October 17 - 23, 2021: Issue 514


Ellis Rowan's Adventures In Painting Birds, Flowers And Insects: 'This Meant That I Was Tapu - Sacred - Because I Painted The Birds'

Ellis Rowan, Four parrakeets in a gum tree (circa 1911) - watercolour and gouache, 55.2 × 40.4 cm irreg. (image and sheet). Courtesy National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Presented by Whitcombe and Tombs, 1969. Photo: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

For those who go birdwatching, take photographs of or paint birds, or even just listen for a nocturnal bird's soft soothing calls through the night, the connection to these, the study of their individual characters and species characteristics, and their society as one species of many kinds within a specific ecosystem, not only reminds us of the many characteristics, tiers and places of humans, it also connects us to the language of the birds and a stronger sense of a shared divinity.

Although birds are sacred to many and have been so in all cultures from time immemorial, our own land and Pittwater itself is filled with songlines of birds, and with studies having proved this land is where all songbirds in the world originated from, the experience of one of our earliest successful female artists when a septuagenarian, in being found sacred because she painted or had a strong connection to birds, must have been as an affirmation of her own lifelong beliefs.

Marian Ellis Rowan (July 30, 1848 – October 4, 1922), known as Ellis Rowan, was a well-known Australian botanical illustrator who also did series of illustrations on birds, butterflies and insects. The first child and daughter of Marian, née Cotton, and Charles Ryan, principal of stock agents Ryan and Hammond, she 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), surgeon (Sir) Charles Snodgrass Ryan and noted innovative Tasmanian mining engineer Cecil Godfrey Ryan were also brothersJohn Cotton, her grandfather, wrote and illustrated two books on English birds; The Resident Song Birds of Great Britain … (London, 1835), and an enlarged edition of the same work, The Song Birds of Great Britain (London, 1836), with thirty-three coloured plates. After his arrival here he published Journal of a Voyage in the Barque 'Parkfield' … in the Year 1843 (London, 1845) which contains a number of poems, and Cotton shares with Richard Howitt (Impressions of Australia Felix … Australian Poems … London, 1845) the distinction of publishing overseas the first verse to come from Victoria. His list of Victorian birds appeared in the Tasmanian Journal of Natural Science, vol. 3, 1848. He was made a fellow of the Royal Zoological Society for his work on birds. Another of his daughters, Caroline, married Albert A. C. Le Souef and among their children were three distinguished zoologists: William H. Dudley, Ernest A. and Albert Sherbourne Le Souef, the gentleman whose vision was realised in Taronga Zoo.

Stubbs, William J. (187-?). Photographic portrait of Ellis Rowan Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-136199398

Ellis was educated at Miss Murphy's private school in Melbourne. In 1869, while visiting English relatives, her painting of wildflowers was greatly admired and her family encouraged her to continue painting in her own unique style.

In 1873 married Captain Frederic Charles Rowan, who had fought in the New Zealand wars. They lived in New Zealand for four years after the marriage. In January 1875 Ellis returned to Derriweit Heights in Macedon, where she painted for six months while awaiting the birth of her only child, Frederic Charles Eric Elliott Rowan, known simply as Puck. Following the birth, she returned to New Zealand for the next three years before moving to the ‘marvellous Melbourne’ of 1878 with her husband. In the following years she accompanied him on his business trips around Australia, taking the opportunity to paint our indigenous flowers.

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. Her interest in botany was also encouraged by Ferdinand von Mueller, who was a friend of her father. 

At other times Ellis travelled in the company of her painting companion, Margaret Forrest.

Peince. (1887). Ellis Rowan sketching Mary Moule sitting on the ground Retrieved  from http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-136503457 Image shows Ellis Rowan painting at her easel with Mary Moule sitting on the ground reading a book and Eric Rowan riding a pony. Inscriptions: "To Miss Moule with compliments Feb' 7 1887"--Verso centre; "Eric (Puck) Rowan on pony"--Verso lower centre; Signed "Peince"--Lower right corner.

From 1879 onwards she exhibited works at numerous international exhibitions and was awarded 10 gold medals, 15 silver medals and four bronze medals. In many instances, the Chicago Exhibition as one example, her awards were the only given to an Australian. She was awarded the highest honours at the 1888 Centennial International Exhibition in Melbourne, honours which attracted envious remarks from other artists who considered the painting of flowers an 'inferior art'. However, the remarks are tainted with misogynist 'inferior sex' beliefs, leading some to surmise it was her gender that was objected to most. She was celebrated by many nonetheless and became one of the most well-known artists in her home state, and then across Australia and the world, for decades. 

In March 1883, Rowan and her sister Blanche Ryan travelled to England via India, where she painted in the Himalayan foothills. That year she won gold medals in Amsterdam, St Petersburg and Calcutta.

The 1880s was a highly productive decade for Ellis Rowan; she painted a number of rare species for von Mueller’s classification and, with a growing sense of making a living from her art, made several versions of her more popular subjects for sale in exhibitions. During this period over 100 engravings of her flowers and scenes were published, her watercolours became bolder in colour and presentation, and she began to paint in oils.

The Painter of the Picture.

As have already intimated to our readers, the artist to whom we are indebted for the beautiful group of Australian wild flowers which forms the colored supplement to the present Christmas number of the' TOWN AND COUNTRY JOURNAL is Mrs. Ellis Rowan. Mrs. Rowan is an Australian by birth, and a daughter of Mr. Charles Ryan, of Derriweit, Macedon, Victoria. At a very early age she showed a peculiar love for flowers ; and she took a delight in making sketches of them, which, for one so young, were remarkable for their accuracy. As she grew older the power was more manifest ; and she was most happy in her choice and use of color in flower painting. Naturally gifted with artistic genius, she depended almost wholly upon herself in her studies for she received, practically, very little teaching in the way of either drawing or painting. But she had an eye for color and form which never deceived her. 

As she added earnest and indefatigable work to her talent, she soon made her mark ; and at the end of fifteen years of labor she is now admitted to be the best flower painter of whom Australia can boast. The floral products of her native country have always had special charms for Mrs. Rowan ; and she has travelled all through the colonies in order to study their peculiarities, Mrs. Rowan first exhibited her paintings in the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1873, where she obtained a bronze medal. Several years of steady application to her work mostly in New Zealand followed ; and when she exhibited in the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879 she was awarded the first degree of merit, and a special and the only silver medal given for flower paintings.

In the following year, in Melbourne, she obtained another first order of merit and a gold medal. She subsequently exhibited in Calcutta (silver medal), in 'St. Petersburg (special diploma and gold medal), in Antwerp (silver medal), in; the Crystal Palace, London (silver medal), and in the Adelaide Jubilee Exhibition (five first awards and medal). In the Indian and Colonial Exhibition, London, a loan collection of her paintings was displayed by the Victorian Commissioners, which drew many visitors to their court. On this occasion, and in recognition of Mrs. Rowan's eminent talent as an Australian artist, a first award and medal were publicly presented to her by the Governor of Victoria (Sir H. B. Loch), at the request of the Commission. She has contributed to the Centennial International Exhibition, Melbourne, two special paintings, with several interesting black and white sketches of Queensland tropical scenery. The Queensland Commissioners have also borrowed from Mrs. Rowan a large number of her groups ; and the New Zealand Commissioners have done likewise. Lady Loch, on behalf of the women of Victoria, invited Mrs. Rowan to embellish and illustrate the title page of the Jubilee address of congratulation forwarded to the Queen last year. 

Altogether, Mrs. Rowan's artistic career has been successful in the highest degree, and deservedly' so. She is now a member of the Victorian Artists' Association and should be elected a honorary member of every other artistic body throughout Australia, Mrs. Rowan is the wife of Captain F. C. Rowan, of Queen-street, Melbourne.

Mrs. Ellis Rowan, the Australian Flower Artist. (THE PAINTER OF OUR COLORED SUPPLEMENT.)  

