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Ellen in Dublin: exhibition in the Botany Department, Trinity College

Celebrating Ellen Hutchins: Trinity College Dublin

The exhibition, Celebrating Ellen Hutchins, Ireland’s First Female Botanist opened on Thursday 9th February (the 202nd anniversary of Ellen’s death in 1815), and runs until 28th April 2017 in the Old Anatomy Building of Trinity College Dublin. Hosted by the Botany Department, it is for the staff and students of the School of Natural Sciences, and has three free public open access sessions, on the last Thursdays of each month, 23rd February, 30th March and 27th April, 5pm to 6:30pm.

It is a wonderful opportunity to see:
• The first ever exhibition of specimens of seaweeds collected by Ellen Hutchins in Bantry Bay over 200 years ago and kept in the Herbarium at Trinity
• Recently discovered letters written by Ellen to James Townsend Mackay at Trinity from 1805 to 1810
• Prints of Ellen’s exquisitely detailed and accurate watercolour drawings of seaweeds
• Ellen’s own descriptions of her botanising from letters to her brothers in 1807.

See here for more information and images.

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210 years ago today

Ellen Hutchins, botanist, aged twenty one, living in Ballylickey, West Cork, wrote another letter to James Mackay of Trinity College Dublin, her third in just over two weeks.

She seems to have had more to say than she had paper to write it on. Having filled the sheet completely on the front, she turned it sideways and wrote over what she had already written. This is called cross hatching. Maybe she had literally run out of paper, or maybe she was economising because she did not have enough to say to fill a whole second sheet, and maybe she was acutely aware that James Mackay would have to pay twice the amount to receive a two sheet letter rather than a one sheet letter. In the early nineteenth century, the person receiving the letter paid, not the person sending it.

Ellen letter to Mackay, 15th February 1807 with cross hatching. (Image courtesy of the Herbarium, Trinity College Dublin)

Ellen letter to Mackay, 15th February 1807 with cross hatching. (Image courtesy of the Herbarium, Trinity College Dublin)

Ellen says that she is enclosing six new plants that she has found since her last letter on 1st February. Of one she says

‘I could not think of any safe way of sending it but inside of two little plates belonging to my little microscope. I am afraid to put it on paper. If you put a drop of water on it and then place it in a microscope you will immediately see it plainly. Its manner of growth seems entirely new to me, perhaps it is a plant of some kind you are acquainted with. I found but very little of it.’

Ellen writes:

Fucus viridis I believe grows some where in this bay. I have got one small ……. bit of a plant which I think agrees with Mr Turner’s description.’

Later in the letter, Ellen writes

‘I am determined to pursue the sea plants this year with all my might and wish to know the kinds you wish to have either dry or fresh. I am much obliged to you for your last letter. I fear it was some inconvenience to you to waste so long. How very eager my curiosity may be to hear of the plants. I should be sorry its fructification was inconvenient to you.’

And:
‘I hope to do a great deal this summer and to add largely to our collections. My mother and brother are quite delighted with the beauty of the sea plants. I wish indeed that you could visit some of the rocks with me. I am very glad you liked the last parcel. As soon as I have any good quality specimens for you I shall send these and let you know.’

She ends with:

‘Should the summer be a favourable one, I hope to go to many rocks on either side of the bay. I shall make every exertion in my power to collect plants. I expect to have a great many for Dr Stokes and for you.
I am Sir with many good wishes yours etc etc
E Hutchins’

She is planning ahead in talking about summer, as it was 15th February, when summer still feels a long way away.

The shore of Bantry Bay, at Ardnagashel, one February day, 2013.

The shore of Bantry Bay, at Ardnagashel, one February day, 2013.

Her determination to pursue the sea plants with all her might seems to pay off earlier than the summer. Two of the wonderful specimens in the display cabinet in the exhibition currently running in Trinity College Dublin are from 1807, and one of them is Fucus viridis (now called Desmarestia viridis), dated April 23rd 1807. She found it on Bocarna Point, which is in Glengarriff harbour. It is the one on the left in the photograph below.

