Exhibition Open in Boole Library, UCC, Cork

Monday 15th October, 6pm was the Opening of the Ellen Hutchins, Ireland’s First Female Botanist Exhibition.

The exhibition wias opened by Astrid Wingler, Professor of Plant Biology
Head of Plant Science, School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences and Environmental Research Institute,  University College Cork.

Carrie O’Flynn, the Historical Re-enactor featured on the poster (see below) was there in costume.

The exhibition has a selection of Ellen’s beautifully detailed watercolour drawings of seaweeds, her carefully prepared specimens, and her letters as well as objects and books that help to tell her story. The space features wonderful photographs of Bantry Bay, Glengarriff Woods and the special plants found in the area. You are invited to sit in a period chair and read some of Ellen’s letters. At a laboratory table, you can look through a folder of Ellen’s specimens, and peer through a microscope or hand lens at some amazing lichens. There will be a loop of short films, and a touch screen with further information.

Seaweed specimen collected by Ellen Hutchins, Bantry Bay

Discover the story of a remarkable young woman in Ballylickey, Bantry Bay, West Cork in the early 1800s. In eight years of botanising, cut short by her death aged 29, Ellen Hutchins discovered many new species, and made a significant contribution to the understanding of native Irish non flowering plants – seaweeds, lichens, mosses and liverworts.

Alongside the exhibition there is a series of activities. The first one of these is an Archives Session on Wednesday 17th October is now sold out. We are seeing if we can run it again in November.  Eventbrite

See the UCC Exhibition page for information on the other activities.

15th October 1808: another significant date

This is the date written in the corner of the earliest known drawing by Ellen Hutchins, and now in a bound volume of over 230 of them held in the Archives at Kew Gardens.

We know that Ellen made her first ever drawing of a part of a seaweed in July  1808, and that by the end of November 1808 she had completed a drawing of the whole of that seaweed, Velvet Horn, or Fucus tomentosus, and a number of drawings of other seaweeds, Confervae.

The earliest date we had found written on a drawing of a Conferva was a very indistinct one that we thought might have been October 18th 1808, but we were not confident enough to use it.

Now, with 15th October, we have one that we are confident about, and the wonderful serendipity to this tale is that we confirmed the date on the drawing, very late in the evening on the same day on which we sorted out the Opening date for the Ellen Hutchins exhibition at the Boole Library University College Cork. And the Opening is on Monday 15th October, exactly 210 years after Ellen made that drawing.

 

27th July 1808: a significant date

Seaweed, Fucus tomentosus, drawn by Ellen Hutchins, 1808

Today marks a significant date in Ellen’s Story for two reasons. On 27th July 1808, 210 years ago, she wrote to fellow botanist, Dawson Turner, to tell him of her discovery of a particular seaweed, Fucus tomentosus, in fruit, and that she had made a drawing of it.

She wrote “I had great pleasure in finding Fucus tomentosus in fruit. … fearing that drying will alter its appearance, I have attempted to draw it as it appeared when recent”. EH to DT, 27th July 1808.

This was her first ever botanical drawing. She went on to produce hundreds of them; beautiful, detailed and accurate watercolour portraits of seaweeds found in Bantry Bay, South West Cork, Ireland, where she lived. Many of Ellen’s drawings are held in the Library and Archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

The seaweed, Fucus tomentosus, had never before been seen in fruit, and it was about to be thrown out of the plant kingdom, as the experts were thinking it might be a sponge (animal), not a seaweed (plant). The discovery of it in fruit established Ellen’s credentials as a serious botanist, and the drawing showed that she was also a gifted botanical artist. In 1808 Ellen was just 23 years old and had only been studying botany for three years.

Dawson Turner was writing a major book on seaweeds, and asked Ellen for a drawing of the Fucus tomentosus that he could use in the book. The final version that she produced of the drawing was engraved and used by him as the first plate in Volume 3 of his Historia Fucorum.

Fucus tomentosus, first plate in volume 3 of Dawson Turner’s book Historia Fucorum

The copy of the book held at Kew Gardens is Dawson Turner’s own copy into which were bound the original drawings above the engraved and hand coloured plates.

Ellen’s relatives and the Assistant Archivist at Kew Gardens

Three generations of Ellen’s relatives paid a visit to Kew to mark this significant date by seeing the original drawing of the Fucus tomentosus in Volume 3 of Turner’s book. They also saw letters from Turner to Ellen, and a bound volume of over 230 of Ellen’s seaweed drawings.

Descended from Ellen’s youngest brother Sam, were Madeline (Ellen’s great great great niece), Rosie (great great great great niece), with her baby Sam (great great great great great nephew). The photo shows them with Kat Harrington, Assistant Archivist at Kew Gardens.

Rosie and Sam live on the shores of Bantry Bay, a couple of miles from Ballylickey where Ellen lived.

Heritage Trail leaflet and audio guide launched

Leaflets for the Ellen Hutchins Heritage Trail arrived last Friday, 18th May, at the Tourist Office in Bantry, and some of the people most closely involved in producing the Trail collected to be the first to see the leaflets and to listen to the audio guide tracks alongside them.

Neil Jackman and Roisin Burke of Abarta Heritage looking at the leaflets in the Bantry Tourist Office

The sun shone as we gathered for a photo outside the Tourist Office and then we headed to Spot 2 on the Trail, the beach by the airstrip, known to Ellen as “the shore under Blue Hill”.

Madeline Hutchins: Ellen Hutchins Festival, Eileen O’Shea: Bantry Development and Tourist Association, Roisin Burke: Abarta Heritage, Clare Heardman and Angela O’Donovan: Ellen Hutchins Festival, Breda Moriarty: Deep Maps Project UCC.