The Painter of the Picture. (1888, December 22). Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1919), p. 18. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71105753

Her husband passed away in 1892 at aged 47:


It is with regret that we record the death of Captain F. C. Rowan, a gentleman who has been well known in business and social circles in Melbourne, Sydney, and Adelaide for years past. He left Sydney in excellent health on Friday, the 2nd inst., but caught a severe cold on the journey, which resulted in an attack of acute pneumonia, from which he died at Melbourne yesterday afternoon, he was attended by Dr. J. P. Ryan and Mr. Charles Ryan, but almost from the first it was seen that the case was hopeless. 

Captain Rowan, who was only 47 years of age, was born in England and educated in Canada, where his father, who was an engineer, built the first railway in that dependency. He was educated for the army, in which his uncle, Field-Marshal Sir William Rowan, had done distinguished service. When he was about 18 or 19 years of age he was attached to the 43rd Regiment as lieutenant, and went with the regiment to New Zealand, where the Government and the natives were at war. He' saw some service with the troops, and during a peace, which proved to be only temporary, he resigned and joined the local forces. He was stationed at Chatham Island, and was there at the time when the celebrated Te Kooti made his escape with 150 followers. During the war which followed Lieutenant Rowan served with distinction, and gained his captaincy. He was noted for cool and determined bravery, and was always in the hottest of the fight. On one occasion the white troops suffered tremendously in an attack on a pan. Nearly all the officers were killed, and Captain Rowan was struck down by a bullet, which passed through his face from side to side. 

About 20 years ago he came to Victoria, where he entered into business. He married the eldest daughter of Mr. Charles Ryan, of Upper Macedon. Having always a keen interest in scientific matters, he became connected with the electric lighting movement in conjunction with Sir Julius Vogel, whose place he took as manager of the Australasian Electric Light, Power, and Storage Company, which had works in Melbourne, Sydney, and Adelaide. 

About three years ago the company was bought by the British Electric and Engineering Company, and Captain Rowan continued his management under the new proprietary. He was a shrewd and energetic man of business, and was strictly upright and honourable in all his transactions. His tall soldierly figure was well known in Collins street, but for the past few years his headquarters have been in Sydney. His genial manners and high character endeared him to a very large circle of friends. Captain Rowan leaves a widow and one son. DEATH OF CAPTAIN F. C. ROWAN. (1892, December 12). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8491635

After the death of her husband went overseas to New Zealand, London and North America where she 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. While in America, traveling with Lounsberry, Mrs. Rowan received news that her son (called "Puck") had died while serving in the Second Boer War.

In 1898 A Flower Hunter in Queensland and New Zealand, largely based on letters to her husband and friends, was published.

The Dedication and Preface reads:



My love for the flora of Australia, at once so unique and so fascinating, together with my desire to complete my collection of floral paintings, has carried me into other colonies, Queensland, and some of the remotest parts of the great Continent of Australia. The excitement of seeking and the delight of finding rare or even unknown specimens [1.] abundantly compensated me for all difficulties, fatigue, and hardships. The pursuit has made me acquainted with many strange phases of colonial life; it has carried me into the depths of jungles, to distant islands, to wild mountain districts, and has brought me in contact with the aboriginal races, often in peculiar circumstances. 

The experiences gained in this pursuit form the subject of my letters, written to my friends from the places they describe, and transcribing impressions while they were still in all their freshness. The letters contained in the first part of this volume were written to my husband in 1890-1892, at a time when the state of my health compelled me to pass the winter months in the tropical climate of North Queensland. To him, who encouraged me in my work of collecting and painting the flora of Australia, they owe whatever interest they possess. The task, which I undertook at first to please him, soon became my greatest interest and an unfailing source of pleasure. The latter part of the book consists of a selection of my letters from New Zealand, written some years later in sadder days and altered circumstances. Portions of some of these letters appeared in the Sydney Town and Country Journal, and for permission to reprint these passages I am indebted to the kind courtesy of the proprietor. 

It only remains for me to express my gratitude to the many friends in Queensland and New Zealand for their kindness to me, and for the generous and ungrudging help given me in my work. 

E. R. 

November 1897. 

1. Those specimens hitherto unknown were named by the late Sir Frederick Muller. 

The book is available to download or read in full online at: https://archive.org/details/flowerhunterinq00rowa/page/n11/mode/2up

Rowan, Ellis & Geo. Murray & Co. (Sydney, N.S.W.). ([189-?]). Australian birds Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-136190048

One letter:

Somerset, Cape York.

I have not written to you for a week, but posts are very irregular, and the residents here have to trust to the Government steamer, or their own boats (when they are here) to bring them. I was to have gone back to Thursday Island to-day, but I feel like a boy who has been granted extra holidays, because I remain now for another fortnight, and then, before turning my face homewards, I am to take another few weeks visiting  the different islands in the Straits. This visit has been one long summer’s day, and I shall never leave any place with more regret. The sketch I send you gives a very poor idea of the beauty of everything here. This little bay, with its wonderfully blue water, contrasts splendidly with the endless shades of colour in the jungle, where the leaves are sometimes almost as brilliant as the flowers themselves, and yet they tell me this is the worst time of the year to see it. 

When we landed here, the little pathway up the cliff to the house was so full of interest, with all its new plants — new, at least, to me — that I made every excuse to loiter. I do not know if many botanists have been here already, but excepting three trees, there is absolutely not one plant that I have ever seen before, and at a little distance from the sea and sheltered from the wind, the jungle is even more beautiful than on the Johnstone River, which I thought nothing could surpass. There is a magnificent palm tree beside the Jardines’ house, of a species which is not known anywhere else, except in one spot a few miles away, and the native fig trees, now covered with fruit, are magnificent-looking, with wonderful colouring, their young leaves of a delicate pink, shaded off to a vivid green in the older, while they are as large as most of our English trees. Another tree, with clusters of flowers like a jessamine, is a mass of starry blossoms, and the whole air is redolent with its scent. 

Marcus Clarke in his beautifully-phrased introduction to the poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon, characterises Australia as “a land whose flowers are without scent, whose birds are without song, whose trees are without shade ; a land where Nature was learning her ABC, and upon which she had scribbled her early thoughts in quaint and curious hieroglyphs, in savage and secret signs, laden with Sibylline oracles of Orphic potency ; a land in which the deep-voiced wind that sweeps the broad bosom of the earth makes wild and mournful melody — a melody that moans in the leaves of the spectral gum, or whispers among the feathery foliage of the weird casuarina”. Now, however eloquent such a description may undoubtedly be, the writer has allowed his wish for effect to mar his accuracy ; and, although our landscapes may frequently present only the sad or savage aspect of Nature, the flowers of the Australian bush are beautiful, and noted for delicacy of form and richness of colour to such an extent, that in external loveliness they may well challenge comparison with the tenderly-nurtured children of the gardens and conservatories of the older world. 

To stigmatise them as without scent is, moreover, a grave injustice, for many of them emit freely a perfume which fills the surrounding air with fragrance. 

What can be more exquisite or more delicate than the scent of Boronia megastigma and Boronia heterophylla ; of Boronia serrulata , Sydney native rose, of many of the acacias ; of Arthropodium strictum ; of Alyxia buxifolia, or of the beautiful so-called “rock -lily” of Sydney, Dendrobium speciosum ? Surely Marcus Clarke was a little too sweeping in his condemnation. 

Rowan, Ellis. ([188-?]). Thelychiton speciosus (Sm.) M.A. Clem and D.L. Jones (syn Dendrobium speciosum) Sydney rock orchid or Rock lily, family Orchidaceae, New South Wales Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-138825967

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 1908 her book 'Bill Baillie' was published. Bill Baillie tells the story of a bold and inquisitive bilby. Bill Baillie lives with his owner and friend, Tabitha, and accompanies her when she goes to interesting places to paint wildflowers. Still available now, Bill Baillie: The Life and Adventures of a Pet Bilby, is an abridged adaptation of Ellis Rowan's fictional memoir about an orphaned bilby that she adopted and raised as a pet. Beginning in the middle of the desert in Western Australia, Bill Baillie's travels and escapades provide an insight into the Australian geography and lifestyle of the early 1890s.

