Annesley, Mabel Marguerite (1881–1959), wood engraver and watercolourist, was born 25 February 1881 at Castlewellan, Co. Down, only daughter among two children of Hugh, 5th earl of Annesley, of Castlewellan, and his first wife, Mabel Wilhelmina Frances (née Markham). She was educated at home and subsequently attended the Frank Calderon School of Animal Painting, Midhurst, Sussex (1895). She became an active member of the Belfast Art Society from 1899 and was later elected an honorary member of the Royal Ulster Academy. In 1904 she married a penniless sailor, Lt Gerald Sowerby, RN; they lived happily in a cottage in Hampshire, England, and had a son, Gerald Francis. After the deaths of her husband (1913) and her brother Francis, 6th earl of Annesley (1914), she resumed her maiden name and returned to Castlewellan to manage the estate and its famous gardens. Though the deaths of the 5th and 6th earls left her a heavy burden of death duties, she successfully achieved solvency by dint of reorganisation and economy: she ‘lived in a few rooms and ate potatoes for supper with a silver fork off a large heraldic dinner-plate’ and journeyed in a pony-drawn tub-cart (As the sight is bent, 25).
From childhood, she was inspired by the landscape of the Mourne mountains and wanted to draw. She studied wood-engraving (1920–21) at the Central School of Art and Design, London, under Noel Rooke (1881–1953); ‘At that time I wanted to be simple, not complex. I wanted to summarise, not explain. At forty I began to woodcut’ (ibid., 26). In 1924 she was elected to the Society of Wood Engravers as one of its earliest members, and illustrated several books including a limited edition of Songs from Robert Burns for the Golden Cockerel Press (1925). She lectured on wood engravings and exhibited her work from her studio in Lombard St., Belfast (1925), presented watercolours, wood engravings, and silverpoints at a one-woman show at the Batsford Gallery, London (1933), and exhibited in Dublin at the Watercolour Society of Ireland (1938). In 1939 she presented a collection of a hundred wood engravings, which included works from the finest contemporary French and English artists and nineteen of her own, to the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery.
Bombed in Belfast during the second world war, she moved to Nelson, New Zealand, returning to England c.1953. George Russell (qv) compared her engravings to those of William Blake. They were acquired by the British Museum; the Ulster Museum, Belfast; and the Sargeant Gallery, Wanganui, New Zealand. She died (19 June 1959) in Clare, Suffolk, and was buried in Long Melford, Suffolk. A memorial exhibition (including work by two other early members of the Society of Wood Engravers, Robert Gibbings (qv) and Gwen Raverat (1885–1957)) was held at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (1960); her unfinished autobiography As the sight is bent, illustrated with her wood engravings and edited by her half-sister, Constance Malleson (qv), was published in 1964.