Hannah Maclurcan

Hannah Maclurcan (1861-1936), cook and hotelier, was born Phillips on 29 December 1861 at Tambaroora near Hill End, New South Wales, daughter of a hotel proprietor. In 1880 Hannah married Robert Watson Wigham. She travelled via the Batavia to Europe in 1882 returning the following year. With her husband she ran the Queen's Hotel in Townsville, Queensland. She was widowed and in 1887 married Donald Boulton Maclurcan, a retired master mariner. Donald Charles Boulton was their only son.

Hannah published a cookbook which was in its third edition by l899. Her claim that the majority of the recipes were her own invention was not unusual in cookbooks of the period but her recipes certainly differed from those in books coming from England: she used pawpaw, barramundi, oysters (to which she devoted a chapter, as she did to crab), pumpkin tops (the shoots of the pumpkin vine) and wild game, including pigmy goose and wallaby. Her economical dinners relied heavily on that Australian standby, mutton. She espoused no particular line on nutrition, beyond insisting that cooks taste what they prepared and beware of over-cooking. She had a knowledge of Jewish, Italian and French dishes.

In 1901 Donald Maclurcan was licensee of the Wentworth Hotel, Sydney, and following his death in 1903, Hannah held the license. Her son was apprenticed to the Empire Electric Light Company and a room at the Wentworth was set aside for his wireless set. Under her management the Wentworth became fashionable: she redecorated expensively and with taste. The city's notables took tea in its palm court and she published their activities in a glossy Wentworth Magazine, sold in bookstalls around Australia and in London. It published stories by Ethel Turner, Jessie Litchfield (qq.v.) and other women writers, and promoted her cookbook.

By the 1920s Mrs Maclurcan lived in considerable style as the owner of 'Bilgola' where she planted palms and shrubs brought from Fiji and Hawaii; she took her holidays in fashionable resorts, went on sea cruises and was chauffeur-driven in a straight eight Packard. She owned seven Pekinese dogs with which she was frequently photographed. She was a supporter of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

In 1930-31 the hotel was adversely affected by the depression and the noise from the construction of the Harbour Bridge approach. Mrs Maclurcan rallied her strength to install an indoor golf course in the palm court as an additional attraction to her clientele, but the hotel did not again show a profit until 1936. She died in 1936 survived by her third husband Robert Lee. With the proceeds of the sale of her home and borrowed money, her son added 50 rooms to the hotel which remained in Maclurcan hands until sold in 1951 to Qantas.

Michal Bosworth