In 1916 she made the first of two trips to New Guinea during which she produced a huge volume of illustrations of insects, plants and, from life, 25 species of birds of paradise. 

While there this first time she contracted malaria, which, along with fatigue at doing so much when now in her 70's, contributed to her death. 

In 1920 she held the largest solo exhibition seen in Australia at the time, when she exhibited 1000 of her works in Sydney:

Mrs Ellis Rowan's Fine Paintings

There is at present, on exhibition at Messrs. Anthony Hordern's fine art gallery, a remarkable collection of paintings by Mrs. Ellis Rowan, representing years of work and travel into places that seldom, if ever, see a woman.

Apart from their artistic qualities altogether, it is exceedingly important that the works of Mrs. Rowan should be preserved as a national collection, for their educative value is very great indeed. The New Guinea collection on show at Anthony Hordern's just now is an amazing achievement for any woman to have accomplished. Here are every imaginable variety of birds, flowers, and foliage, all painted with fidelity, and all showing that unapproachable wealth of color which is the heritage of Australia's possession. 

The Australian collection is exceedingly valuable, and beautiful, too. Undoubtedly within the lifetime of people now viewing Mrs. Rowan's work many of these trees, and flowers and birds, will become extinct, and it is, therefore, imperative that the State should take immediate steps to preserve replicas of their form and coloring. Some idea of the prodigious trouble taken by Mrs. Rowan may be gained from the fact that while in cannibal New Guinea she secured, alive, from head hunters, 45 of the 52 species of birds of paradise known to be in existence. She caged these and managed to paint 39 of them alive. A RARE COLLECTION (1920, March 7). Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 - 1930), p. 11. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120530017

'Ellis' died at Macedon, Victoria, October 4th, 1922. Tributes from those who knew or met her read:


In the passing of Mrs Ellis Rowan Australia has lost one of her most accomplished daughters, one whose personality will linger like a fragrant memory with those who were privileged to be her friends Her death on Wednesday came as a great shock to them. Sweet-tempered, lovable, and fascinating, she was described by some of those friends yesterday, among them Mrs. C. E. Drought, and her sister, Miss Godfrey whose friendship with Mrs. Rowan in has been lifelong. Mrs. Drought was her bridesmaid, and Mr. F. R. Godfrey, her father, was one of the first to recognise the national value of Mrs. Rowans work.

From the time when she was quite a young girl Mrs. Rowan was fond of drawing and painting, and Mrs. Drought remembers her industry as one of the most remarkable things about her. She did everything equally well, even the making of her own dresses. It was never her ambition to be a great artist; it was the scientific aspect of her work that appealed to her most, and she leaves a record of the flora and bird and insect life of her native land that experts have pronounced to be invaluable. Many times Mrs. Mrs Rowan has refused offers for her Australian collection complete or in part, but she was determined that it would remain in Australia.

It is sad to think that the only State that has a representative collection of her work is Queensland, where a special pavilion is devoted to it in the Brisbane Art Gallery. Melbourne owns only some of her very earliest and least attractive works.

Mrs. Rowan travelled much. She was in America for 12 years, where she sold a great deal of her work and was commissioned by the Government to illustrate a series of botanical text books for the use of pupils in the public schools. She travelled all over America, visited Thursday Island more than once, and spent some years in New Guinea, working all the time. Practically the last thing she did was the painting of more than 1,000 butterflies, chiefly from Queensland and New Guinea, a very beautiful collection, copied from specimens sent down to her. Just previously she had made a collection of toadstool paintings finding, even within two miles of her home at Macedon a great many varieties. 

There are in Melbourne very few examples of "Ellis Rowan china," which is well known and valued in Sydney. Mrs. Rowan did a lot of special work for a Sydney merchant who transferred her paintings to china, which had to be sent abroad to be fired, and the European firm guaranteed the artist a large salary if she would go to Europe devote herself to decorating china.

But Mrs. Rowan's gifts were not confined to her painting. She also wrote very well, one of her books, "A Flower Hunter in Australia" being very bright and amusing.

Another delightful book was "Bill Baillie," a record of the doings of her pet "Bilboa," who travelled about with her for many years, a tame and faithful friend. 

Among incidents illustrating the character of Mrs. Rowan, the following was recalled by Miss Godfrey. On one occasion the stable at her home caught fire, and while everyone else stood looking on, Mrs. Rowan went into the burning stable, took off her skirt, threw it over the horses head, and led him to safety. They were both severely burned, but the horses life was saved. 

Mrs. Rowan's sight was remarkable, considering the nature of her work, for until last year she never used glasses. For many years Mrs. Rowan has made her home with her sister, Miss Ryan, at the Cottage, Macedon, returning there always from her travels. And there she died, after a long life, full a valuable industry and loving kindness towards her very wide circle of friends. WOMEN'S VIEWS AND NEWS (1922, October 6). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 12. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1847572

Painting and Perils MRS. ELLIS ROWAN'S STORY

"Frail-looking little lady in black, are you the intrepid flower hunter, who has faced perils in wild places, with palette and paint brush?"

That is not what I said when, years ago, I first met Mrs Ellis Rowan, in Melbourne. But it is just what I thought. It seemed strange that this charming woman should speak calmly, over the tea cups, of dangers and difficulties encountered in travel in far countries, and the remotest parts of Australia. 

Mrs Rowan's flower paintings are unique, a wonderful collection which some day may become a national possession. 

The artist has gone from us, but her name will not fade. She has pre served, in her paintings, the color and grace of wild flowers, and her paintings will keep Her memory green while anyone loves flowers. 


In a letter to me Mrs Rowan wrote: "As compared with the hundreds of other women travellers, I have done nothing." With her own modest view we cannot agree. She hunted for flowers among savages, ventured alone In perilous places, and travelled where the globe-trotter never sets his feet. Her place is with Isabella Bird and , other women, whose travel books have caused some stir in the world. Have you read her own story of travel and adventure? She was no modern Diana, after big game, but a brave and gentle lover of flowers. "A Flower Hunter in Queensland and New Zealand" is a pleasant record strewn with blossoms, word-pictured places, and stirring incidents "The excitement of seeking and the delight of finding rare or even unknown specimens," Mrs Rowan writes, "abundantly compensated me for all difficulties, fatigues, and hardships. The pursuit. . . . has carried me into the depth of jungles, to distant islands, to wild mountain districts, and has brought me into contact with the aboriginal races, often in peculiar circum-stances." 


Mrs Rowan was born on her father's station at "Doogalook." Victoria, and she remembered seeing, as a child, several bushrangers caught by Mr Charles Ryan, and tied up until the police arrived. Mr William Cotton, her maternal grandfather, was an amateur artist, and painted birds and butterflies. Her artistic skill was inherited, and her love for wild nature, too. After her marriage with Captain F. C. Rowan, an Imperial officer and one of the heroes of the Maori War, Mrs Rowan went to New Zealand. She was a fearless horsewoman, and rode, constantly with her husband Into Maori territory, among beautiful forests and mountains, always painting and adding to her collection of rare flowers. 

In the early 80's Mrs. Rowan visited West Australia, and travelled in the wild interior. Blacks and bushmen helped her in her flower hunting, and were astonished by her courage and powers of endurance. Often she received rare blossoms, flat as pan-cakes: they had been gathered by her bushmen friends, and carried in hats, or coat pockets, perhaps on far journeys. 


Again In North Queensland; which she visited during the winter months 'n 1890-1892, Mrs Rowan gladly endured hardships and met dangers on the quest for flowers to paint. In her books she describes her first walk in a tropical jungle: — "I entered, sketch-book in hand, by a narrow little pathway probably made by an alligator. I kicked, as I thought, a grey stick aside — it was a snake, and quick as lightning it darted off . . . ." Later she pushed aside from her cheek a hanging "tendril" — it was a long tree snake that had fastened its tail to a branch. That night, a large copper colored snake was found hanging from a beam in the aviary at the homestead, and the flower painter sketched it be fore the reptile was killed.