Listening to the audio guide introduction track

Madeline Hutchins, one of the authors of the Trail and Ellen’s great great grand niece, on the shore under Blue Hill, by the airstrip.

The Trail has nine stops, most of them reached by car, but then there is the opportunity to explore the area and some have significant circular walks from them, such as the Coorycommane Loop Walk from Coomhola Bridge. For each spot, the leaflet and the audio guide provide information on the place, the plants and an aspect of Ellen’s story.

See the Trail page from the menu above for the online version of the leaflet and links to the audio guide.

 

 

Launch of Bantry Historical Society’s Journal with Ellen essay

An essay on Ellen Hutchins (1785-1815) Ireland’s First Female Botanist – Botany and Beauty, Landscape and Letters appears in the newly published Volume Three of the Journal of the Bantry Historical and Archaeological Society.

On Thursday May 10th at the West Lodge Hotel, Bantry, the Bantry Historical Society launched the new Journal, edited by Dr Colum Hourihane, and the occasion was also a celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the founding of the local history society.

The Journal was launched by Mrs. Brigitte Wagner-Halswick, Managing Director of Rowa Pharmaceuticals Ltd, Bantry. She mentioned Ellen in her address, saying that she felt a sense of affiliation to Ellen as a woman who had experienced difficult circumstances.

In the foreword the editor says “the purpose of this collection is to celebrate the long life and history of the society”. The Ellen Hutchins Festival owes its own existence to the Bantry Historical society as it initiated the first Ellen Hutchins Festival in 2015, and has given the Festival continuing support, particularly through the involvement of Angela O’Donovan, now the society’s cathaoirleach, as one of the three Ellen Festival Team Leaders. The Festival is now annual, during Heritage Week in the Bantry area. This year’s dates are Saturday 18th to Sunday 26th August. See the Festival page in the menu above for information on events as they become confirmed.

The Journal is available to purchase from Bantry Bookshop, William St., Bantry, and also at SuperValu, Bantry. The Journal is priced at €15.

 

VOTE ELLEN

Bantry Credit Union window with Jenny Dempsey, designer of the website and her daughter, Trinity

VOTE ELLEN bunting and information about the Supercomputer Naming Competition has appeared in two Bantry shop windows – the Bantry Credit Union and the Bantry Bookshop.

All Ellen’s plant hunting and her discoveries of new plants were done round Bantry Bay and its neighbouring mountains, so celebrating Ellen’s achievements is also a celebration of Bantry Bay and West Cork.

Team Ellen are encouraging local schools to enter the competition, find out about the six pioneering Irish scientists on the shortlist and then VOTE ELLEN!

Ellen: schools website launch

The Ellen schools website is officially launched today, with content specifically developed as research resources for school students interested in entering the competition to name Ireland’s new Supercomputer.

  • Interesting, engaging, and informative material
  • separate pages for primary and secondary school students
  • summaries of useful information, great photos and illustrations
  • at secondary level, links to more research resources.

The timing is good. The launch is in an important week for women, between International Women’s Day and Mothering Sunday/ Mother’s Day. Ellen is a significant scientist at an international level in her very specialist field of botany – that of the non-flowering plants called cryptogams. Ellen was also a devoted carer for her elderly and ill mother, looking after her at Ballylickey for nearly ten years.

The Ellen Hutchins Festival team is delighted to launch this new Ellen schools website and thanks UCC Library for its contribution to the costs. You can access the site from here. Enjoy!

The Supercomputer Naming Competition has a deadline for voting of 12 noon on Friday 20th April. To enter the competition see nameourcomputer.ichec.ie.

Pioneering young woman scientist

A tribute, on International Women’s Day

Ellen Hutchins: pioneering young woman scientist

Botany is the scientific study of plants and Ellen Hutchins is rightly regarded as the first Irish female botanist. After schooling in Dublin, around 1805, she returned home to Ballylickey, County Cork and set about her systematic pursuit of the study of plants armed with some text books lent by Dr Whitley Stokes of Trinity College, Dublin. To put this era in perspective, it would be some 70 years before girls could sit secondary-school state examinations and a hundred years before women students gained access to Trinity College. Thus, long before women entered scientific professions this young lady was studying the plants of her native area, between Bantry and Glengarriff in West Cork and into County Kerry, firstly drawing specimens and then identifying them. She became an expert plant taxonomist, i.e. someone who classifies plants into species based on their characteristics, and specialised in very difficult groups such as mosses and liverworts. She also had a little boat which she used to collect sea plants around Bantry Bay. In an age when computers were unknown this young woman classified more than 1,000 species in her hand-written catalogue of Irish plants and made detailed drawings of many. Ellen died a month before her 30th birthday but has left a lasting legacy to science. Specimens collected by Ellen Hutchins are now in various collections around the world including Dublin, London, Edinburgh, Helsinki and New York. In a time when women did not publish in their own right, her many plant records, as well as water-colour illustrations, were included in the works of the leading botanists of the day. She had many species named in her honour including mosses and liverworts, lichens and marine algae as well as some flowering plants. Ellen Hutchins was born on St Patrick’s Day in 1785 and more than two centuries later International Women’s Day is held each year in the same month to celebrate women’s achievements throughout history. It is fitting that this young woman, working alone in what was then a very remote part of the country, should be celebrated among Irish pioneering scientists.

John Lucey MSc CBiol MIBiol MPhil is a biologist and historian living in Kilkenny.