Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Rawson, Wilhelmina Frances (Mina) (1851–1933)

by Beverley Kingston

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Wilhelmina Frances (Mina) Rawson (1851-1933), writer, was born on 10 October 1851 in King Street East, Sydney, only child of James Cahill, solicitor, and his wife Elizabeth Harriett, née Richardson. After her father's death and when Mina was 12, her mother married Dr James John Cadell of Raymond Terrace, on whose property near Tamworth she learned bushcraft, also independence and initiative, encouraged by her becoming one of sixteen children. She met Lancelot Bernard Rawson in Queensland and married him in Sydney on 26 June 1872.

As a young bride Mina lived west of Mackay, Queensland, at the Rawson brothers' cattle-station, The Hollows, where two boys and a girl were born. In 1877 Lancelot became a partner in Kircubbin sugar plantation, Maryborough. Here Mina acquired a sincere respect for Melanesian labourers. W. T. Wawn, the labour trader, was a friend. When Kircubbin went into bankruptcy in 1880, the Rawsons became the first European settlers at Boonooroo near Wide Bay, where another daughter was born. Mina's memoirs, serialized in the Queenslander (December 1919 - July 1920) as 'Making the best', described her life at their Boonooroo fishing station. Her first 'fairy stories' were published in the Wide Bay News; two appeared eventually in collections edited by Harriet Anne Patchett Martin. Mina wrote partly out of loneliness, partly for money: 'I was the only one earning'. She also made hammocks and feather pillows, kept poultry, and pickled shallots for sale, then wrote about them. Boonooroo was given up because it was hard, unprofitable work, and the Rawsons moved to Rockhampton.

Mina's Queensland Cookery and Poultry Book had been published at Maryborough in 1878. The preface states that 'Mrs Lance Rawson's Cookery Book … is written entirely for the Colonies, and for the middle classes, and for those people who cannot afford to buy a Mrs Beeton or a Warne, but who can afford the three shillings for this'. She believed 'there is really no reason why a lady should not be able to use a hammer as well as a man. If you can only get possession of the tools and a supply of nails you can be independent'. She described enthusiastically her own exploits doctoring stock and building cottages, constructing makeshift ovens from cut-down kerosene tins and jam-jars from beer-bottles. Her light-hearted Australian Poultry Book was in its second edition by 1894. The Australian Enquiry Book of Household and General Information also appeared in 1894 (republished in facsimile in Sydney, 1984) and the Antipodean Cookery Book and Kitchen Companion in 1895. Thereafter new editions, cheap editions, selections and variations on her main themes of resourcefulness and practicality 'where the housewife is her own servant' appeared regularly. Lance Rawson died in 1899. In 1901-02 Mina was social editor of the Rockhampton People's Newspaper.

During the 1890s she became 'the first swimming teacher in central Queensland', probably to add to the family income. She taught 'over 700 girls' in Rockhampton, Townsville and Brisbane to swim. Some were referred by doctors. Others she recruited as she walked to the baths. She recommended light, simple jersey swimsuits to her pupils. Swimming she considered a vital skill and she lobbied to have it taught in schools, to girls as well as boys.

On 30 April 1903 in London Mina married Colonel Francis Richard Ravenhill, a land agent and her former husband's partner at Boonooroo. She died in Sydney on 19 July 1933 and was cremated with Anglican rites. The four children of her first marriage survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • H. A. Martin (ed), Under the Gum Tree (Lond, 1890) and Coo-ee (Lond, 1891)
  • S. Addison and J. McKay, A Good Plain Cook (Brisb, 1985)
  • Australian Book Review, Aug 1984, p 39
  • Maryborough Chronicle, 3 Jan 1882, 4 June 1973
  • Queenslander, 14 Apr 1923, 22, 29 May, 5, 19 June 1926, 17 Aug 1933.

Citation details

Beverley Kingston, 'Rawson, Wilhelmina Frances (Mina) (1851–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rawson-wilhelmina-frances-mina-8163/text14269, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Rawson, Mina
  • Cahill, Wilhelmina Frances
Birth

10 October 1851
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Death

19 July 1933
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence
Occupation