The flooded Herbert River was crossed in a cockle-shell of a boat that would barely hold the artist, a white man and a black boy. The craft was nearly swamped at the outset. The Kanaka roared in terror, "Me no want sit along below river." But Mrs Rowan bailed away while her white companion steered, and the boat was lifted on wave crests and swung into whirlpools, with leaping hungry waters all about it. A tiny boat at the mercy of rushing waves and the tearing wind, but it reached the other shore. 

Farther north the artist had an alligator adventure. She tried her luck to cross a river, on a bridge of fallen trees. She bad to crawl once, and was only saved from a header in the blank, awesome river by catching at a twig -and balancing on a log. Then she discovered that the tide was coming in, and being unable to turn, she tried to walk backward. Her skirt encumbered her, the water had reached the top of the log, and there was a gap between it and safety— a gap filled by rushing water. Then a half-sunken "tree" revealed itself as an alligator, with "a long line of greedy-looking jaws." 

The river teemed with these horrors. The alligator slid along the log and played around. Mrs Rowan confesses that she forgot everything but the monster, which rose and clashed its jaws. But it disappeared and soon a loud coo-ee to a native girl, seen in the distance, brought help to the lady on the log. Some blacks came and threw another log across the perilous gap. 

Mrs Rowan visited the Northern Territory and Thursday Island. Once she was landed on a wild coast up north, and made her way, the only white woman, to many almost un known places. At times she had to camp among the blacks, who were very good to her — often she shared the native food. She was "marooned" on Thursday Island — no vessel called for weeks. At last a British warship arrived, and the artist obtained a passage to the mainland. 

In England and France Mrs Rowan met many famous artists, and her own work gained her honors. She went to the United States, and lived there for 12 years, among other things, doing botanical illustrations for the Government. She also visited the West Indies, and had more adventurous flower-hunting there. 


Twice Mrs Rowan journeyed to New Guinea, to find and paint some of the glorious flowers and birds of that al-most undiscovered country. The natives brought her rare specimens, and in their own language they called her "The Lady of the Flowers." The Papuan, you see, has some poetry to him. Sometimes a wild bird was held by the artist in one hand while she painted its portrait with a brush in the other. She had to take savage pecks calmly in the cause of art. 

For the Prince of Wales, Mrs Rowan painted pictures of toadstools on a set of doyleys, and the Royal visitor was greatly pleased with the gift. One of the artist's own treasures was shown to me, and I was even permitted to borrow it for a photograph - a large tablecover, if my Identification is correct, of some finely woven stuff, with the autographs of world-famed persons worked upon it in silks. In her travels the artist met great folk. I like to think of her, not in cities, but out in the wilds, on the trail of the flowers that she loved all her life, and painted for our pleasure. "THE LADY OF THE FLOWERS" (1922, October 7). The Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 - 1954), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243783238

In 1921 a group had been formed to urge the Hughes government to purchase her collection for the nation. However, and despite Ellis winning several gold medals judged by international artists against some of Australia's leading male artists, a disdain for her ability, artistry, and capacity, some state due to her gender, resulted in a bias against her art that lasted decades. Articles which discussed this show it was women who came to her defence:


Mr. W. Elliot, Johnson, Speaker of the House of Representatives, writes:— 

The public may not be generally aware that the library, committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, in addition to publishing a valuable series of volumes on Australian history, has given special attention to the work of making the Australian section of the library as complete as circumstances, financial and otherwise, will permit; and so far has been singularly successful in getting together a very fine, and in some respects, unique collection of books, maps, plates, manuscripts drawings, paintings, and other material of inestimable value of students interested in the history, products, development, and progress of Australia, For some of the most valuable and interesting portions of this collection, the Commonwealth is indebted very largely to the zeal, research, and public spirit; of the late Mr. Edward Petherick, who, on his death, bequeathed his splendid collection to the Commonwealth Library. - the Petheric collection has created great and widespread interest. To another generous donor, Mr. Mortimer Menpes, the Commonwealth Library is indebted for a valuable gift of 42 paintings. The fine picture of 'The Landing at Gallipoli,' by Charles Dixon, at present on view in the Queen's Hall, is a gift to the Commonwealth by Mr. Austin Taylor. Another fine picture, 'Our Golden Argosies,' by C. F. Gribble; originally hung in the Royal Academy, was presented by Mr. D. Elliot Alves of South Australia; and recently the Sydney Chamber of Manufacture presented a marble bust of the Late Sir W. J. Lyne. 

There is at the present time in Melbourne a superb collection, of paintings of the native birds, flowers, and plant life of the late German colonies in the Pacific, the work of Mrs. Ellis Rowan, an artist who I think I may say without detriment to any one else is incomparable in that special line of study and artistic portrayal, and whose subjects were painted from life in their own native haunts. This unique collection of pictures was recently exhibited in the rooms of the Victorian Fine Art Society. It's estimated value is £10,000, and while I feel it would be a national calamity if the collection were to be disposed of outside Australia, I do not feel justified, as Chairman of the library Committee, in asking the Commonwealth Treasurer, in these days of heavy taxation and great financial liabilities resulting from war activity, to provide the sum necessary to acquire the collection for the Commonwealth National Library. It has, however, came to my knowledge that an effort is being made to secure the collection for shipment to America, where keen interest is displayed in the acquisition of valuable Australian matter. America is said to be fortunate in having a number of public spirited citizens who devote some of their wealth to securing valuable art and other treasures for presentation as gifts to the nation, and though Australia, with its small population may not be so prolific as America in millionaires, there are yet not a few citizens, who could without the slightest embarrassment to their financial resources expend a few thousand pounds in the same laudable way. And it has occurred to me that some such public spirited citizen might wish to avail himself or herself of this exceptional opportunity to aid the Commonwealth in the acquisition of so valuable an addition to its Commonwealth Library and collection of Australia. This library will certainly develop into the National Library of Australia. Such a gift would for ever be associated with the name of the donor, in the same way as the name of Mr. Petherick is associated with his bequest. The loss of this collection to Australia would be irreparable, and would, moreover, be for all time a standing reproach to us as a community. MRS, ELLIS ROWAN'S PAINTINGS. (1919, January 28). The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article60539871


Some time ago a movement was inaugurated for the purpose of urging upon the Federal Government the advisability of purchasing the Ellis Rowan collection of paintings. It was started by Miss Sarah Hynes, who, as a botanist and one who had a deep appreciation of the value of these paintings, sought the co-operation of other women in securing them for Australia.

The first meeting was held in the vestibule of the Town Hall, when all present formed themselves into a committee to work to this end. Among the promoters were Miss Johnson (Assistant Teachers' Association), Mrs. Justellus (Queen Victoria Club), and Mrs. A. M. Norton (Women's Reform League). The movement quickly spread. Later a deputation, representing numerous organisations and prominent citizens of Sydney, waited upon Sir Joseph Cook, as the outcome of which a select committee is at present examining the Eilis Rowan collection to submit a report to the Federal Government.

Yesterday afternoon, at the Hotel Australia, a large gathering of women, representing numerous women's organisations, entertained Mrs. Ellis Rowan, and gave public testimony of their desire for the retention of her work in Australia. The speakers included Mrs. Stanhope Swift (Women's Reform League), Miss Preston Stanley (Feminist Club), Mrs. Joseph Bradley (Queen Victoria Club), Mrs. Kennard (Women's Club National Association and Miss Grogen (Women Undergraduates Association). As the outcome of the addresses the following resolution, proposed by Miss Preston Stanley, and seconded by Lady McMillan, was carried, - "That this meeting of women, representing numerous organisations, urge upon the Federal Government the importance of acquiring the Ellis Rowan collection for Australia."