Display of seaweed specimens collected by Ellen Hutchins in Bantry Bay 1807-1809

Display of seaweed specimens collected by Ellen Hutchins in Bantry Bay 1807-1809

Display of Ellen's letters to James Mackay with specimens

Display of Ellen’s letters to James Mackay with specimens

A transcription of the letter is available here.

The exhibition has public access sessions on the last Thursday of each month: 23rd February, 30th March and 27th April, 5pm – 6:30pm.

1 February 1807

Ellen’s letters to fellow botanists are one of the most important sources of information about her life and her botanising. A handful of letters from Ellen to James Mackay of Trinity College Dublin have been found and transcribed, and feature in the exhibition open now to 28th April.

1807 was a very significant year in Ellen’s study of seaweeds and other cryptogams. On 1st February 1807, 210 years ago, Ellen wrote to James Mackay sending him specimens. She begins the letter:

Dear Sir
You will no doubt be surprised to see a parcel from me so soon again but as your pleasure in plants equals mine, I could not delay writing with the enclosed minute species of Conferva.

Later in the letter we learn that her last letter to Mackay had been sent just the day before.

I shall be glad to hear (as soon as you can conveniently write) what you think of the enclosed. Is not it an elegant little plant? How full of fruit. I am sorry I had not it to send in my letter yesterday morn but it was after my letter was gone that I found it.

Letter: Ellen Hutchins to James Mackay, 1st February 1807, second side. Image courtesy of the Herbarium, Botany Department, Trinity College Dublin.

Letter: Ellen Hutchins to James Mackay, 1st February 1807, second side. Image courtesy of the Herbarium, Botany Department, Trinity College Dublin.

The photograph above of the letter has this piece at the bottom, up to “but it was after” and then the piece at the top starts with the words “my letter was gone that I found it”. It continues:

I should go out again today to get more only the spring tides are past.
Last night as I was going to sleep I got Turner’s ‘Synopsis’. I have sat up reading it and find I have done wrong by not sending you all the varieties I could of Fucus ??? and what I take for ceranoides of ??? And what I take for F. ??? I believe I have been quite wrong in these plants. I enclose a large variety of ceranoides as I think. I hope Mr T’s work will be in English that I may be able to read it. Fucus esculentus is plenty here.

The ??? indicate a word that has not yet been transcribed. Can anyone help? Can you read what Ellen has written here? Please leave a comment below.

Update on 6th March 2017

Thanks to Dr Anne Secord of Cambridge University for filling the blanks in the transcription above and giving an explanation of an abbreviation. The paragraph should read:

I should go out again today to get more only the spring tides are past.
Last night as I was going to sleep I got Turner’s ‘Synopsis’. I have sat up reading it and find I have done wrong by not sending you all the varieties I could of Fucus Stellatus and what I take for ceranoides of With. And what I take for F. Crispus I believe I have been quite wrong in these plants. I enclose a large variety of ceranoides as I think. I hope Mr T’s work will be in English that I may be able to read it. Fucus esculentus is plenty here.

The explanation of Fucus ceranoides of With.
[‘With.’ stands for William Withering, and I expect the most likely edition of his work that Ellen might have had is William Withering, Arrangement of British Plants, 3rd edition, 4 vols (1796).]

 

Festival now annual

The 2016 Ellen Hutchins Festival in and around Bantry was as successful as the 2015 award winning Festival, and the decision has been made to make the Festival an annual event. This decision was made with the support of the Bantry Development and Tourism Association.

