Rosa Fiveash

Rosa Catherine Fiveash (1854-1938), botanical artist, was born on 22 July 1854 in Adelaide, youngest child of Margaret (born Rees) and Robert Archibald Fiveash, businessman and mine superintendent. Educated by a governess, trained in art by Miss A. Benham and from 1881-88 at the Adelaide Schools of Art and of Design, Rosa 'the little one in black' was selected from the school's pupils to illustrate J. Ednie Brown's Forest Flora of South Australia (1882-90). Rosa painted 32 of the 45 plates. She gained an art class teachers' certificate from Adelaide and from South Kensington, London, and gave lessons at Tormore House School and privately.

Her early involvement with the field naturalists' section of the South Australian branch of the Royal Society (founded 1883), for whom she did 'some work', may have influenced her choice as an artist. The illustration of native plants was not part of her art training.

In a 30-year collaboration with her 'dear doctor' (Dr R. S. Rogers, a world authority on Australasian orchids) Rosa illustrated his Introduction to the Study of South Australian Orchids (1911) and early editions of the orchidaceae section of Black's Flora of South Australia. She reproduced 'her elusive spidery subjects' with absolute accuracy. A fellow and council member of the (Royal) South Australian Society of Arts, 1892-1913, Rosa exhibited at the society's exhibitions and in Victoria and London. In 1900-02 she travelled abroad with her sister Mary Emily.

In 1908 Rosa painted 322 meticulous watercolours of the South Australian Museum's Reuther collection of toas, small enigmatic Aboriginal sculptures from the Lake Eyre region. She illustrated scientific papers, including coloured plates for E. C. Stirling's treatise on the blind marsupial mole (1891). She included Aboriginal artefacts in the motifs of an illustrated address to Stirling. She reputedly introduced china painting into South Australia, doing her own firing 'in an assayer's muffle furnace'.

Lord Tennyson, the Governor, secured for the Adelaide Art Gallery 48 of her watercolours, which had been prepared for a London publication, 'at very considerable expense' - 200 pounds - which later were transferred to Adelaide Botanic Gardens. Her original floral portraits and plates of the Rogers' collection are held by the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. In 1937 she presented 130 of her Australian flower paintings to the Adelaide Public Library - four bound volumes of strong vibrant watercolours on tinted paper.

Lady Tennyson, writing in 1900 about a visit by Rosa and her sister with 'the most lovely collection of the Australian flowers which she had done' described the sisters as 'more or less ladies - well read and kind little old maids'. Rosa never married. She lived comfortably in the lovely Fiveash family home, 'Gable House', in North Adelaide, enjoying the friendship and acclaim of distinguished writers and scientists. She was a devout Anglican. Failing eyesight prevented her from painting in 1934 and she died on 13 February 1938, leaving an estate of 8000 pounds. Known the world over among flower lovers she was the 'undoubtedly foremost botanical artist in Australia' though the first published volume to appear under her own name was Rosa Fiveash's Australian Orchids in 1974.

Joyce Gibberd

Eric B Sims The South Australian Naturalist vol 49, 1975; vol 55 1980.