Ellen wrote to her eldest brother, Emanuel (known in the family as Manny) on April 16th 1807, 210 years ago today. Ellen’s father, Thomas, had died when Ellen was two years old, and Emanuel (who was 17 years older than Elln) was the head of the family. He had studied law at Trinity College Dublin and lived and worked in London. This appears to be the first time that Elln has told him about her botany studies.
I address you once more to ask a little advice as I have no other friend [relative] to consult. For some time past I have amused myself learning botany. I am told by those who are good judges that I have made very great progress for the time I have been learning, in a curious and difficult branch, that of marine plants. I have been very successful and have discovered a great number of kinds unknown before. Of these new plants, plates [engraved drawings] and descriptions will be given by botanists now publishing their works, and it is usual to mention the place where the plant was found and the name of the person who was the discoverer. I desired that my name should not be published & I have since been asked to allow it to be mentioned as Ladies who have found plants always do so. I am doubtful whether I ought to do so or not & beg you to tell me what I shall do.
If you have any dislike to writing to me will you tell Sam whatever answer you wish to give, as I wish to give a decisive answer. Mrs Taylor and Phyllis wish my name to be mentioned for the plants I have found, but I would not suffer it to be done until I knew if you thought it right.
I send my plants to Mr Mackay, a very good botanist who was sent by the college [Trinity College Dublin] to this and many other parts of Ireland and has made great discoveries in botany. He has now the care of the new college botanic garden. He gives me all the information that I want & sends the plants to those who describe and publish. I also send a great number of Dr Stokes & have made him a very fine collection. He says he is quite astonished at the progress I have made.
I hope you will excuse my troubling you on this subject & that you will tell me what is right for me to do.’ Ellen to Emanuel 16th April 1807
The people mentioned in the letter include her youngest brother, Sam, who was living with Emanuel in London at this time, and Mrs Taylor who lived near Ballylickey, at Inchilough. She was a relative of Ellen’s and mother of Thomas Taylor, Ellen’s third cousin and another botanist. Phyllis was a member of the Taylor household but we have not identified her further. James Townsend Mackay and Dr Whitley Stokes were both of Trinity College Dublin. Dr Stokes was a family friend and he ‘prescribed’ botany for Ellen when she was returning to Ballylickey after living in his household in Dublin.