Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria
Ida Evans was a watercolour painter, with a passion and enthusiasm for natural history, and a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society. She was living in Auckland, New Zealand, with botanist James Doran McComish when he left for Alexandria, Egypt, with the Auckland Infantry Battalion in World War I. Sustaining injuries during the war, he left the army after achieving the rank of Captain. Ida and James were married in 1932 in Papeete, French Oceania. They travelled together to exotic destinations to discover, collect, paint and record unique flora. With backpacks and stout walking gear, they would often trek over rough terrain and camp out while exploring new territories on their botanical expeditions.
In their quest for rare endemic botanical specimens, they visited various South Pacific islands, including Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti and Rarotonga. Closer to Australia, Lord Howe and Norfolk islands provided wonderful subjects. In 1937, James discovered Elaeocarpus costatus on Lord Howe Island. The unique flora of Norfolk Island provided inspiration for Ida’s first album in 1928, and she made frequent trips to the island, staying with friends.
Her paintings were assembled into albums now held by the National Library of Australia.
Ida’s inquisitive and investigative nature extended not only to flowers but included fungi and lichens, seaweeds, sponges, seeds, pods and bark, which were recorded and pressed in her albums alongside her paintings. Each album features separate subjects and is clearly indexed. Handwritten notes describe the various plants and their uses. In the album of work from the South Sea islands, (1928-1933), woven native purses and other craft work demonstrate how various leaves and barks were used. Many spices from these islands were also collected and recorded.
In later years, Ida and James moved to Wahroonga on Sydney’s north shore. The thick bushland of the area provided her with many plant specimens as painting subjects.
Together, Ida and James collected and mounted more than 170 botanical specimens, sending them to museums and botanical gardens worldwide, including the Kew Gardens Herbarium, the British Museum in London and the Auckland Museum in New Zealand.
After her husband’s death in 1948 Ida continued the work they had begun together, although her subjects were then sourced locally. She completed her final album at the age of 72.
Example of her artwork:
Source: Extracted from: Women of Flowers, by Leonie Norton (2009), National Library of Australia