May 232013


qoung tart tea room

On this day in 1889 Louisa Lawson, Australian campaigner for women’s rights, poet, and mother of Australian poet Henry Lawson, founded the Dawn Club at a meeting at Forresters Hall, Sydney. It was one of the earliest clubs to discuss women’s rights, especially the right to vote.  It was an outgrowth of her journal, Dawn

After the inaugural event, meetings were commonly held in one of Quong Tart’s tea rooms. Tea rooms at the time were popular places to meet and have tea with light snacks and pastries of all sorts.  Quong Tart was a tea and silk merchant from China, and his tea rooms were spectacular. A popular meeting place for the Dawn club was the Loong Shan Tea Giyse at 137 King Street, Sydney. It was his grandest tea room, with marble fountains and ponds with golden carp. Upstairs was a reading room and large meeting hall.

These quotes are from her speech at the inauguration of The Dawn Club:

“Now as we have no time to be elaborate or diffuse, we must be methodical, and we will take first the reasons why women claim the right to vote; and then we will pick up the objections one by one and turn them inside out to show their entire vacuity, and finally review briefly what women are doing now in other countries (in order to show how woefully we in New South Wales are behind the times).”

“The whole principle of the Justice of the woman’s vote agitation may be compressed into a question: Who ordained that men only should make the laws to which both men and women have to conform?”

“Men tell us we are responsible for the home and education of children, that the morals of society are in our keeping; they have bound our hands and placed us in the front rank of the battle”

“I see a new heaven and a new earth . . . brother and sister standing shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart in the great fight for right, truth and justice, for better laws, for better protection to our sons and daughters, for better and purer homes.”

The self-governing British colony of South Australia gave women the right to vote and, furthermore, enabled women to stand for the colonial parliament in 1894, well before any European nation, and only a year behind New Zealand, first in the world.  The Commonwealth of Australia federated in 1901, with women voting and standing for office in some states. The Australian Federal Parliament extended voting rights to all adult women for Federal elections from 1902 (with the exception of Aboriginal women in some states). Catherine Helen Spence stood for office in 1897 in South Australia (unsuccessfully), a first for the modern world.

Tea rooms were originally set up in the Western world by tea merchants so that people could taste the many varieties of tea on offer.  Dainties typically accompanies the tea sampling.  Soon they grew into places of social gathering with more elaborate foods on offer, sometimes even full meals.  Many had meeting rooms for large gatherings. Quong Tart’s tea rooms had meeting rooms for up to 500 people.

Let me take this opportunity to correct an error that is a royal pet peeve of mine. People in the U.S. and restaurants there continue to perpetuate the error that afternoon tea with little sandwiches and fancy cakes is “high tea” thinking “high” in this context means “regal” or lofty.  It is not.  High tea is the opposite of afternoon tea.  It refers historically (and to a degree now) to a full dinner eaten by working class families directly after returning from work, and by children who ate their dinner early because they were too young to eat with the adults.  There is some debate as to the meaning of the word “high” here. Some people say it is in contrast to low tea, based not on quality, but on the height of the tables. High tea was eaten at a high table, low tea at a low table (like a coffee table).  Others believe it refers to the early hour it was eaten (5:30 to 6 pm), related to the meanings  of “high” in “high time” or “high noon.”  Whatever the reason, STOP USING “HIGH TEA” TO REFER TO AFTERNOON TEA!!!

I’m giving a recipe for classic English tea cakes today, to have for afternoon tea. They’re a bit like a scone except they are raised with yeast.  Typically you eat them fresh from the oven. If you have leftovers you can cut them in half, and brown the cut faces under a broiler.  Then slather them with butter.  This recipe is nice and spicy.  The ‘mixed spice’ of British cookery is primarily used in sweet baking, similar to France’s sweet quatre-épices. It typically incorporates powdered cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and allspice in equal parts. In this case because cinnamon and nutmeg are already in the ingredient list I would add a pincheach of ginger, cloves, and allspice.

English Tea Cakes


13oz (375g) strong white bread flour
½ tsp sea salt flakes, lightly crushed
¼oz (7g)  fast-action dried yeast
1 tsp ground mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ orange, zest only, chopped fine
1¾oz (50g) caster sugar
1¾oz (50g) unsalted butter, cubed
5fl oz (150ml) 2% milk
1 egg, beaten
4½oz (125g) mixed dried fruit
sunflower oil, for greasing


Mix the flour, salt, yeast, spices, orange zest and sugar in a large bowl.

Put the butter and milk in a small saucepan and heat very gently until the butter is melted and the milk is just lukewarm. Remove from the heat and whisk in the egg. Make sure the milk and butter mix is lukewarm only, otherwise it will scramble the egg and kill the yeast.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the warm butter, milk and egg. Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a ball.

Turn out on a very lightly floured surface and knead for five minutes to form a smooth, pliable dough. Knead the fruit into the dough until evenly distributed, then place the dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover loosely with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 1½ hours, or until doubled in size and spongy to touch.

Knead the dough lightly, divide into six portions and roll into balls. Using a rolling pin, flatten each ball to a circle about ½in (1cm) thick and place on a large baking tray lined with baking parchment. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for a further 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Remove the tea towel and bake the teacakes in the center of the oven for 15-18 minutes, or until well risen and golden-brown. Serve warm, cut in half and spread thickly with butter.

Yield: 6 teacakes

  6 Responses to “Louisa Lawson and The Dawn Club”

  1. Oh thank you for this, I am currently researching Louisa Lawson for a play I am writing and this description of the tea rooms sounds delightful

    • You’re welcome. I wrote this post in the early days of the blog, so it’s briefer than more recent posts. It gives the basic idea of the tea rooms, however, and you can find out more about them online.

  2. Hello thanks for this little nugget of atmosphere. I was wondering if you could share your source for this delightful information. I am also researching the amazing Louisa Lawson. Thank you again.

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