Ellis Rowan bigraphy, stories - botanical illustrator

Ellis Rowan : biography

1848 - 1922

Ellis Rowan on her wedding day [[Flame azalea by Ellis Rowan, from Southern Wildflowers and Trees by Alice Lounsberry]] Marian Ellis Rowan (1848 – 4 October 1922), known as Ellis Rowan, was a well-known Australian botanical illustrator. She also did series of illustrations on birds, butterflies and insects.


Marian, the daughter of Marian and Charles Ryan, principal of stock agents Ryan and Hammond, was born at "Killeen" near Longwood, Victoria, one of her father's pastoral stations in Victoria. Her family was well-connected: sister Ada Mary married Admiral Lord Charles Scott, son of the Duke of Buccleuch; brother Sir Charles Ryan was a noted Melbourne surgeon and for a time Turkish consul in London (and whose daughter became Baroness Casey).

She was educated at Miss Murphy's private school in Melbourne, and in 1873 married Captain Charles Rowan, who had fought in the New Zealand wars. Her husband was interested in botany and he encouraged her to paint wild flowers. She had had no training but working conscientiously and carefully in water-colour; her work is noted for being botanically informative as well as artistic. Rowan returned to Melbourne in 1877, and for many years travelled in Australia painting the flora of the country, at times in the company of her painting companion, Margaret Forrest. She published in 1898 A Flower-Hunter in Queensland and New Zealand, largely based on letters to her husband and friends.

About this time she went to North America and provided the illustrations, many in colour, to A Guide to the Wild Flowers, by Alice Lounsberry, published in New York in 1899 as well as Guide to the Trees (1900), and Southern Wild Flowers and Trees (1901) also by Lounsberry. It was while in America, traveling with Lounsberry, that Rowan received news that her son Russell (called "Puck") had been killed in the Second Boer War. In 1905 she held a successful exhibition in London. She returned to Australia and held exhibitions of her work which sold at comparatively high prices. In 1916 she made a trip to New Guinea, the first of several during which she produced a huge volume of illustrations. She contracted malaria during these journeys. In 1920 she held the largest solo exhibition seen in Australia at the time, when she exhibited 1000 of her works in Sydney. She died at Macedon, Victoria, her husband and her only son having died many years earlier.

Carolina Jessamine]] Other books by Rowan published in Australia were Bill Baillie, his Life and Adventures, The Queensland Flora, and Sketches in Black and White in New Zealand.

Several accounts of her career have been published including:

  • Australia's Brilliant Daughter Ellis Rowan: Artist, Naturalist, Explorer 1848–1922 (1984) by Margaret Hazzard. ISBN 0-909104-73-5
  • Flower Paintings of Ellis Rowan from the Collection of the National Library of Australia (1982) by M. Hazzard and H. Hewson. ISBN 0-642-89730-1
  • Ellis Rowan: A Flower-Hunter in Queensland (1990) by J. McKay. ISBN 0-7242-3847-6
  • (2002) by Patricia Fullerton. ISBN 0-642-10760-2
  • Wild Flower Hunter--the story of Ellis Rowan (1961) by her niece, H. J. (Helen Jo) Samuel.

Rowan Street in the Canberra suburb of Cook is named in her honour.

In 1923, a year after her death, her surviving collection of 952 paintings was offered to the Australian government by her estate. The offer was debated in the House of Representatives. Parliament eventually agreed on a price of 5000 pounds for the paintings, half the asking price, and they became the property of the Australian Commonwealth. The collection was stored in the vaults of the Federal Treasury in Melbourne until 1933, when custody was transferred to the Commonwealth National Library. The paintings are now housed at the National Library of Australia. A further fifty-two paintings are held at the Queensland Museum. The Australian Club in Melbourne, one of that city's oldest and most venerable establishments, has a room with the walls entirely covered in murals by her, painted as a result of a commission from the Club.

Her portrait by Sir John Longstaff, paid for by public subscription, was unveiled in 1929. It was the first national portrait of an Australian woman.


  • The National Library of Australia.


Her year of birth is quoted in the Dictionary of Australian Biography as 1847, other online sources vary from 1847 to 1849. BMD records show 1848 in Melbourne. 
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