Marian "Ellis" Rowan, née Ryan, was born in Melbourne, Australia. Her grandfather John Cotton was noted as the author and illustrator of two books on English birds. She attended a girls' school at Brighton, Victoria, but had no formal training in art. In 1873, she married Frederic Charles Rowan, a British army officer with whom she had a son. They went to live in Taranaki, New Zealand, where her husband served in the armed constabulary. In 1877 they returned to Australia and she continued to pursue her interests in finding and painting wildflowers, birds, insects, and butterflies of many countries. After her husband's death in 1892, she travelled around the world, exhibiting her work as she went and winning awards. Queen Victoria took three of her paintings, bringing her instant fame. She wrote Flower Hunter in Queensland and New Zealand (1898), based on letters to her husband and friends. While in the USA, she illustrated three botanical books written by Alice Lounsberry. In 1916-1918, she twice visited Papua and New Guinea, finding and illustrating many previously unclassified flowers as well as 44 species of birds of paradise. At age 70, in ill health from malaria and fatigue, she returned to Australia, where she held an exhibition of 1000 of her paintings in 1920.