WILKINS, HARRIETT (Harriet) ANNIE, teacher and poet; b. in 1829 in Bath, England, daughter of the Reverend John Wilkins, a Congregationalist minister; d. 7 Jan. 1888 in Hamilton, Ont.
Harriett Annie Wilkins arrived in Hamilton with her family in about 1846. Her father, who had come to act as an interim pastor at the First Congregational Church, Hamilton, died a year or so after his arrival. The poor health of her mother combined with the marriage of her older sister forced Harriett to care for those who remained at home. Her classical and musical knowledge enabled her to conduct a seminary for young ladies and teach music in the family home. She augmented her income by writing poetry. Soon after her arrival in Hamilton she began an association with the Spectator and Journal of Commerce which was to last 30 years: she regularly submitted poems to the “Poet’s Corner” and all but one of her five books of poetry (issued as by “Harriett Annie”) were printed in the Spectator office. The holly branch (1851), The acacia (1860 and 1863), Autumn leaves (1869), and Victor Roy; a masonic poem (1882) were published in Hamilton; Wayside flowers (1876), a collection of her poems, was published in Toronto. Her poems also appeared in the Canadian Illustrated News (Hamilton).
The poetry seems to have had a fairly wide circulation and Wayside flowers was reviewed as far away as Chicago. In the preface, the Reverend William Stephenson of Hamilton, who knew the author well, praised her Christian virtues and expressed hope that her “natural, hearty, and pure” poetry would be well received by a generous public. Copies of her volumes continue to be found in widely dispersed places, indicating its contemporary appeal. But it is now read more for the reflection it presents of the times than for its intrinsic merit. The subject matter, often of particular interest to local historians, includes nature, history, mythology, legend, events of the day at home and abroad, and milestones in the lives of all sorts and conditions of men. The treatment is usually strongly religious. Harriett Annie joined the Church of England after her arrival in Hamilton and a number of her poems suggest that she was an ardent admirer of freemasonry.
The Spectator gave Harriett Annie a laudatory obituary that was unusually long for an impoverished schoolmistress. It and reminiscences of those who knew her portray a Victorian lady who ministered faithfully to the sick, the unfortunate, the neglected, and the forgotten, including prisoners in the jail; they also describe a good teacher and a well-educated woman of considerable literary ability.
Harriett Annie Wilkins was the author of The acacia (Hamilton, [Ont.], 1860; [2nd ed.], 1863); Autumn leaves (Hamilton, 1869); The holly branch (Hamilton, 1851); Victor Roy; a masonic poem (Hamilton, 1882); and Wayside flowers (Toronto, 1876).
HPL, Scrapbook of clippings of Harriett Annie Wilkins. Canadian Illustrated News (Hamilton), 1862–64. Hamilton Herald (Hamilton), 14 Dec. 1901; 22 Oct. 1910; 7 June, 30 Aug. 1912. Hamilton Spectator, 9 Jan. 1888, 15 April 1916, 26 July 1924. Hamilton directory, 1853–90.