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Covent Garden

'Your Humble Petitioner’: Class, Gender, and Empire Through the Life of Ann Hicks

This project traces the life of a working-class woman from London in the 1830s to Melbourne in the 1870s. Thrust into the public eye by her eviction from Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition of 1851, Hicks’s situation came to be a topic in public discourse around class relations, the rights of citizens, and the role of government. Relying on periodicals, public records, and her own letters from both before and after her emigration to Australia, I use Hicks as a case study to examine class and gender at the height of the British Empire. Accounts of her eviction from Hyde Park and anecdotes about her final days on an Australian beach were still being mentioned in published works a hundred years after her death. Not content to allow others to speak for her, Hicks took an active role in her own story and wrote about her life in letters to everyone from newspaper editors to Queen Victoria. My study assesses the voice of a dispossessed imperial subject active in the making of her own narrative, as she navigated the wider imperial world.
An early portion of this project was presented as “‘Your Humble Petitioner’: Working Class Respect and Female Voice at the Height of the British Empire,” at the Symposium on Gender, History, and Sexuality at University of Texas. A digital history project is currently being constructed which explores the notable spaces, events, and people that Ann Hicks encountered and corresponded with, including the Great Exhibition, the Australian Gold Fields, Charles Dickens, and Queen Victoria.

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