1878 Wilhelmina Rawson’s Queensland cookbook

Copy owned by Florrie Thomas of Mount Mee. Image: Mount Mee Museum -

Owing to a strange custom that persisted until at least the 1950s, it was common to refer to a married woman not only with her husband’s surname but also with his given name. Which is why Wilhelmina  Rawson was widely known in her day as Mrs Lance Rawson. Under that name, she wrote many newspaper articles describing her life in rural Queensland, as well as several books on cookery and poultry raising.

Her first book was titled The Queensland Cookery and Poultry Book and was published in 1878. A notice in The Queenslander simply called it Mrs Lance Rawson’s Cookery Book and praised it as a valuable resource for those who “pass much of their lives beyond the reach of shop accommodation”.  Wilhelmina Rawson (Mina) had followed her husband, Lance, from a cattle station near Mackay to a sugar plantation at Maryborough, North Queensland, and was no stranger to the isolation imposed by living in the bush.

The Queenslander commented on Mrs Rawson’s inclusion of recipes for Australia’s indigenous animals and plants:

The indigenous fauna of Australian have been looked on with unreasoning aversion by a people bred upon beef and mutton, and it is within reach of a bushman wasting upon salt beef and damper, with Mrs. Rawson’s aid, to sit down to such a feast as parrot soup, curried bandicoot, baked wallaby, with a plentiful assortment of wild vegetables, such as pigweed, marshmallow, and calabashes.

The book was the first Australian cookbook written by a women. It was evidently successful. A second edition was published in 1887 and a third in 1890. Rawson went on to produce several more books including Australian Poultry Book, The Australian Enquiry Book of Household and General Information and, in 1895, the Antipodean Cookery Book and Kitchen Companion. In the last of these, she acknowledges the assistance of First Nations people, saying “I am beholden to the blacks for nearly all my knowledge of the edible ground game”. She was more adventurous than most colonists, praising witchety grubs and even writing that “Carpet snake is very good roasted; unfortunately there is not much on them”.

Wilhelmina Rawson’s cookery books were not organised in the neat chapters we expect from later publications. For example, in The Antipodean Cookery Book, a recipe for Tomato Jam is immediately followed by those for A Reliable Washing Fluid and a Good Poultice. Then follow instructions for making Silver Soap before returning to the culinary with a recipe for Tartar Sauce. From instructions for burying a wallaby to make it tender, the book moves straight on to Orange Pudding.  Fortunately, there is an index. The complete text of the book is available online thanks to the National Library of Australia.

Lance Rawson died in 1899, but Mina did not stop writing. She became the social editor of the Rockhampton People’s Newspaper. In 1903 she married her husband’s former business partner Colonel Francis Richard Ravenhill. He died three years later, but Mina survived him by 27 years, dying in Sydney in 1933.

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