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Wicken, Harriett Frances (1847–1937)

by Beverley Kingston

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Harriett Frances Wicken (1847-1937), cookery writer, was born on 31 December 1847 at Lambeth, England, daughter of Joseph Smith, ironmonger, and his wife Harriett, née Pugh. On 24 November 1865 at the parish church of St Mary, Lambeth, as Harriette she married George Charles Wicken, a builder of Tulse Hill. A son Percy George (1866-1952) was followed by four more sons and two daughters. George Wicken died of phthisis in 1873 and apparently only two sons, Percy and Arthur, survived to adulthood. Soon after it opened in 1874, Harriette acquired a diploma from the National Training School for Cookery, South Kensington, and became a cookery lecturer and demonstrator. In 1885 her Kingswood Cookery Book, based on her classes, was published in London.

In 1884 Percy migrated to Victoria and Harriet (as she now spelled her name) followed him with Arthur in September 1886. Befriended by Lady Loch, wife of the governor Sir Henry Loch, Harriet gave cooking classes at Warrnambool. Having arranged an Australian edition of her cookery book, she moved to Sydney where she was appointed lecturer in charge of the department of domestic economy at Sydney Technical College, Ultimo. On 2 September 1889 she presented to (Sir) Joseph Carruthers, minister of public instruction, a copy of the revised, enlarged Australian edition of the Kingswood Cookery Book, in which she set out to teach a modern scientific domestic economy to Australian housekeepers. A new edition, now dedicated, with permission, to the Countess of Jersey, to be used as a text by her cooking classes, appeared in 1891 with a companion handbook of domestic economy, The Australian Home, which was dedicated to Carruthers 'in recognition of his eminent services in the cause of technical education'.

To The Art of Living in Australia (Sydney, 1893), written by her Macquarie Street neighbour and diet reformer, Dr Philip Muskett, she contributed a section of about 300 recipes. Though in sympathy with his campaign to encourage Australians to eat more fish and less meat, and to be more adventurous in the use of fruit and vegetables, her recipes were not really suited to Muskett's purpose. In other small cookbooks that appeared during the 1890s she stressed simplicity and her favourite 'dainty' recipes, though most merely adapted traditional English styles. For lighter food she advocated the use of an ice chest, which she thought a more desirable but less common piece of household equipment in Australia than either a sewing machine or a piano.

Percy gained a diploma from Hawkesbury Agricultural College in 1892 and joined the college staff as chief experimentalist. Muskett lectured to his students. The chokos, okra, eggplants and madagasca beans recorded in Percy's annual reports began to appear also in Harriet's vegetable dishes.

After 1896 Harriet no longer taught at the technical college, but her students—like Amy Schauer—began to staff the new schools of domestic economy throughout the education system. Harriet continued to demonstrate cooking with gas, which became one of her specialties. She also continued to produce small cookery books to order, such as The Cook's Compass (Sydney, 1890) to promote the Sydney grocers J. G. Hanks & Co, and Fish Dainties (Melbourne, 1892) for the Melbourne Mutual Provedoring Co., or as seasonal gestures, for example Recipes of Lenten Dishes (1896).

In 1898 Arthur died in Sydney of phthisis. In 1900 Percy married and moved to Perth as officer in charge of the information bureau, Western Australian Agricultural Department. Harriet also went to Perth and taught for some time at Perth High School. The sixth and last edition of her Kingswood Cookery Book appeared in 1913.

When she died on 27 October 1937 at The Haven, Leederville, Percy was her only surviving relation. She was buried in the Anglican section of Karrakatta cemetery. On her death certificate her father had become a 'merchant' and her name had reverted to Harriett. Percy died on 23 July 1952 at Subiaco. Judging from her books, Harriet Wicken was brisk, confident, practical, and very neat, even dainty, keenly aware of the value of influence, and shameless at using it. She saw Australia as part of 'Greater Britain' and though she became devoted to 'Australia's fair daughters' she remained the complete Englishwoman.

Select Bibliography

  • The Official Guide to Western Australia (Perth, 1909), p 103
  • B. R. Austin (compiler), A Bibliography of Australian Cookery Books Published Prior to 1941 (Melb, 1987)
  • C. Bannerman, A Friend in the Kitchen (Syd, 1996)
  • Wicken card file (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Beverley Kingston, 'Wicken, Harriett Frances (1847–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/wicken-harriett-frances-13247/text4709, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 21 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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