Eileen O’Shea of the Association says that “Bantry Development & Tourism welcome this now annual festival. We are pleased to be associated with the Hutchins family in recognising the first Irish female botanist Ellen Hutchins (1785-1815) remember her achievements, and walk in her footsteps. The festival takes place during Heritage Week in late August. This event is growing and is now part of the Calendar of Events for West Cork.” Eileen added “We look forward to working with the Bantry Historical Society, the National Parks & Wildlife Service and the Hutchins family in promoting and taking part in this wonderful event to commemorate Ellen’s work in natural science.” Plans for the Festival in 2017 (19 to 27 August) will be posted here.

Some members of the Hutchins family still live near Bantry, and others visit regularly from the UK and Australia. Four great great grand nieces and nephews of Ellen gathered in the Bantry Credit Union to view the Ellen Hutchins exhibition, and met with Finbarr O’Shea, manager of the Bantry Credit Union, and Eileen O’Shea, Chairman of the Bantry Development and Tourism Association, to thank them for their support of the Festival.

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Julian Haskard, Bill Hutchins, Madeline Hutchins, and Arethusa Greacen, all relatives of Ellen Hutchins, with Eileen O’Shea and Finbarr O’Shea in the Bantry Credit Union.

Breakfast at Ballylickey

Mannings

Mannings

When botanists Lewis Dillwyn and Joseph Woods visited Ellen Hutchins at Ballylickey in 1809, they were invited to breakfast with the Hutchins family.

Ellen’s letters often mention breakfast:

“Mrs Taylor spent a day here lately. She came out to breakfast and did not go home till evening, was in excellent spirits and very pleasant.” Ellen to Sam 11th Sept 1807

“I have been called again & again to breakfast & have written in such a hurry that I hardly know what I have said. I can only be sure that I alway feel your truly obliged and faithful E Hutchins.” EH to DT Sept 4th 1809

“How I long for the summer mornings when I can have many undisturbed hours before breakfast.” EH to DT Jan 10th 1810

Nowadays, in season, you can have brunch in Ballylickey at Mannings Emporium, at weekends from 10am to 3pm and enter into the Ellen breakfast mood. Mannings has an information panel on Ellen, and sells limited edition prints of one of her seaweed drawings.

Ellen’s Treasures

Fucus capillaris Collected April 18th 1808 in Bantry Bay. Image Courtesy of The Herbarium. Botany Dept. Trinity College Dublin.

Fucus capillaris Collected April 18th 1808 in Bantry Bay. Image Courtesy of The Herbarium. Botany Dept. Trinity College Dublin.

In shop windows in Bantry, West Cork, for a week or so last August, as well as the official Ellen Hutchins Exhibition and Botanical Art Trail, there were also photographs of seaweed specimens (dried plants on paper) of hers from the Herbarium in the Botany Department, Trinity College Dublin and the Natural History Museum, London, and watercolour drawings of hers held by Museums Sheffield (Yorkshire, England). These three institutions kindly gave permission for the photographs to be displayed in the shop windows during the Ellen Hutchins Festival 2016. This was a wonderful opportunity to see the detailed work that Ellen did in spreading out the seaweeds so carefully on the paper to make the specimens, and the exquisite detail that she captured in her drawings. If you were in Bantry, and found them, you could use the QR code beside them to find out more about them, or you can still click here for that information.

Festival underway in Bantry

Part of the exhibition in Bantry Credit Union

Part of the Ellen Exhibition in Bantry Credit Union


Botany is in focus in Bantry, West Cork until Sunday 28th August (Heritage Week) with walks, talks and exhibitions as part of the Ellen Hutchins Festival. Ellen was Ireland’s first female botanist and the young woman who put Bantry Bay firmly on the map as far as botany is concerned, and seaweeds in particular.

Seaweeds feature prominently in the exhibition of prints of Ellen’s drawings of seaweed and photographs of her specimens (dried plants on paper) which opened on Saturday 20th August. Unlike normal exhibitions, this one takes to the streets, and is in shop windows across Bantry town centre and in Bantry Credit Union, Bantry Library and the Tourist Office. There are also sites in Ballylickey and Glengarriff. See here for more information.

