Marian Ellis Rowan (neé Ryan) is one of Australia’s most celebrated flower painters. While most of her work was done on Australian flora she did spend several years in the frontier outpost at Pukearuhe, North Taranaki, where her husband, Captain Frederick Rowan, was the commander of the Armed Constabulary garrison.

The two met in Melbourne in 1873 when Frederick, a keen amateur botanist, was on leave from his New Zealand command. Rowan had originally come to New Zealand with the 43rd Regiment and had then joined the Taranaki Rifle Volunteers. He was severely wounded in the attack on Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu in 1868. The nearby small settlement of Rowan in south Taranaki is named after him. Captain Rowan began the project to install the military hatchments in St Mary’s Church, New Plymouth.

After they were married the couple returned to the commander’s primitive quarters at Pukearuhe. Frederick, an artist himself, encouraged Ellis to paint the local flora to overcome her boredom in the isolated post. Returning to Melbourne in 1877 Frederick became a successful businessman and Ellis began botanical painting in earnest.

Frederick was a director of the company that published the three-volume part-work, Picturesque Atlas of Australasia, in 1886. Ellis painted more than 100 of the illustrations for the work.

After her husband died in 1892, Ellis returned to tour New Zealand. She spent several days in Taranaki, where she revisited Pukearuhe “….and now we rode under the self-same tree of snow-white blossoms where long ago I had pulled my first wild flowers and crowned my hat with them.” Old acquaintances were looked up in Urenui, Ōpunake and Hāwera, and she visited Parihaka where she met both Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi. (see related links)

The intrepid exploration of the wilds of Queensland and New Guinea she made while in her seventies found her revelling in crocodile-infested rivers, climbing rainforest-covered hills and crawling into caves.

Further Reading

 Lady Painters

Dawson, Bee: Lady Painters, The Flower Painters of Early NZ, 1999

The Flower Hunter - Morton-Evans

Morton-Evans, Christine & Michael: The Flower Hunter, The Remarkable Life of Ellis Rowan, 2009

The Flower Hunter - Fullerton

Fullerton, Patricia: The Flower Hunter, Ellis Rowan, 2002 


Related Information


Rowan Road (Word on the street collection)


Mrs Ellis Rowan's Visit to Taranaki (TH 19 March 1894)


Mrs Ellis Rowan's Visit to Taranaki (TH 3 April 1894)


Please do not reproduce these images without permission from Puke Ariki. 
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