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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)

More images of this artwork

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, though otherwise well-meaning, mistreated her amidst 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 lecturing and 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’. With sponsorship from the Victorian Alliance for the Suppression of Liquor Traffic, Lee lectured in Australia, New Zealand, the USA and the UK in the 1890s. Widowed in early 1908 she remarried later that year 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 of which appeared shortly before her death in California in April 1950.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2017

Accession number: 2017.131

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Yeoman & Co, Melbourne

Betsy (Bessie) Lee (age 30 in 1890)

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, 1863 Batchelder & O'Neill
Lady Barkly, 1863 Batchelder & O'Neill
Lady Barkly, 1863 Batchelder & O'Neill
Lady Barkly, 1863 Batchelder & O'Neill

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
The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery

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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.