In the evening on Thursday 25th, at the Westlodge Hotel, Bantry, there is a talk and panel discussion on Ellen: her story, her botany and her art, and before this a Pop Up exhibition with some of Ellen’s letters and books, and materials relating to rediscovering her story. Click here for more.

If you fancy picking up a paint brush and being given expert guidance on how to draw plants, there is a one day botanical art workshop, run by award winning artist, Shevaun Doherty, in the gardens and stables at Bantry House on Friday 26th. Shevaun welcomes all levels of experience and none, and says that the day will be relaxing, enjoyable and above all fun.

On Saturday 27th, upstairs in Organico Cafe in Bantry, you can drop by and see Shevaun in action, in a demonstration of her botanical art. The demo runs from 10am to 12 noon. Members of the Hutchins family will be there with prints of Ellen’s drawings.

A few places are still available for the botanical art workshop, see here for booking details, and information on the other events within the Festival.

Winners of Hidden Heritage Award

Angela O'Donovan (Bantry Historical Society), Clare Heardman (National Parks and Wildlife Service), Conor Newman (National Heritage Council) and Madeline Hutchins (Ellen researcher and Ellen's great great grandneice)

Angela O’Donovan (Bantry Historical Society), Clare Heardman (National Parks and Wildlife Service), Conor Newman (National Heritage Council) and Madeline Hutchins (Ellen researcher and Ellen’s great great grandniece)

The organisers of the Ellen Hutchins Festival collected the Heritage Council’s Hidden Heritage Award, in a ceremony in Kilkenny in June. In the Heritage Council’s words: ‘This award shines a light on Ireland’s hidden heritage and was open to event organisers who successfully explored lesser known aspects of Ireland’s heritage during National Heritage Week.’

The Festival organisers were given a lovely looking handmade glass vase with engraving on it, and a certificate.

Ellen Hutchins- National Heritage Awards Heritage-47

See the full programme for this year’s Walking in the Footsteps of Ellen Hutchins Festival here.

2016 Festival programme released

 

Team Ellen Fest 16 has been busy over the last couple of months, putting together a lovely programme of events for this year’s Ellen Hutchins Festival in Heritage Week – 20 to 28 August 2016 in the Bantry area and the full programme is now available for Walking in the Footsteps of Ellen Hutchins.

We are delighted to have a seaweed event on Whiddy Island on Sunday 21st August, a two day Lichen Foray at Ballylickey and Ardnagashel on Wednesday 24th and Thursday 25th, and on Thursday evening a talk and panel discussion on Ellen Hutchins: her story, her botany and her art, with a pop up exhibition before and after. On Friday 26th August, Bantry House is hosting the pop up exhibition, a botanical art workshop and a children’s nature art workshop, and on Saturday 27th there is a botanical art demonstration in the morning in Organico Café in Bantry and in the afternoon, a botany walk in Glengarriff Woods.

Throughout Heritage Week, from Saturday 20th to Sunday 28th August, there will also be an Ellen Hutchins Exhibition Trail in various venues in Bantry, Ballylickey and Glengarriff, with information panels about The Young Woman, her Work and her World, (seen last year in Banty Library) and prints of her drawings of seaweeds. See the full listings over on the events page and on the Heritage Week website, and put the dates in your diary!

The Heritage Week logo this year, a green tree-like human figure with spreading roots, and the wording ‘people and place’ fits very well for the Ellen Fest events. ‘She was the right person, in the right place, at the right time’ said botanist Donal Synnott at last year’s Festival, a theme picked up in the exhibition material about Ellen’s life and work.

Ellen knew the Bantry Bay area well, and as she lived there, could revisit the same location to see the plants at different times of year. She had a knowledge of the weather conditions and how they affected access to the location and the growth of the plants.

