Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lee, Sarah
LEE, Mrs. SARAH (1791–1856), artist and authoress, born on 10 Sept. 1791, was only daughter of John Eglinton Wallis of Colchester, and married, when twenty-two years of age, Thomas Edward Bowdich [q. v.] the naturalist. She shared her husband's tastes, and when he went out in 1814 on an exploring expedition to Ashantee, in the service of the African Company, she followed him after an interval. She travelled alone to Cape Coast Castle, but found on arriving there that her husband had already left on his way home. In 1815 husband and wife started together on a second journey to Africa. While in Paris in 1818 she delivered a letter of introduction from William Elford Leach [q. v.] to Baron Cuvier. He received her with the utmost kindness, and she and her husband spent the greater part of the four following years in studying Cuvier's collections. In 1823 they once more set out for Africa, visiting Madeira by the way, but Bowdich died on the Gambia river on 10 Jan. 1824, and his widow on her return home published an account of this their last journey.
Mrs. Bowdich in the early days of her widowhood revisited Paris, and saw much of Cuvier, who treated her almost as a daughter, and after his death in 1832 she published a sympathetic memoir in the following year. She and previously, in 1829, married Robert Lee (Gent. Mag. 1829, ii. 462), and she devoted most of the rest of her life to popularising natural science. Many of her books she efficiently illustrated herself. She termed herself a member of the 'Wetteravian Society.' In private life she was very popular, and bore cheerfully many domestic distresses. In 1864 she was granted a civil list pension of 60l. Mrs. Lee died at Erith on 22 Sept. 1866.
Mrs. Lee's works were numerous. The following are the most important : 1. 'Taxidermy,' 1820, a manual of great merit, which came to a sixth edition in 1843. It is full and exhaustive ; the authoress acknowledges that much of it is translated from Dufresne. She praises Waterton, whom she had visited at Walton Hall, and his hospitality, and adds his instructions on preserving birds and animals. 2. 'Excursions in Madeira and Porto Santo.' 1826, to which she appended a narrative of her husband's death and the completion of her voyage, described the English settlements on the Gambia, and contributed a zoological and botanical appendix, together with plates of views, sketches, costumes, &c, drawn and painted by herself. This book shows much learning in natural history, and no mean artistic skill. 3. 'The Freshwater Fishes of Great Britain,' 1828; both in artistic power and letterpress the most valuable of Mrs. Lee's productions. It was published in parts, which were issued to fifty subscribers, headed by the Duke of Sussex. The fish were caught on purpose for Mrs. Lee, who cleverly transferred with her brush their exact tints on the bank -before death had dulled the colours. Only twelve parts were completed, at a guinea a part, and at present but four perfect copies are known. Cuvier called the Slates 'tres belles,' and no more exquisite drawings of fish coloured according to nature have yet been published. A copy was sold by auction in 1887 for 41l. 4. 'Memoirs of Baron Cuvier,' 1833, in which she was much helped by Baron Pasquier, M. Laurillard, Dr. Duvernoy, and Humboldt.
Mrs. Lee's further publications consisted of 'Adventures in Australia,' 1861, 'The African Wanderers' and 'Adventures of a Cornish Baronet in North-west Africa.' She also wrote a number of small books on ' British and Foreign Birds, Trees, and Animals,' 'Elements of Natural History.' 'Farmyard Scenes,' 'Juvenile Tales,' and the like, mostly compilations.
[Works; Gent. Mag. 1856, pt. ii. pp. 653-4; Edinb. Rev. lxii. 265; Ann. Reg. 1866, p. 270; Field, 31 Dec 1887.]