It was a most enthusiastic meeting, and showed among other things that women have a deep appreciation of the work Mrs. Rowan has accomplished. WOMEN'S COLUMN. (1921, June 29). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15940455


Sarah Hynes, hon. organising secretary, The Ellis Rowan Collection Committee, writes: — 

Mrs. Rowan is above all a good Australian. During the war, she painted and donated to various Red Cross branches over £6000 of paintings, and never has she declined to give a picture in aid of charity. Her friends also are just as much those of the working class, as of any other. Mr. Ashton's solicitude as to the accuracy of Mrs. Rowan's work, is quite unnecessary. It is vouched for by great American botanists like Dr. Britton (Emeritus Professor of Botany, Columbia University), and Dr. Millspaugh (botanist to the Field Museum, Chicago), in works on the trees and wild flowers of America, which she has superbly and accurately illustrated, The deputation to the Acting Prime Minister represented 10,000 members of scientific and other societies and leading citizens. Then a committee, consisting of Professor Lawson (professor of Botany, Sydney University), Mr. John Longstaff (the celebrated artist), and Mr. Mann, of Sydney Art Gallery, was appointed by Government to report upon the collection. They, according to Hansard, declared the collection to be of great scientific, educational, and artistic value, but did not state a price. Thereupon, the collection was purchased, subject to approval of Parliament. All parties in the House are with us in this great patriotic and popular movement. The price asked is £6,000, and a grant of land in Papua, for the 13,000 pictures, chiefly of our native flora and that of Papua. The reproduction of the pictures would cover the initial cost. The trustees of Vaucluse House will erect a suitable hall in their park, so that the people will see them to advantage, until Canberra is ready to receive them. 

"Digger" writes:— 

When in the trenches in France Mr. Hughes visited us— he made many promises - towards securing the future in Australia of those of us who lived to go home. I am sure I am voicing the opinion of a great number of Diggers when I say that it comes as a surprise to us. in a time of such stringency, to find Mr. Hughes urging upon the House of Representatives the advisability of buying for £21,000 a collection or watercolors of the wild flowers of Australia. Twenty-one thousand pounds would keep 100 returned men at work for a year on the basic wage, increasing the prosperity of the country and helping to diminish the heavy taxation under which we are all groaning. And it must be borne in mind that we still have the Australian wild flowers with us, and they will be there for the purpose of being painted when the promises Mr. Hughes made to us have been honestly redeemed. ELLIS ROWAN PICTURES (1921, December 5). The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 - 1954), p. 6 (FINAL EXTRA). Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article223482356

Whoever 'Digger' was they could not have known this perpetuated ideology of Australia, whereby any tree, forest or plant is only of value when it can be destroyed for money, or that it will perpetually be able to reproduce itself despite its habitat being razed, has led to species being absent where they once were and even extinctions of some species 100 years on.

One more, from a champion of her work:


Elle va ou va toute chose, 
Ou va la feuille de rose, 
Et la feuille de laurier.

Under the shadow of Mount Macedon, beneath a brilliant canopy of floral wreaths, above which gleams a tall white marble cross, lies the fragile form of Australia's brilliant daughter, but her pure spirit wanders in Elysian fields amidst the flowers, the birds, and butterflies she loved so well and painted so exquisitely. Because she was such a genius, no petty jealousy marred her generous nature, she did not vaunt her own work, but rather that of others, and many young struggling artists owe her gratitude and her memory tears.

As she loved much she suffered much, and the deaths of Captain Rowan (he was an imperial officer who served in the New Zealand war), and of her only son, left an indelible impression upon her life. Her fidelity to her kindred and to those whom she admitted to her friendship was unchangeable. Of medium height, but slenderly fashioned, with brilliant hazel eyes beneath a broad white brow, travelled, well read, witty, it was a joy to hear her musical voice and perfect enunciation.

Her word painting was also beautiful, as readers may note in her books, '' Bill Baillie," "A Flower Hunter in Queensland," and "Sketches In Black and White In New Zealand."    

Because of her numberless benefactions she was poor who might have been rich, had her sympathy been less broad. No charities requested her to give a picture in vain, and during the war she painted £6000 worth of pictures for the various branches of the Red Cross. A most courageous woman, she did not know fear, and only today a   returned soldier from Papua said to me, "My word, Mrs Rowan took risks I was not game enough to take, when she went after her flowers and Birds of Paradise in Papua '

But the outstanding feature of her character was her tireless industry. From daylight to dark she painted those marvellous pictures which will be the admiration of posterity, for at the time of her passing she was considered the greatest of living flower painters.

It is sad that her last hours on earth were shadowed by the tardiness of the Federal Parliament in completing the purchase for Australia of her wonderful collection which they had bought 15 months before. The educational works she illustrated superbly are ' The Queensland Flora," "The Floras of North and South America," and "The Forest Flora of America," which are standard works there.

After her Journeyings in the wilds she used to return to the well-loved home at Macedon, which she shared with her devoted unmarried sister. Thither during the summer months came troops of friends who always entered the pretty, bright, artistic sitting-room by the French windows (the front door was reserved for ceremonial calls) to enjoy the sparkle of her conversation, and to receive that old world hospitality for which the cottage is noted.

The house stands in a beautiful garden; this garden of dreams contains fine trees and shrubs collected by the artist from all parts of the world. In summer it is a riot of vivid colours. The lakes sparkle in the sunshine of their setting of green sward, with water liles of vivid hues floating upon their calm surface. Birds sing in the branches and the stream gurgles merrily beneath the silver birches. But, alas, all is now changed. The loved presence has departed, and that fairy form no longer flits amidst the trees; the songbirds are mute, a hush pervades the scene, the brook wails a dirge to which the weeping willows softly answer ''Hush Benedicite. Friend, wonderful friend. Vale. Vale." MRS. ELLIS ROWAN. (1922, October 10). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16039257

Her art was eventually housed in the National Library, not the National Gallery, and it took until 1924 for some of the collection to be acquired:


The Ellis Rowan collection of 952 paintings of Australian and New Guinea flora and fauna is at last in possession of the Federal Government. The purchase price, £5000, was paid this week. The pictures have been deposited in the Commonwealth Government offices in Sydney. ELLIS ROWAN PICTURES (1924, February 1). The Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 - 1954), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243757638

The National Library of Australia states of the items held by them:

In 1921 the Australian Government agreed to purchase the paintings of Rowan, but criticism in Parliament and disagreements about the price caused delays. In 1923 the Government finally purchased 952 paintings from Rowan’s sister, Blanche Ryan. The collection was stored in the Treasury vaults in Melbourne until 1933, when 947 of the paintings were transferred to the Commonwealth National Library. (The other five were placed in Government House.) In 1953 many of the paintings were lent by the Library to Australian diplomatic posts and other government agencies. Most were returned to the Library in 1968–70, but 28 were lost.

The papers of Rowan were donated by Lady Casey, the niece of Rowan, in 1956 and 1968.

The Ellis Rowan Collection comprises 919 watercolours and gouaches painted between about 1870 and 1920. About two-thirds of the paintings depict Australian wildflowers, while one-third are of flowers and birds of Papua New Guinea and the Torres Strait Islands. There are 81 bird paintings. Most of the Australian works were painted in Queensland and Western Australia, but flowers of all the states are represented in the collection. Many of the paintings contain brief inscriptions on the reverse, giving the name of the flower or bird, or the place where they were seen. Some of the inscriptions were written by Rowan, others by associates such as Ferdinand von Mueller and C.J. White. The early paintings are generally dated, but virtually none is dated after 1889.

The collection in the Library is probably less than one-third of Rowan’s total output. She had remarkable skill and was able to apply the paints without the aid of pencil under-drawings. Although many of the works lack inscriptions, the subjects are portrayed accurately and can be identified with reasonable certainty. Rowan had rudimentary training as a botanist and consequently she was not a botanical illustrator like Ferdinand Bauer. She did not set out systematically to paint the flora of a region. Her prime task was to make artistic compositions and she tended to paint the more colourful and attractive flowers in close-up compositions, juxtaposed again scenery or a distant sky. She often painted bunches of wildflowers.

