Austin Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Austin Surname Meaning

Austin was the English vernacular form of the Roman Augustine name which was born by the fifth century St. Augustine of Hippo and by another St. Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury who died in 605. The French contraction of the name was Agustin and this probably further contracted in England to Austin. 

St. Augustine of Hippo had formulated a set of rules or canons for living an austere, monastic life. One of these orders, the Order of St. Augustine founded in England in 1256, became known as the Augustine Canons. The name was later shortened to the Austin Canons and the Austin Friars. Austin and its variant Austen became surnames.  

Austin Surname Resources on The Internet

Austin and Austen Surname Ancestry

  • from Southern England
  • to Ireland, America, Caribs (Barbados), Canada and Australia

England. The Austin name appeared at an early time in the west country, although the name here might also have been Brasuter. John Austin was the mayor of Totnes in Devon in 1358 and his son Henry its MP in 1410 and 1413.

Austen was to be found later in Devon and in Cornwall; while Austins extended into northern Dorset. The Austin name was also prominent at Wotton-under-Edge near Cheltenham in Gloucestershire where they were clothiers. Humphrey Austin of Newark Park was mayor of Wotton in 1752.

SE England. Most Austins and Austens were to be found in London and the southeast (although the Austin name did spread around much more widely than the Austen name). The Austin Friars were in fact to be found in London where they remained until the dissolution of the friary in 1538. Kent seems to have been the principal origin of those surnamed Austen.

Records for one Austin family were said to have begun at Horsmonden in Kent around the year 1400. The spelling changed to Austen sometime in the following century. Later Austens were wool manufacturers who had risen to the lower ranks of the landed gentry. George Austen, born in Tonbridge in 1731, was rector at the Anglican parish church at Steventon in Hampshire. Among his children was the writer Jane Austen.

Another Austen line in Kent was minor gentry in Tenterden in Tudor times. Sir Robert Austen got wealthy as a London merchant and acquired the Hall Place estate in Bexley in 1649. It remained in Austen hands until the death of a later Sir Robert Austen, childless and in debt, in 1743. He had married the sister of that notorious rake Sir Francis Dashwood. Also from Tenterden, starting in the 1560’s, came the Austens of Goudhurst.

Then there were the Austens of Shalford in Surrey. These Austens appear to have originated in Shropshire and settled first in Hertfordshire before moving to Surreyin the early 1500’s. They were wool merchants in Guildford and subsequently wealthy landowners. Their home, Shalford House, was completed in 1611.

Sir Alfred Bingley recounted the family history in his 1936 manuscript The Austens of Shalford which was published by an Austen descendant, Richard Godwin-Austen, in 2008.

From Southwark in London came William Austin, a man of letters whose works principally on religious themes – first appeared in the 1620’s. His son William was a poet who presented a flattering poem to Charles II on the occasion of his marriage in 1662.

NW England. There appears to have been a migration of Austins to NW England where they were present possibly as early as the 13th century in Shropshire and Cheshire.

Later they were found more in Staffordshire. Possibly the name here came from the Augustine priory that had existed at Stone and the Austin friars which continued in the area until 1538.

Thomas Austin held Oxley Hall in Staffordshire in the 1500’s, although the male line here died out with his death in 1601. One family history in Staffordshire began with the marriage of William Austin and Anne Walters in Eccleshall in 1783. And Austins had extended into Lancashire by the 18th century.

Ireland. The Austin name does appear in Ireland, probably of English origins. The 1890 birth index gave Dublin and Antrim as the main locations for the name.

William Austin from Tandragee in Armagh served with the 52nd Foot Regiment from 1805 to 1815, culminating in the Battle of Waterloo. John Austin, a Methodist there, departed for Canada with his family in 1829; William and Samuel Austin, brothers, for New Zealand in 1850 or so. Samuel, who made his home in Wanganui, was awarded the New Zealand Cross in 1866 for his fighting during the Maori Wars.

America.  Early Austins came to New England.

New England.  Richard Austin from Hampshire came to Massachusetts with his family on the Bevis in May 1638. He died, however, before the year was out. The main line ran through his son Anthony Austin, one of the early settlers in Suffield, Connecticut.  Richard’s forebears had come from Tenterden in Kent; as had those of Francis Austin who came to Evesham township in New Jersey sometime in the 1680’s.

Meanwhile Jonah Austen had married his wife Constance in Tenterden and they sailed to New England in 1634, eventually settling in Taunton, Massachusetts.

