Vine Street, Covent Garden. The Morning Post of 27 August 1816 reported that the “well known character Israel Chapman” had been indicted for stealing a watch at Hatton Garden magistrates’ court. In April of the same year, it was reported by the papers that the “Jew resurrection man” was accused of carrying of a wounded man from a site of attempted murder in Newton’s Court, Queens Court. He clearly was not doing this to administer first aid.

He was exceptionally well known to the magistrate John Nares. Nares worked at both Bow Street and Covent Garden as a judge. It seems that Chapman once told him that, should Nares die first, he would be after his dead body. Indeed this happened- the esteemed magistrate died on 16 December 1816, and the Bow Street Patrole guarded his body for three weeks. There was no sign of Israel at this time- he was at war with the London anatomy hospitals at the time, who he believed that they were employing non gang members to procure bodies and reduce the price- there are more details here.

By November 1817 the Borough Street Gang seems to be led by Chapman rather than Ben Couch.The Morning Post reported that a “ T Vaughan” had been apprehended at St Luke’s burial ground stealing dead bodies and was recognised as one of Israel’s man. Unusually, there were no sureties available for the arrested man- usually there would be somebody from the medical schools to help extricate the grave robbers. It was very much a joint enterprise.

There is an interesting but problematical reference to Chapman in “Blackwoods Magazine”, Volume 17, in 1825. In the text he is referred to as “ Izzy” or” Easy” but at the beginning he is referred to as “ J Chapman”. It correctly gives his location as Haymarket/ Covent Garden and gives apparently accurate details of his modus operandi- in a similar manner to the way he ran off with an injured person at Newton’s Court in 1816, he seems to have tried to escape with a live specimen “ a dozen years ago”- i.e. about 1813. They seem to be different incidents; however some of the later details are wrong. As will be shown later, he was not convicted of burglary and did not die in 1819, as the article suggests. Despite the errors this seems to be an accurate portrayal of Israel.



Some historians have claimed that Chapman only stole Jewish bodies.The evidence is weak; and we have to be careful that an anti Semitic element does not creep in. Joseph Naples makes two references to Jews in the resurrection trade on two consecutive days in August 1811. This may have been the same person and may have been Chapman; Chapman was very much known to Naples by c 1815 but there is no hard evidence that it might be him, although some commentators have claimed that it had to be Chapman-however, if it had to be a particular person, this hardly suggests a massive Jewish presence in the body snatching trade.

There is other (very) circumstantial evidence. Ben Couch gate crashed a Jewish wedding reception in January 1810 at the London Hospital public house, assaulting a Jewish man. This may be linked with an individual taking his trade, and could even be Chapman. However it is not evidence of a massive Jewish involvement –it may just be anti-Semitism and general resentment. So, when the press refer to “Jew resurrection men” – they seem to be making two comments rather than one.

Chapman also specifically denied that he had been involved in the robbery of Jewish bodies. The Inverness Courier 9 April 1818 and many other papers reported that Chapman had told the Jewish religious figure Dr Herschel that he had a hand in the removal of one Jewish body and had not laid his hands on it. He particularly refuted the accusation that he had looted the Jewish cemetery at Mile End. These denials sound convincing. Chapman goes on to say that he has stolen up to 40 bodies a week; and that the Borough Gang had reached up to 30 members under his leadership. He also told the rabbi that part of his efficient operations was to bribe grave diggers to produce shallow graves that could be pillaged easily; although Jewish corpses would always be fresh- believers are ordered by Deuteronomy to bury their dead on the same day- it seems unlikely that it was a major part of Chapman’s work; he did not need to do this even if his morals are deeply suspect. There were enough easy pickings, and relatively few Jewish corpses.

In December 1817, Israel’s life changed forever. Chapman and his partner George Scott were accused of the Highway Robbery of James Palmer of a half sovereign and four shillings in silver . Palmer was from Southall, had been drinking in the Seven Stars public house in Star Court, Whitechapel and had been violently beaten and robbed by a gang, of whom only Scott and Chapman were captured by the Watchmen. Scott- a “tall athletic type”, probably in contradistinction to the “Jew Chapman” was also convicted of a similar crime committed the same day- waiting around in pubs for people to leave drunk, although Chapman’s victim claimed to have only had two pints of porter and some tea. This was the turning point of Chapman’s life in England; this attack on the property of a gentlemen was much more serious than taking dead bodies

Scott and Chapman were given the death penalty on January 14th 1818. Previous to this he was incarcerated on the prison Hulk “Retribution” moored either Sheerness or Greenwich.

He arrived in New South Wales on September 14th 1818. His life improved almost immediately-he became a poacher turned gamekeeper in a very profound way. His success is a ringing condemnation of the life of the poor in Regency England. For details, see

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