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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Bessie Lee

c. 1890
Yeoman & Co, Melbourne

gelatin silver photograph on cabinet card (mount: 16.5 cm x 10.7 cm, image/sheet: 13.7 cm x 9.8 cm)

Bessie Lee Cowie (1860–1950), 'Australia's Temperance Queen', spent her early years in Daylesford, Victoria. Following her mother's death in 1868, she was sent to Melbourne to live with an uncle and aunt who mistreated her amid their regular bouts of drunkenness. In 1869 she was committed to the care of other relatives who provided a model of austere Christianity. She married in 1880 and began teaching Sunday school before taking up preaching and becoming involved in community work for the Anglican church. From 1884, convinced of 'drink's share in the poverty and degradation of the people', she applied herself to the prohibitionist crusade. She was a founder of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in 1887 and was appointed its designated Colonial Evangelist. In the 1890s Lee lectured in Australia and internationally. Widowed in 1908 she remarried and settled in New Zealand where she took an interest in prison reform and other social issues. A prodigious writer of letters to the editor, poems and moralising tracts, Lee also produced three memoirs, the last shortly before her death.

John Yeoman & Co. operated portrait studios at several locations in Melbourne from the early 1880s. This portrait shows Lee posed with an illuminated address, possibly one presented by the Victorian Alliance for the Suppression of Liquor Traffic, her sponsor.

Purchased 2017

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Yeoman & Co, Melbourne

Betsy (Bessie) Lee (age 30 in 1890)

Subject professions

Activism

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Lady Barkly
Lady Barkly
Lady Barkly
Lady Barkly

Carte-o-mania!

Previous exhibition, 2018

Drawn from the NPG’s burgeoning collection of cartes de visite, Carte-o-mania! celebrates the wit, style and substance of the pocket-sized portraits that were taken and collected like crazy in post-goldrush Australia.

The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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