This book focuses on the twenty-year tenure of James Cawthorn – one of the most significant headmasters in the history of Tonbridge School. In historical accounts of Tonbridge School, Cawthorn is usually depicted as a strict disciplinarian with an almost despotic approach as Headmaster. Boys under his charge are described in turn, as being either terrified of him, humiliated by him or, in the case of one poor soul, locked in a cupboard, forgotten and left to starve to death. He does however act as master and mentor to some of the school’s most prominent Old Boys; notably George Austen, father of the novelist Jane Austen, who after graduating from Oxford returns to Tonbridge in order to become Cawthorn’s Deputy. Cawthorn’s dedication to the school is also such that, during his tenure as Headmaster, the school gets its first purpose built library which appears in part to have been funded from the Head’s own pocket. The establishment of the library was a joint undertaking involving James Cawthorn, George Austen and the Worshipful Company of Skinners’ who govern the school. The development was not however without controversy and the unfortunate death of a schoolboy played a significant part in the saga. George Austen’s involvement also helped to shape the future course of his life and led to him leaving Tonbridge, the town of his birth, and moving instead to Steventon in Hampshire.
This book investigates the available historical evidence in order to uncover the story of how the first library building at Tonbridge came to be built and to establish the truth behind the myths surrounding one of the School’s most controversial and enigmatic headmasters. In doing so, it also shines a light on the formative years of the life of George Austen, father of one of Britain’s most much-loved novelists. It will appeal to anyone associated with Tonbridge School; specialist and amateur Kentish historians; and fans of Jane Austen keen to know more about the formative years of the man who was arguably her most important tutor and mentor – her father, George Austen.