Other early New England arrivals, also from Kent, were:

  • Joseph Austin who had come to New England in 1642 and made his home in Dover, New Hampshire in 1648.
  • John Austin, a carpenter by trade, who had come to Connecticut by 1647 and made his home in Greenwich in 1656. However, he died a year later from the malaria plague that had hit the township.
  • and another John Austin who came to the New Haven colony in the mid-1660’s.

Irish.  Some Irish Austin immigrants were recorded.  William Austin came to Kent county, Maryland sometime in the 1670’s, origin within Ireland unknown. Other Austins, possibly related, were in North Carolina by the 1760’s and later settled in Tennessee and Illinois.

A family Bible, known as “the Lonesome Bible,” was found inside an old Austin cabin in Burns, Tennessee. William Austin, the sixth William dating back to the first William of Maryland, had died there in 1876

Onward to Texas. Moses Austin was in the fifth generation of Austins in America which had started with Richard Austin and ran through Anthony. Moses, the first of his line to leave Connecticut, had developed lead mining in the 1790’s in Virginia and in Missouri where he later lived.

Then, after several speculative ventures in the southwest, Moses managed to obtain a large land grant from the Spanish government in 1820, with plans to form the first Anglo colony in Texas. He died soon afterward and it was his son Stephen who was to lead the colonization effort that eventually led to the settlement of “the Old 300” families in 1825. Stephen F. Austin is considered the founder of Texas.

John Austin was one of Stephen Austin’s “Old 300,” but not apparently any relation although he did also come from Connecticut. John was joined in Texas by his brothers William and James. However, he died of the cholera epidemic in 1833, as did his father John a year later. Part of his land grant, which was sold in 1836, was the settlement that became Houston, Texas.

Caribbean. Thomas Austin from Somerset was deported to Barbados in 1685 for his role in Monmouth’s Rebellion at that time. He may or may not have been the forefather of the Thomas Austin who was born on the island in 1720.

This Thomas was married three times, from whence came twenty children. His descendants were numerous. The family history was recounted in Burslem and Manning’s 2007 book An Old Colonial Family.

Canada. Captain Henry Austin was a Loyalist who had departed for Canada during the Revolutionary War. He married in Nova Scotia in 1780 and subsequently settled in New Brunswick. His grandson Henry, born in 1831, was a successful merchant there who ventured into local politics.

James Austin had arrived in Toronto with his parents from Armagh in Ireland in 1829. He became a very successful businessman, founding the Toronto Dominion Bank in 1871. His son Albert, an Olympic class golfer in his day, inherited James’s business interests on his death in 1897. James had acquired Spadina House in Toronto in 1866 and this home was to remain with the family for more than a century.

Australia. Thomas Austin’s main claim to fame was the introduction of rabbits into Australia in 1859. He had arrived from Somerset with his family in 1831 and they made their home at Barwon Park in Victoria where they prospered as sheep farmers. After Thomas’s unexpected death in 1871, his widow Elizabeth embarked on a new career as a philanthropist, founding the Austin Hospital for Incurables in 1882.

Austin Surname Miscellany

Austens in Surrey.  John Austen or Austyn of Toddington in Hertfordshire died in 1478, leaving a son also named John. This John Austen was the first of his line to settle in Surrey. We know little about him except that he was a priest and probably a man of forceful character.  According to Manning and Bray’s History of Surrey:

“John Austyn thrust himself into the living of Chiddingfold. His action was duly regularized for the official record shows that he was inducted in 1507 on the presentation of Thomas Rowthall, Dean of Salisbury. He held the rectory of Chiddingfold for thirty five years and died there in 1542.”

The Austens lived near Guildford, a centre for wool stapling and cloth production at the time, and John’s son, also named John, became a prosperous stapler, one who bought, sold, and sorted the wool. He also became a prominent citizen of Guildford and was elected its mayor in 1566.  In 1569 it was recorded that he started ”‘building for the Grammar School, the houses, cellar, rooms, lodgings for the schoolmaster” and died in 1571, the work being then unfinished.

John Austen had two sons – John and George, both of whom shared in his business and both were Approved Men of Guildford.  John the elder became a Merchant Adventurer, a Citizen of London, and a Member of the Haberdashers Company. George the younger remained in Guildford and succeeded his father in his business as a wool stapler.

Austens in Cornwall.  Austens were first found at Great Deviok in St. Germans.  The first recorded name there was John Austen who died in 1628.  They later moved to Plymouth.

In 1780 Joseph Austen married Susanna, the co-heiress of the long-established Trefly family at Fowey. His son Joseph changed his name from Austen to Trefly after his father had died and he was living with his mother at her family home at Place in Fowey.

Joseph became an industrial developer and mine owner in Cornwall.  He was said to have been one of the first mine owners to provide medical attention and sick pay for his miners.  He was the High Sheriff of Cornwall in 1838.  He also renovated and extended Place which had become very dilapidated by this time.

