In Jane Austen’s surviving letters, there are two mentions of Altonian William Curtis - both from 1817. On 6th April, she wrote to her brother Charles:
‘I was so ill on Friday ... but either her [Cassandra’s] return .... or my having seen Mr Curtis or my disorders choosing to go away, have made me much better.’ Sadly the improvement did not last as, in her last surviving letter written from Chawton in May, Jane observed that ‘Our Alton Apothy did not pretend to be able to cope with it’.
Being a Quaker and an honest man, William was being truthful. Whatever Jane was suffering from, she could not have been cured at that time but her family decided that she should go to Winchester where she could be seen by Mr Lyford. Sadly he could not do anything either and she died there on 18th July.
Although no picture of William appears to exist, we have a description of him in 1800 when he was said to have been ‘a man of thirty, of medium height, rather broad, with dark brown hair, small side whiskers, greyish eyes, a good, firm chin and a kindly expression. Having been brought up in a Quaker family he dressed quietly and took life seriously.’ The Curtis family later wondered if William was the model for the character of Mr Perry, the apothecary, who was said to be ‘an intelligent, gentlemanlike man’.
Jane Hurst will look at the life of one of the last local people to see Jane Austen before she made her last journey to Winchester.