It need occasion no great surprise that the visit made by Jane Austen to the Colony of New South Wales in 1803-4 passed without significant remark at the time, and as a consequence has not been previously described. At that time she was quite unknown, her first novel to be published, Sense and Sensibility, did not appear until 1811, almost a decade later.
There is in fact very little evidence of the events of Jane Austen's life between May 1801 and September 1804, when she is known to have visited Lyme Regis with her parents, her sister Cassandra, and her brother Henry and his wife. None of her letters for that period survive. There is, however, a well-founded tradition that sometime in 1801, probably while on another family holiday, at Sidmouth, she formed a romantic attachment, and that after the Austens returned home to Bath, they received a letter with the news that the gentleman in question, the hero of her romance, had died.
Sir Francis H. Doyle, in his Reminiscences, quotes an apocryphal story that this romance took place in 1801., following the Peace of Amiens, when - according to this account - Mr Austen took his two daughteIS, Cassandra and Jane, on a tour of Switzerland. Here, Jane is supposed to have fallen in love with a young naval officer who joined their party. En route to Chamonix, he elected to journey across the mountains, while the Austens took the easier way by the high road. The young man never arrived: he overtired himself and died of brain fever on the way. It seems clear enough that this is mere fabrication, and that Jane Austen's sugested trip to the Continent has somehow grown out of the visit undoubtedly made to France at this time by her brother Henry and his wife Eliza.
In the narrative which follows, the details concerning the imprisonment and trial of Jane Austen's aunt, Mrs Leigh Perrot, are factual, and the Quotations from letters she wrote while seeking bail in London, and from the Gaoler's Lodgings at Ilchester, are authentic; as are the extracts quoted later from the Sydney Gazette. Other events described both in England and New South Wales may be verified .. . for example, the Austen's house-hunting at Bath (related by Jane Austen in her letters); the proposal of marriage made to Jane by Harrison Bigg-Withers; the visit made by Governor King and his lady to the Cow Pastures in December 1803; Surgeon Savage's unsuccessful attempt to introduce inoculation for the smallpox to the Colony; and the curious episode concerning the deportation in His Majesty's Ship Ca1cutta of a French pedlar believed to have been implicated in the Castle Hill revolt. And there are records of D'Arcy Wentworth's appearances at the 1787 and 1789 sessions at the Old BaiIey, London. The martial air 'The Bold Fusilier' was much later adapted for the tune of 'Waltzing Matilda'. A specimen butterfly which escaped from James Leigh Perrot was later collected by Alexander Macleay, in the 1840s. It is the Regent Skipper (Euschemon rafflesia rafflesia.) The male, but not the female, possesses the frenulum characteristic of a moth. It would have been outside its usual habitat, if observed in Parramatta.
For the rest, the author presents this account of Jane Austen's visit to the Antipodes without prejudice, trusting it may be received with indulgence and an appreciation of the humble spirit in which it was conceived.