Blake, Lady Edith (1845–1926), botanical illustrator and writer, was born in Newtown Anner, near Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, eldest daughter of the heiress Catherine Isabella Osborne (1819–80) of Newtown Anner, and Ralph Bernal Osborne (qv), (1808–82); liberal MP, who assumed his wife's surname on their marriage in 1844. Her parents appear to have become estranged early in their marriage, and with her father based primarily in London, she was reared primarily by her mother. Mrs Osborne, herself a talented artist who produced a series of drawings of English and Irish country houses, encouraged the artistic endeavours of Edith and her sister Grace (1848–1926), later duchess of St Albans. She invited several artists to stay at Newtown Anner, among them Thomas Shotter Boys, RWS, and the Swiss painter Alexandre Calame, and it is possible that the girls received some form of instruction from them. In this cultivated atmosphere Edith developed many interests. It was probably during this period that she met Joseph Paxton, the landscape gardener who designed Newtown Anner's gardens, and with whom she corresponded for many years. She was also a close friend of Fanny Currey (qv), a regular visitor, who collaborated with her in illustrating envelopes (1858–68). In 1872 she visited Austria, Germany, Italy, Sicily, Greece, and Turkey, making a study of the local architecture, art, and culture. Having sketched and recorded much of what she saw in her diary, she had the material for her first book, Twelve months in southern Europe (1876), which included four of her own illustrations.
She married (1874) Henry Arthur Blake (qv), a widower and RIC sub-inspector, with whom she had two sons and one daughter. Owing to the opposition of her parents the couple were forced to elope. Edith was sheltered by her friends Richard (qv) and Harriet Bagwell (qv) of nearby Marlfield House, while waiting for the banns to be read. After her marriage she was disinherited. Soon after the Blakes moved to Belfast, and for a time were short of money, though in the years that followed their fortunes improved as he received increasingly important posts. He was appointed an RM in 1876 and a ‘special RM’ during the land war; when he was threatened with assassination, she travelled beside him armed with a gun. Despite his work and, later, his unionist affiliations, she always remained sympathetic to the more romantic strands of nationalism, and struck up a friendship with Anna Parnell (qv). Her second publication, The realities of Freemasonry by ‘Mrs Blake’, appeared in 1879. In 1884 her husband received the first in a series of appointments in the British colonial service. She accompanied him during his governorships in the Bahamas (1884–7), Newfoundland (1887–8), Jamaica (1889–97), Hong Kong (1897–1903) and Ceylon (1903–7), where, rather than entertain the local English expatriate community, she concentrated on her interests in botany and painting. Her botanical watercolours of local flora and fauna, painted from nature, were exhibited (1894) at the Museum of Science and Art, Dublin, while 196 of her studies of Jamaican lepidoptera at various stages of the life cycle are now in the entomology library of the Natural History Museum, London. Some of her work is also in the collection of the Botanic Gardens, Dublin. While in the Bahamas she is said to have painted with a pet snake entwined around her waist. She also produced landscapes, and painted the opening of the 1888 Newfoundland Placentia Railway. A contributor to a number of English and American scientific journals, she often involved herself in the development of the countries she resided in. Her collection of over a hundred Native American artefacts from the Bahamas is now in the National Museum of the Native American in New York. A talented linguist, she spoke nine languages including Irish, Russian, and Chinese. When her husband retired (1907), the Blakes returned to Ireland and settled in Myrtle Grove, the former home of Walter Raleigh (qv) near Youghal, Co. Cork, where many of her sketchbooks are now located. Its staircase is decorated with her botanical illustrations. She also wrote dramas, and as Lady Blake published three plays: ‘Samhain's eve’, ‘The quest of Edain’, and ‘The swan’, adapted from Irish mythology, with a view to reviving interest in ancient Irish literature. After her husband's death (1918) she lived in almost total retirement, but continued to paint well into her seventies. She died 18 April 1926 at Myrtle Grove.