Wolverhampton BTW

Sarah Bowdich

Bowdich, Sarah née Wallis, later Lee, 1791—1856

by Benjamin Colbert

Sarah Wallis Bowdich was born in Colchester, Essex, the daughter of John Eglonton Wallis (c.1766–1833), grocer and linen draper, and Sarah Wallis, née Snell (c.1770–1839). In 1813, she married Thomas Edward Bowdich (1791?–1824; ODNB), then a partner in his father's milliners firm. Both were keen riders, and explored Wales together on horseback.

In 1814, her husband was appointed to a writership in the Royal African Company and he sailed to Cape Coast Castle in late 1815, Sarah Bowdich and her infant daughter Florence following in 1816. In the meantime, he had sailed for England. While awaiting his return, she researched local culture and natural history. During this time, she lost her daughter to fever. Reunited at last with her husband, they embarked on a mission to Asante, where Sarah Bowdich continued to collect plants.

In 1818 they returned to London and by 1819 established themselves in Paris, where Sarah Bowdich became friends with Cuvier and published her Taxidermy (1820), while her husband prepared for a second African expedition. Accompanied by their two children born during this period, they departed in 1822, spent 15 months in Madeira where a daughter was born, and arrived in Gambia in November 1823. There Thomas Bowdich caught fever and died in January 1824. Back in London, Sarah Bowdich saw Excursions (1825) through the press and thereafter published stories, articles, and books on African subjects and natural history, including her serialised Fresh Water Fishes of Great Britain (1828-37).

In 1826, she married Robert Lee, an assize clerk, but continued to be known as Mrs Bowdich until 1829. In 1830, then resident Burton Street, London, she signed a copyright agreement with Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley for a manuscript entitled 'Travels in Africa', although no publication of that or a similar title appears in the Colburn/Bentley lists for that time frame. She was most prolific in later life, from 1840 to 1856 when she published 17 books, including fiction, but earned renown for her work in natural history.


Beaver, Donald deB. 'Lee [née Wallis; other married name Bowdich], Sarah (1791–1856), naturalist and author'. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 24 May 2007. Oxford University Press. Web. 16 Oct. 2017. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/16310

Memorandum of agreement between Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley with Sarah Lee of Burton Street, Burton Crescent, London 4th Aug. 1830. Add MS 46611 [Vol 52]. Richard Bentley Papers. British Lib., London.


Title Published
Stories of Strange Lands 1835
Excursions in Madeira and Porto Santo 1825 Contributor

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