Two hundred years ago on 18 July 1817 at about 4.30 am the wonderful Jane Austen died in the arms of her beloved sister Cassandra at No. 8 College Street Winchester. Jane and Cassandra had moved here from Chawton, about 17 miles away, in the hope of better medical treatment for Jane who was quite unwell.
The cause of Jane’s tragically early death at the age of 41 has been the subject of much speculation. She may have died from Addison’s disease, from some form of cancer or from tuberculosis. Earlier this year a new theory emerged. Jane may have died from arsenic poisoning!
The British Library arranged testing for some spectacles found in Jane Austen’s Writing Slope / Desk. This portable desk had been donated to the library in 1999 by Joan Austen-Leigh a great-great-great niece of Jane Austen. Tests of the spectacles suggested that Jane Austen was long-sighted but may have needed reading glasses as she could have developed cataracts. From the results of these tests it was further suggested that Jane Austen may have died from accidental arsenic poisoning as arsenic was commonly found in medicines in 19th century England. The truth is that we will never really know what caused Jane Austen’s early death two hundred years ago..