The following are some of the Australian flower genera depicted in the paintings: acacia, alyogyne, banksia, boronia, calytrix, capparis, clematis, clerodendrum, correa, Dryandra, eremophila, erythrina, eucalypytus, eugenia, gardenia, gompholobium, hakea, hibiscus, melaleuca, nymphaea, olearia, pandanus, pimelea, scaevola, stylidium, thysanotus, verticordia and wistaria.

The New Guinea flower genera include amorphophallus, bombax malabaricum, frangipani, hibiscus, ipomea, maniltoa, pandanus and phaleria, while birds represented in the collection include birds of paradise, bowerbirds, cockatoos, flying foxes, fruit pigeons, herons, hornbills, kingfishers, lorikeets, riflebirds, starlings and swifts. There is one painting of tropical fish. [3.]

Beautiful examples of her work are also held by the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Victoria, as well as the State Library of NSW. 

However it is her wonderful bird works that we celebrate this Issue as a Bird Week 2021 bonus. The notion that her work in this made her sacred, because these are divine creatures, is found in her account of her work in Papua New Guinea:


'' The people of Australia have no idea of the enormous value of the German possessions in New Guinea," said Mrs. Ellis Rowan, whose fine exhibition of paintings of the birds and flowers of New Guinea, made 'during a two years' visit from which she has lately returned, is now being held at the galleries of the Fine Art Society, in Alfred Place. 

''The German territory is infinitely more valuable than the British. There are thousands upon thousands of acres of copra plantations. Some of the Germans told me, that they got their beginning by selling birds of paradise. Before the English took possession one man used to make £1500 a year from this source, and he also had his plantation. Others made very large amounts from the birds.. The Germans had a great deal to say about the war. At Madang; where there are many of them, they said it was just as certain that Germany would win as it was that there was a sun in the sky. 'Mark my words,' said one of' the Germans have not knocked down a single stone in Belgium.' All the atrocities have been done by your men.' I replied, if you had said in public what you have said in a private 'house l would have you interned.' Though all were suspicions at first,; the German men gradually became civil enough, but the women remained very much otherwise. It is only fair to say that all the German missionaries I met were most civil to me in every respect. Madang is quite a small town, but the neighborhood is very beautiful. The copra plantations are its mainstay. The Germans became' interested in my work, and asked me to hold an exhibition, so the paintings were shewn in one of the stores.

"In setting out to paint the birds of paradise, I first of all went in the steamer from Rabaul to Madang, in German New Guinea; From there I went twenty miles in a boat rowed by natives, and then I was carried two thousand, feet up into the mountains.' I was in a hammock, which twenty natives took turns at carrying. They were an alarming set of people at first sight. They wore very little. Their hair was fuzzed out to a great size and ornamented with feathers, and they all carried great knives. But they were very good to me, and I soon got 'over my fear. I was carried to the farthest point of white settlement, called Nobonob. There I stayed with a German missionary and his wife.

They could not speak a word of English, nor a word of German, so for some time everything had to be done by signs.

"Every Thursday the natives used to come in to sell fruit and yams to the missionaries. I had first of all employed two natives to obtain birds for me. They used to shoot them, and they never missed a shot, but I did not like the idea of the birds' being killed. As I came to know the others they brought living birds for me, and then all kinds of other things a great insect on the end of a stick, or a snake. It was the same at all the mission stations to which I went.

'The moths and butterflies were perfectly beautiful. Before I left New Guinea a moth was taken was 20 inches across from tip to tip. They said it was the largest known. I offered 20 guineas for it, but those who then had it would not sell it. 

'I had a very severe malarial attack while at Nobonob, and did not think I would ever return to Australia. The climate was terrible, but I had determined to do the work, and did it sometimes in a state of high fever.

"The natives took a great interest in the paintings. As they were finished, at Nobonob,' I used to "hang'' them over the verandah. Only two came to see them at first, but by the time I left the mission a hundred of the wild natives had been attracted in by hearing of them. They would try to lift the birds out of the pictures. Some would put their fingers close to me and then pull them away. The missionary explained that this meant that I was tapu - sacred—because I painted the birds. 

They used to send birds to me from 60 miles or more inland. The larger one I tucked under my arm, and held in that way while I painted them. Some were very fierce and hard to hold. The hornbill is a queer looking bird, whose head they imitate in their canoe decorations' and other carvings. One of these tore my skirt to pieces, but I painted it, as you can see. I covered the heads of others with handkerchiefs or table napkins to keep them a little quieter while I was painting the body. The smaller birds I kept in cages.

Rowan, Ellis. (1917). Hornbill, family Bucerotidae, perched in Pachygone ovata (Poir.) Miers ex Hook.f. & Thomson, family Menispermaceae, Papua New Guinea, 1917 Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-138744013

"From Nobonob I went to Dampier Island (I think I was the first white woman there), and to many of the surrounding islands. I also went to many mission stations, to get as many of the birds as I could. I camped twice in native villages on the islands, and had a rather unpleasant time, for • while their way of living seems -picturesque from a distance it- is rather different close at hand. On one occasion I came to a native village with one other white woman and 25 native girls, with whom I used to go canoeing. The natives there had a habit, learned from missionaries, of shaking hands. About a hundred came up and wanted to shake hands, but I showed them how to salute instead.. They thought it great fun.

' I reached the village at 9 o'clock at night, and wanted to have some rest, but a great' many of them crowded into the room where I was to sleep. .'I. did- not know how to get rid of them, but at last I said "Shoo! Get out!" They thought I was playing a game. They all kept on ''shooing'' each other for quite a time. 

On another occasion I stayed at the Methodist mission station on Ulu Island, off the coast of New Britain.

"At Kwato, the English mission station at Samarai, the natives were magnificently trained. They would take neither tobacco nor money—a most wonderful thing among the islanders. They told the missionary to say that what they did for me they did for love. One day I threw a pair of old shoes into the sea, in about 12ft.-of water. Next morning, they were placed- outside my room. A man had seen the steel buckles, and thought that I must have made a mistake in 'drowning' anything so good, so he dived for them. I said that I would have to drown them deeper, but they urged me not to do so. I gave them to a boy whose one wish had been to have a pair of shoes or boots, and he wore them proudly. A black boy whom I had as a servant when I first went to New Guinea was of quite a different type from these people. He left me to do everything, including the paying of the hotel bill and any other expenses he chose to incur, so I did not keep him long. He would disappear in the morning, and would not be seen till the next morning.

"The island of Misma, where there is a gold-mine, is beautiful. I stayed there a month, and was carried up the hills in a chair —not a hammock this time. Misima has a fine climate, quite different from that of any other part, and it is the only place I visited in New Guinea where there are no mosquitoes. The most beautiful scenery I ever saw was at Cape Nelson, in British New Guinea. The Trobriand Islands, where they get the pearls, are very interesting.

"The great variety among the natives of the islands is remarkable. On every island they are different in appearance, in their manners and customs, and in their fashions, which are chiefly shown in the way of arranging the hair. Some plait their hair with palm, and wear shells at the end. Others drag it to the top of the head, and have a tuft at the point. Others, again, "cut" it with a shell until it looks something like a French poodle's coat. 

Their pidgin-English is amusing.' A man came to me one day-' and said, 'Che-op grass alonga cocoanut, he finish.' I said 'Is it a bird?' 'No..' ,'Is it a fish, or a fruit?' No.' It proved that he was describing a chief who was partly bald—one whose hair grew, along his head until it suddenly finished—and he meant no disrespect to the Governor (the late Sir Samuel Pethebridge) by so describing him. They describe a piano by saying 'She fightem tooth—he cry out.' They called me 'the lady of the flowers.'

Being in New Guinea and in some of the surrounding islands there are still many natives who are pretty bad. It is only a few years since they killed a missionary. One is well  advised not to go very far off the beaten track.

