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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lee, Ida Louisa (1865–1943)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Ida Louisa Lee (1865-1943), historical geographer, was born on 11 February 1865 at Kelso, near Bathurst, New South Wales, third of eight children of George Lee, grazier, and his wife Emily Louisa, née Kite, both born at Kelso; she was a granddaughter of William Lee. With her five sisters, she grew up at Leeholme, Kelso, and rode to school; she became a keen horsewoman.

On a visit to England, Ida Lee married Charles John Bruce Marriott (1861-1936) on 14 October 1891 at the parish church, Felixstowe, Suffolk. Marriott had captained Cambridge, Blackheath and England at Rugby football. In 1892-1903 he taught and was a housemaster at Highgate School, Hampstead, where Ida's only child was born in October 1892. She took part in school life and in 1897 published a slender volume, The Bush Fire and Other Verses. Marriott was secretary of the Rugby Football Union in 1907-24; they divided their time between London and Suffolk, where he was a small landowner. Her sister Edith married J. J. W. Power and lived in the Channel Islands.

Mrs Marriott spent her spare time delving in British libraries, notably at the Admiralty, and discovered log-books, journals and lost charts. In 1906 The Coming of the British to Australia, 1788 to 1829 appeared under her maiden name. Articles in the Tasmanian Mail, Empire Review and Geographical Journal followed. She next turned her attention to the forgotten navigator (Sir) John Hayes, and from 'letters, family records, official notices and newspapers of the period' compiled Commodore Sir John Hayes, his Voyage and Life (1912). In October 1913 she was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of London and in 1918 the second honorary fellow of the Royal Australian Historical Society.

Her husband and son both served with the British Expeditionary Force in France in World War I. Ida continued her researches and published The Logbooks of the 'Lady Nelson' (1915), and Captain Bligh's Second Voyage to the South Sea (1920). In Early Explorers in Australia (1925), despite some errors in transcribing Allan Cunningham's journal, she displayed considerable knowledge of 'systematic botany and botanical taxonomy' and updated Cunningham's nomenclature. Her last book, The Voyage of the Caroline, appeared in 1927, but she continued to correspond with museums and libraries. In an article in Geographical Journal (April 1934), she argued that the British first sighted Australia in 1682 when the Trial was wrecked on the Tryal rocks off the West Australian coast: she had found the original letter from the ship's captain in the India Office.

As a young woman, Ida Marriott had been photographed wearing a feather-boa and frivolous hat; she had an elegant figure, widely spaced eyes, regular features and a warm smile. In her late sixties, when she lived at the Dower House, Sizewell, she was described as 'a charming lady … usually dressed in black in a rather Victorian style, but with great dignity and “presence”'. Survived by her son, she died at Norwich on 3 October 1943.

Although A. W. Jose in 1906 chided her for errors in The Coming of the British and later scholars have indicated that she occasionally failed to make it clear when she made omissions, contemporary reviewers warmly welcomed her books: C. H. Bertie wrote that 'Mrs. Marriott's books are distinguished for the amount of original research work she has put into them'. Ida Lee's scholarly output was unusual for a woman of her time and background.

Select Bibliography

  • Home (Sydney), 1 Mar 1932, p 37, 55
  • Argus (Melbourne), 28 Feb 1913, 10 July 1915
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Sept 1925
  • Australasian, 9 Apr 1921, 25 July 1925
  • The Times (London), 28 Dec 1936
  • Ida Marriott papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Lee, Ida Louisa (1865–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 25 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Marriott, Ida Louisa

11 February 1865
Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia


3 October 1943
Norwich, Norfolk, England