Austins and Austens in the 1881 Census

Numbers (000’s) Austin Austen
London    2.2    0.3
Kent    1.2    1.1
Surrey    1.2    0.2
Sussex    0.4    0.2
Staffordshire    1.0
Lancashire    0.9
Yorkshire    0.6
Elsewhere    7.1    0.5
Total   14.6    2.3

The Austen name, as can be seen above, was highly concentrated in the county of Kent.  The largest numbers there were in Ramsgate, followed by Tenterden, Tonbridge and Ashford.

Anthony Austin of Suffield, Massachusetts.  Anthony Austin had arrived in New England with his parents on the Bevis in 1638 when he was just two years old.

Growing up in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, he first made his home in Rowley and married Esther Huggins there in 1664.  In 1674 they moved to a new settlement at Suffield in western Massachusetts (which later became part of Connecticut), where other arrivals from Kent had come and Anthony had been granted 50 acres of prime farming land.

However, the early years were traumatic.  In 1675, following the onset of King Philip’s War, Indian attacks were to be expected and the settlers buried all their belongings and vacated to Springfield. Everything the first settlers had built in fact was burnt to the ground by the Indians.  In the spring of 1677 they returned and rebuilt the town.

Anthony Austin was among the first in a line of Indian fighters in his family.  He was promoted to lieutenant in 1681 and captain in 1687. He was also the town clerk for twenty seven years and, reluctantly from 1696 until his death in 1708, the town’s first schoolmaster.

His home in Suffield, built in 1691, still stands; except for its huge central chimney which collapsed in the winter of 2014.

Moses Austin and the Texas Venture.  In 1820 Moses Austin developed a plan for settling an American colony in Spanish Texas. After the Adams-Onis Treaty had clarified Spanish title to Texas, he traveled to San Antonio seeking permission to bring his colonists.

Spurned by Governor Martinez, Moses chanced to meet Baron de Bastrop in one of the most famous turns of history in Texas.  Austin and Bastrop had happened to meet nineteen years earlier when they were both in New Orleans on unrelated trips.  They had had no contact during the interim.

Nevertheless the two recognized each other; and after Bastrop, a resident of San Antonio, had heard the enthusiasm with which Moses spoke of his colonization plan, the baron returned with him to the governor’s office to request permission to establish the colony. On December 26, 1820, Governor Martínez endorsed and forwarded the plan to higher authority.

On the trip out of Texas, Moses contracted pneumonia from four weeks of wet and cold weather.  He subsisted for the last week on roots and berries. Shortly after he reached home, he learned that permission for the colony had been granted, after which he neglected his health and devoted all of his energies to the “Texas Venture.”

Moses lived barely two months more. Two days before he died, he called his wife to his bed.  She drafted the following letter to their son Stephen, probably the most famous letter in Texas history:

“After a considerable exertion to speak, he drew me down to him and with much distress and difficulty of speech, told me it was too late, that he was going.  He begged me to tell you to take his place.  Tell dear Stephen that it is his dying father’s last request to prosecute the enterprise he had commenced.”

Moses Austin died on June 10, 1821 and his son Stephen did fulfill his dying request.

Spadina House in Toronto.  In 1866 James Austin, the founder of the Toronto Dominion Bank, acquired some 80 acres of land in what, later in the century, was to be the wealthiest part of Toronto and where many of Toronto’s leading families would have their homes.  James built Spadina House on the fieldstone foundations of an earlier 1818 building on the site that he had demolished.

In 1892 James turned over the house and 20 acres of the property to his son Albert.   Albert expanded the house in several renovations, including the addition of a third floor in 1912.  He died in 1933.

The last member of the family to live in the house was Anna Kathleen Thompson, Albert’s daughter, who lived there from 1942 until 1982.

By then the aged house had outdated wiring and needed a thorough overhaul, something that would have been far more expensive than simply rebuilding it.  The family therefore decided to donate the house and all of its furnishings to the city. It opened two years later as a museum.  A special attraction today are the gardens.

Anna’s son Austin Seton Thompson published Spadina:A Story of Old Toronto in 1975.

Austin Names

  • Jane Austen was an English novelist of the early 19th century whose works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature. 
  • Stephen F. Austin has been called the father of Texas. He led the successful colonization of the region by bringing ‘the Old Three Hundred” families there from America in 1825. 
  • Herbert Austin launched the Austin Motor Company in 1905. For a time his UK plant at Longbridge was one of the largest car manufacturers in the world.

Austin Numbers Today

  • 34,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 45,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 24,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


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Written by Colin Shelley

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