Seaweeds, lichen and mosses were little understood in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Ellen made a significant contribution to scientific knowledge through her perseverance in collecting specimens, her care in preserving them to show their form and colour, and her written observations on where she found them and how they behaved, and what she thought might be going on in terms of fruiting etc. When she became frustrated at the difficulty of capturing in words the nature of ones that changed their form and colour when preserved, she turned to watercolour drawings as a way of showing fellow botanists the details of the plants. She was generous in sharing her knowledge and her specimens, making many friends among fellow botanists.

Her correspondence is the main source of information about her story, and botany publications, of her time and in the two centuries since, show the usefulness of her botany studies to increasing human scientific knowledge and the high esteem in which she was and still is held in her specialist branches of botany and by historians of science. Hers is a wonderful story of person and place, and we encourage you to come to Bantry to hear about it and to walk in her footsteps this August.

Celebrating 201 Years!

There was a small gathering in Dublin on 10th February 2016, of people who were involved with the Ellen Hutchins Festival in August 2015. It marked the end of the bicentenary year, and looked forward to continuing celebrations of Ellen’s life.

Ellen Hutchins Festival 2016 and more
And there was plenty to celebrate. Arrangements were underway for the second Ellen Hutchins Festival around Bantry in Heritage Week, 20 – 28 August 2016, including walks with botanists, talks, exhibitions including the Pop Up exhibition of Ellen’s letters and one original drawing, and a children’s event.

It was also encouraging to see that others were celebrating Ellen, for example the publication by the Representative Church Body of the memoir written by Ellen’s niece, Alicia Hutchins, as their Archive of the Month for February 2016. Click here to see this.

An Exhibition in Dublin
At a meeting earlier the same day, an agreement had been reached between the Ellen Hutchins Festival and the Botany Department of Trinity College Dublin for the Department to host an exhibition on Ellen at some time in the next academic year (September 2016 to May 2017). This will bring Ellen to the attention of all staff and students of the Botany Department, and there will be at least one public access evening.

The Old Anatomy Building, Trinity College Dublin

The Old Anatomy Building, Trinity College Dublin, now occupied by the Botany Department and where the Ellen Hutchins Exhibition will be housed.

No longer unknown or forgotten
Those at the gathering felt justified that they could celebrate that by this, the 201st anniversary of her death, they had succeeded in rescuing Ellen’s story from obscurity.

The date of Ellen’s death
Ellen died on either 9th or 10th Feb, there are records with each of these dates in them. We use 9th Feb on the website etc, as that is what Michael Mitchell decided upon in his excellent publication of the Ellen Hutchins and Dawson Turner letters of 1999, as it is the date given in the letter from Ellen’s sister in law, Matilda Hutchins, to Dawson Turner notifying him of Ellen’s death.

The article about the memoir and the memoir use 10th Feb as that is the date in the church records. Matilda says in the letter written on February 26th 1815, “My beloved Miss Hutchins breathed her last in my arms on the ninth of this month”. In the paper accompanying the memoir on the Representative Church Body website, the author of the paper, John Lucey, says in a note about 9th and 10th February as the date of death, “the likelihood is that she passed away in the early hours of the latter date”.

A lock of Ellen’s hair
Another letter from Matilda Hutchins to Dawson Turner, where Matilda was packing Ellen’s collection of plant specimens and watercolour drawings and sending them to Dawson Turner, she mentioned that she would send Dawson Turner a lock of Ellen’s hair.

There is no portrait of Ellen, and the few descriptions we have of her looks do not say whether she was fair or dark haired. There is a slim chance that in the Dawson Turner papers held by the Norfolk Museums there might be the lock of Ellen’s hair sent to him by Matilda.

Lots more still to be uncovered
We think that there is probably much more still to be found out about Ellen and her work in botany on the cryptogams (non flowering plants) and on shells. There are probably more specimens and drawings of hers to be found. So far, we only have drawings by Ellen of algae (seaweeds and fresh water algae), but it is clear from her letters that she also drew mosses and lichens. Maybe, by February 2017, when we are celebrating 202 years, we will have made some exciting new finds.