"While I was on an island at the end of New Britain I saw the raider Wolf—not once," but a number of times. This was at night. I did not sleep well, and used to go and sit on the cliffs. I often went out fishing with the natives at night. They go with torches, and spear the fish. One night the Germans were coding across, and the flashes interfered with the fishing. The natives said,

'White fellow he too much talkee talkee alonga fire.' I let the British authorities know about it, and men went to investigate, but they could not understand the code.

"It was pleasant to came back to Australia, but I had the satisfaction of knowing that, under all difficulties, I had achieved my object of making a really representative and accurate record of the birds and flowers of New Guinea." PAINTING RARE BIRDS. (1918, December 30). Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 - 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92914468

Rowan, Ellis. (1917). Yellow-plumed bird of paradise, Papua New Guinea, 1917 Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-138748417

The National Library of Australia's Exhibition, Birds of Paradise - Ellis Rowan in New Guinea, curated by Dr Grace Blakeley-Carroll, was made available for viewing in the Treasures Gallery until 8 March 2021. You can also explore the exhibition online. You can also view her works as housed online by the NLA.

It is from an earlier NLA Exhibition, Ellis Rowan - The Flower Hunter (24 Oct 2002 – 27 Jan 2003) that this description, attributed to English painter, Marianne North, whom she met in 1880 while at Albany on the south coast of Western Australia, stems; 

Mrs Rowan [painted] ... most exquisitely in a peculiar way of her own on gray paper. She was a very pretty fairy-like woman, always over-dressed, and afraid to go out of the house because people stared at her. I admired her for her genius and prettiness; she was like a charming spoiled child. — H. Vellacott ed., Some Recollections of a Happy Life: Marianne North in Australia and New Zealand, p. 66

Text from this earlier Rowan celebratory exhibitions states;

Although there is no record, North seems to have encouraged Rowan in the technique of oil painting and given her ideas about placing flowers in their natural habitat—to show surrounding vegetation in a landscape background with atmospheric effects such as a brooding storm or a setting sun. Like many botanical painters at the time, she was inspired by Robert Thornton’s famous florilegium, The Temple of Flora (1799–1807), which encouraged artists to travel and depict exotic flora in Arcadian settings, instead of academic illustrations showing root structure, seeds, leaves and flowers on a plain background.

She inspired Rowan with the notion of freedom to travel wherever and whenever she could, not to mention ideas about writing of her adventures and also of how to house and promote her works for posterity.

A faerie in human form seems an accurate recognition of this lady of flowers, butterflies and birds as these are all synonymous with each other, remain to many symbolic of the divine manifested in physical form. Gentle in nature, shy unless accustomed to you, cheeky at times and brave when it's warranted, the heralds of the dawn and dusk, always dressed splendidly in wonderful plumage, inherently given to symbolic dances and with each an owner of a voice we describe as song, the way they lift us up out of ourselves, connect us to all elements, places and compass points, whether waddlers on the ground or those we find far out to sea lilting on a breeze or revolving upwards on a thermal, it is little wonder we revere each and every bird and those who bring them to us if we cannot go to them.

References - Notes

  1. A Gondwanan origin of passerine birds supported by DNA sequences of the endemic New Zealand wrens. Per G. P. Ericson, Les Christidis, Alan Cooper, Martin Irestedt, Jennifer Jackson, Ulf S. Johansson and Janette A. Norman. PNAS. Published:07 February 2002. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2001.1877
  2. Photo of Ellis Rowan on her Wedding Day:  Date 1873, Source http://www.nla.gov.au/exhibitions/ellisrowan/officers_wife.html Author John Botterill, Portrait Painter and Photographer (1817-1881). 
  3. Rowan Collection. National Library of Australia. https://www.nla.gov.au/selected-library-collections/rowan-collection
  4. Ellis Rowan. (2012, December 5). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ellis_Rowan&oldid=526518497
  5. National Bird Week 2015, The Aussie Back Yard Bird Count: And Australia's First Bird Counts - A 115 Year Legacy
  6. Taronga Zoo 100th Birthday Parade: 1000 Reasons To Celebrate - 2016, Issue 284
  7. A Bunch Of Wildflowers: Historical Spring September Songs - 2018, Issue 377
  8. Margaret Hazzard, 'Rowan, Marian Ellis (1848–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rowan-marian-ellis-8282/text14513

With the death of Mr Charles Ryan, at  Mt Macedon, on Saturday, passes away  out of the oldest colonists and one of the few who, without taking part in public affairs, have become widely known are respected Mr Ryan leaves behind him a widow and several children, including Mr Charles  Ryan, the well-known surgeon, Mr Henry Ryan, of the firm of Ryan, Hammond, and Mates, of Queen-street; Lady Charles Scott,  and Mrs Ellis Rowan whose paintings of Australian Flowers have earned a worldwide reputation. 

He was a native of Kilfera in the county of Kilkenny but left Ireland when still in his first youth to make Australia his home. He arrived here as early as 1839 and when the country surrounding Melbourne was but primaeval forest ventured out into what was then the  heart of the bush and took, up a tract of country on the Broken River, where he commenced squatting. His station he named Kilfera, after his native town, but it was far less civilised than his Irish namesake for only two days before Mr Ryan's arrival two shepherds who had preceded him were murdered by the blacks. Not withstanding the unfavourable outlook, Mr Ryan stuck to his ground, and turned the station into one of the most successful of  the district, relinquishing it only after some years to take up his better known place at Longwood. This spot he called Killeen and it was there that most of his children were born. This property is now in the hands of Mr Chomley, a brother of the chief commissioner of police, to whom Mr Ryan sold it on moving to Brighton in the early seventies. But for continuous life in the city Mr Ryan had no love and soon he left Brighton for Macedon, where be has resided for the last 24 years. 

The residence at Macedon which he occupied until his failing health forced him to seek another less extensive, six months ago, was surrounded with gardens which for variety of plants and beauty of arrangement, is said to be unsurpassed in any private grounds in Australia. As the founder of Ryan and Hammond, Mr Ryan has a reputation among those those associated with pastoral pursuits extending  over the length and breadth of the country and there were few better known men  in Victoria. During the early days of the colony Mr Ryan was a participant in many a stirring adventure and was present at  the capture of the notorious Captain Gepp and his gang of bushrangers at the Plenty Ranges. The bushrangers had stuck up a  homestead in the locality, and, surprising  the men on the station at breakfast, had carried off all the arms in the place, in addition to the rest of their loot. The owner of the property, indignant at the insult more than the loss, visited Melbourne in haste,  and after stating his case, a party headed by the late Mr Peter Snodgrass, a brother in law of Mr Ryan, and including that gentleman himself set out to capture or fight  the gang. DEATH OF MR. CHARLES RYAN. (1898, September 12). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article9851177

Sarah Hynes, J.P, B.A., M.B.E.
Great Botanist Has Other Strings To Her Bow

MSS HYNES, who has just been honored with the M.B.E., Is not a person who can be dismissed with a paragraph. She is a personality. Though only a tiny handful of a woman, there is not a vacant spot in her cosmography — all is packed with energy. A born fighter, her father, the Commander, said of her, with a true sailor-man's simile, "With that nose like a bowsprit, of course, she will fight — fight her way through anything!" Though living most of her life in Australia, Sarah was born in London, and lived all her most impressionable years in the poet Keats's house at Hampstead. There, under the very tree where the "Ode to a Nightingale" was written, she learned her first flower lore, and the germ was sown which later made her such an enthusiastic botanist. The poet's influence may have colored her girlish dreams, for her bedroom had been Keats's study. 

She was one of the first women students of Sydney University in the days when the higher education for women was so much a novelty that the male students would stand on their chairs, and clasping trenches overhead form a triumphal arch for them when they walked into the hall for commemoration, at the same time giving three cheers for the brave fair. Everyone thought it was the Senate arriving. Miss Hynes has said since, and acted accordingly. 

Miss Hynes was the first women to hold an official appointment as a botanist in the N.S.W. Government, and she served for two years on the scientific staff of the Technological Museum and ten years on the scientific staff of tile Sydney Botanic Gardens. 

