Continuing Hazel’s wonderful discussion of transport in Jane Austen’s day. Find part 1 HERE.
I was delighted to be invited to offer Austen Variations part of my talk on Travel in Jane Austen’s time. My research came about through my own curiosity of the modes of transport Jane Austen gave her characters in the novels.
It was a light two-wheeled carriage, sometimes open but often with a top that could be lowered, and it was usually drawn by two horses. Willoughby shockingly drove Marianne in his curricle all over the neighbourhood of Barton.
Henry Tilney, driving Catherine from Petty-France to Northanger in his curricle, made her “as happy a being as ever existed.” All the curricle owners were young men: Mr. Darcy, Mr. Walter Elliot, Charles Musgrove, Henry Tilney, John Willoughby, and Mr. Rushworth.
Henry Austen must have owned a curricle as Jane Austen, when staying at Sloane Street stated in a letter dated 20th May 1813, that “we had no rain of any consequence; the head of the curricle was put half up three or four times.”
A gig was similar to a curricle. Sometimes the names seem interchangeable, and a carriage-builder of the time, in a treatise on carriages, captioned this drawing “Gig Curricle.” The biggest difference between the two was that a curricle was normally pulled by two horses and a gig by just one, thus making it much more sedate with less speed and obviously less dashing. Only requiring one horse also makes it cheaper to keep.
Admiral and Mrs. Croft acquired a gig while at Kellynch Hall, and we know it could just accommodate three people as the Crofts were able to give Anne Elliot a ride to Uppercross in Persuasion.
John Thorpe, Mr. Collins, and Sir Edward Denham also owned gigs, and so did Jane Austen’s brother Henry. She mentions in a letter dated the 6 June 1811 to Cassandra “He travels in his gig, and should the weather be tolerable, I think you must have a delightful journey.” It is interesting that Jane Austen gave gigs to both John Thorpe and Mr Collins. It allowed her to maintain the disparity between these characters and those of Henry Tilney and Fitzwilliam Darcy with their superior sports cars. However it is also interesting that John Thorpe boasts to Catherine Morland, that his gig was ‘curricle hung’!
Henry Austen also had a gig. Jane Austen mentions in a letter dated the 6th June 1811 to Cassandra “He travels in his gig, and should the weather be tolerable, I think you must have a delightful journey.” It appears that Henry was not content to own a gig as we have already seen that by 1813 he was the owner of a curricle!
The chair was smaller and lighter vehicle. It was also sometimes called a whiskey. It did not have a top, was pulled by one horse, and usually used just for recreation. A chair appears only in The Watsons, where it was owned by the Watson family, probably because it was cheaper than many other carriages. Jane Austen’s brother James owned a chair, showing his lower income as a cleric. His chair, according to a letter of 7th January 1807, appears to have been pulled by a horse named Ajax.
Coach was a name generally given to large conveyances, but there was a vehicle known as a coach. Large families like the Bennets and the Musgroves, owned coaches, large vehicles which regularly held four to six passengers and on occasion even more. They were used for travelling large distances and would have looked similar to the mail and stage coaches. We have also heard that brother Edward had a coach that held five.
Phaetons were another class of light vehicles. They were generally used for recreational drives rather than travelling long distances. There were very many styles of phaeton with either no top at all or one that could be put back when the weather was good enough to enjoy being seen! Mrs. Gardiner suggested that she and Elizabeth use a “low phaeton” for riding around the park at Pemberley. There were also high phaetons where the passengers were perched very high indeed. In Jane Austen’s novels only Miss De Bourgh actually owned a phaeton. Jane Austen mentions in a letter from Bath in May 1801 that she would like to go out in Mr Evelyn’s phaeton.
The chariot was another light vehicle. This was drawn by four horses and had a more unusual seating arrangement for the time, carrying four people on two seats facing forward, not facing each other. It looked a bit like a large post-chaise except that it had a coach-box, or seat for a driver, so postillions were not needed on the horses.
Mrs. Jennings had a chariot as well as a chaise. This shows that she was quite a wealthy as she could afford both vehicles and the horses and staff for a woman theoretically living alone. The dowager Mrs. Rushworth “removed herself, her maid, her footman, and her chariot, with true dowager propriety, to Bath” soon before her son’s rather ill-fated marriage. Mr. and Mrs. John Dashwood also owned a chariot, so it must have been the height of fashion.
The landaulette was a small two-passenger, four wheeled vehicle with a top that folded back. Anne Elliot, once finally reconciled and married to Captain Wentworth owned “a very pretty landaulette.” These were normally pulled by two horses, so a very generous gift of independence by the Captain to his new wife!
The barouche was a vehicle very much enjoyed by the aristocracy. The Oxford English Dictionary refers to barouches used by a duchess, by titled ladies, and by dowagers. The carriage looked quite light but that was deceiving as in fact it required very heavy bracing and was pulled by four horses. In Sense and Sensibility, the Palmers owned a barouche and Fanny Dashwood wished her brother, Edward Ferrars, would own one to be smarter! In Mansfield Park, Henry Crawford (certainly not a titled lady or dowager!) makes much use of his barouche and Lady Dalrymple in Persuasion also owned the same equipage. The most famous owner of the barouche must be Lady Catherine de Bourgh who generously offers a place in hers to Elizabeth Bennet, shifting her servant to the box seat.
The Oxford English Dictionary has no separate entry for “barouche-landau” and its only reference is the quote from Emma. However, the Morning Post newspaper of the 5th January 1804 announced that ‘Mr. Buxton, the celebrated whip, has just launched a new-fangled machine, a kind of nondescript. It is described by the inventor to be the due medium between a landau and a barouche, but all who have seen it say it more resembles a fish-cart or a music-caravan.’
I must believe that Jane used this carriage as an insult to Mrs Elton in Emma. Was this carriage generally received as a joke? Did Jane purposely give the Sucklings this carriage for Mrs Elton to wax lyrical over? The author does not name many carriages in Emma but she mentions the barouche-landau four times in a single monologue of Mrs Elton’s.
I hope you have enjoyed this journey through the world of carriages in Jane’s time. I have always believed that Miss Austen never wasted a single word in her writing and, after my research; I believe she also thought very carefully about the recipient of each type of vehicle in her novels. The readers of her day needed no explanation as to why Mr. Darcy drove a curricle and Mr. Collins a gig but, as modern readers, a little knowledge in this area gives us much greater understanding and raised even higher my already exalted estimation of Captain Wentworth with his gift to Anne of the landaulette!
The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen Edited by R.W. Chapman OUP 1953
Jane Austen, her life and letters, a family record by William Austen-Leigh and Richard Austen Leigh 1913
A Treatise on Carriages: Comprehending Coaches, Chariots, Phaetons by William Felton , coachmaker William Felton Published 1794
www.jasnanorcal.org/ink9.htm Transports of Delight by Ed Radcliffe
Hazel Mills is a retired science teacher living in Cambridgeshire, England and is a founder member of the Cambridge Group of the UK Jane Austen Society. She discovered Austen as a Dorset schoolgirl who, after having been rendered totally depressed at the age of 12 by the death and destruction in Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, fell in love for the first time with Mr Darcy. This has since become a polygamous relationship including Captain Wentworth and Mr Knightly among others, and of course, the long suffering Mr Mills. Hazel normally writes and gives illustrated talks on a number of topics including Travel in Jane Austen’s time and The Illustrators of Jane Austen’s Novels, making use of her large book collection which includes over 200 different copies of Pride and Prejudice.
This article is from part of her talk, “Know your Phaeton from your Curricle” which also includes information such as about roads, turnpike trusts, maps and inns.