When the writer first met her she was at the Lyceum Club, fighting as ever, but no one could ever truly say that she was not a fair fighter. A born reformer, she could never see wrong without endeavoring to right it. She was the first woman member of the Linnean Society. She was a very active member of a committee formed to secure money to build a Women's College at the University; in fact, she was one of the only two women graduates on the committee. Mrs. Barff was the other. Five thousand pounds was collected, and the Government added a like sum, and so that comfort of all girl students came into being. 

She was the originator and honorary organising secretary for the Ellis Rowan Fund, and ' mainly through her hard work the artist's 952 paintingst of flora of New South Wales and flora and bird fauna of New Guinea were kept in Australia, in stead of finding their way to America.

To show the tempo of this apparently frail little woman's mind, note the way she sought rest after a very strenuous and sorrowful time. They say a change of work is as good, as a half-holiday, but Miss Hynes determined to make her change so thorough that it should be a whole holiday. From indoors to outdoors, from city to country, from brain work to manual labor. She decided to go to Tintenbar and dig for opals. She planned her itinerary so that she could spend each night in some town, telegraphing ahead for "hot bath, dinner, and bed." She would get her lunch put up, her thermos filled, and be off again directly after breakfast, to spend the day speeding or meandering as suited her whim. At length in Ballina she bought her claim, got her miner's right, and became the owner of a green plateau at Tintenbar.

Sarah Hynes — Herself.

Before, taking up her mine in earnest, she decided to let her nerves have the rest they needed, and so spent three wonderful weeks exploring the beautiful country round about, at the same time adding considerably to her botanic treasures. She quite expected to camp on the ground when working, as the whole district is settled by squatters and well-to-do farmers, but she was fortunate enough to find a young couple glad to put her up. 

One fragment of conversation with her hosts is a miniature epic of the Australian bush. "Where is the bathroom?" asked Miss Hynes. ."There isn't one." "What do you do, then?" "We wait for the rain!" 

When the lodger suggested she might bathe in the river she was told that she would be stung by "bulrights" or "bulriots." She is not sure of the spelling, but there is no doubt about the fact, for during her stay she saw the man of the house spend many hours of almost unendurable agony from the sting of these fish. 

She got over the bathroom' difficulty with the aid of a bucket of water and some bushes, and vows that a biological student would have given the world for that river water, for it contained almost every known aquatic plant. 

Tintenbar, where Miss Hynes's claim was situated, was just bright green plateaus and bright red mounds. The mounds were the workings, and one can well imagine the need for that bath in the bushes when the day's work was over. 

Poor Sarah was not overwhelmed with success at her first efforts, but had the painful pleasure of seeing "the people next door" — three masters from the Toowoomba Grammar School, whose mine appeared to be right in the bed of a volcano — dig out about £500 worth of opal in a few weeks. Tintenbar is virtually closed now, as it is exhausted, but Sarah Hynes besides her opals, has pearls of memory from that holiday. 

Throughout her long life Miss Hynes has brought to everything she has undertaken the brains of a great man and the energy of a great robot, but the story would not be complete without a mention of her great heart— wherever there is room for an unadvertised kindness, Sarah is there and does it. Sarah Hynes, J.P., B.A., M.B.E. (1934, January 7). The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 - 1954), p. 27. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article230515617

‘Singing up Country’: reawakening the Black Duck Songline, across 300km in Australia’s southeast

The Black Duck Songline is named for the Pacific Black Duck. Shutterstock
Robert S. FullerWestern Sydney UniversityGraham MooreIndigenous Knowledge, and Jodi EdwardsUniversity of Sydney

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains names of people who have died.

Songlines criss-cross across Australia. They are one of the foundational spiritual features of the world’s oldest continuing culture.

Australian Aboriginal peoples had oral cultures: while there are no Bibles or Qurans to document their spirituality, the Dreaming stories of Ancestral creators who formed the land and the features were shared through song. By walking and singing the songlines, those creators are celebrated by the passing generations.

Most of our knowledge of songlines comes from Aboriginal peoples in central and northern Australia, a well-known example being the Seven Sisters Songline, which crosses much of Australia from the west coast to the east.

But, due to invasion and attempted cultural destruction since 1788, knowledge of songlines in southeast Australia has been limited. Now, new research has begun reawakening a dormant Black Duck Songline covering 300 km along the New South Wales South Coast.

Read more: Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters is a must-visit exhibition for all Australians

Umbarra And Wumbarra

The Black Duck Songline, as current Aboriginal knowledge holders confirm, travels up the South Coast from over the Victorian border to the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney, passing through many important cultural locations of the Yuin and Dharawal peoples of the region.

The Conversation/Open Street MapCC BY-ND

The name comes from the Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa), known as Umbarra to the Yuin and Wumbarra to the Dharawal.

The Yuin story of Umbarra comes from Wallaga Lake near Narooma on the NSW far south coast. Umbarra is an animal hero, rather than a Creator, and is the totem and protector of the Yuin peoples from the Dreaming.

A Yuin man, Merriman, had Umbarra as his totem. When his people were in danger, Umbarra warned them so they could take refuge on what is now called Merriman’s Island in Wallaga Lake.

Umbarra became the Yuin protector, and, through kinship linkages, the bird is equally important to the Dharawal.

One of the authors of this piece, Robert Fuller, was exploring the astronomy and songline connections of the Saltwater Aboriginal peoples of the NSW coast. Through a yarning process, speaking to Yuin and Dharawal knowledge holders about the cultural astronomy of their communities, the importance of Umbarra to the Yuin peoples became clear, as did the route of the songline.

A moody lakescape
The Black Duck Songline follows the NSW coast, including through Wallaga Lake. Shutterstock

The Black Duck Songline has now been traced through multiple Aboriginal communities. Knowledge holders speak about how their people travelled along songlines for trade, to attend ceremonies and to access resources.

Read more: How ancient Aboriginal star maps have shaped Australia's highway network

How A Songline Is Reawakened

A songline is not just a map across Country.

It is a celebration of the stories which make up the songline, and these stories are encompassed in the form of song. The melody stays consistent as a songline passes through different language groups and dialects along the route.

A songline is never extinguished, although the Country through which it passes may be dying because it is not being sung. This has given rise to the Aboriginal expression to “sing up Country”: refreshing the songs and the Country to which the songs belong.

The Black Duck Songline was not unknown to the knowledge holders of the South Coast, but the details of the route had begun to be lost. Probably the last public walk of the songline was by Uncle Guboo Ted Thomas (1909-2002), coinciding with the Bicentennial in 1988.

Other knowledge holders who learned from Uncle Guboo have been able to confirm details of the songline, and members of the Yuin and Dharawal communities are keen to recover the full knowledge of the route of the songline.

Aerial view of hills, forest and Hawkesbury River
The Black Duck Songline stretches at least as far north as the Hawkesbury River. Shutterstock

After the Hawkesbury River, it is possible the Black Duck Songline may continue north, eventually turning west and south, via the Narran Lakes and the Snowy Mountains, connecting with its origin on the Gippsland Coast, forming a circle.

The major focus of the reawakening of the songline will be to find the songs that make up the story and try and connect them in the correct sequence and with the correct spiritual locations along its route.

If the Black Duck Songline can be awakened, this could be a model for the recovery and reawakening of other songlines in areas of Australia where Aboriginal knowledge has been suppressed.The Conversation

Robert S. Fuller, Adjunct fellow, Western Sydney UniversityGraham Moore, Yuin Elder, Indigenous Knowledge, and Jodi Edwards, Tutor, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Ellis Rowan, Five warblers in a Banksia bush (c. 1911), watercolour and gouache 55.8 × 40.4 cm irreg. (image and sheet). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Presented by Whitcombe and Tombs, 1969. Photo: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Ellis Rowan's Adventures In Painting Birds, Flowers and Insects: 'This Meant That I Was Tapu - Sacred - Because I Painted The Birds' - A J Guesdon, 2021