Author Archives: Madeline Hutchins

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!

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.

Latest Ellen Tribute: electrical box / street art in Cork

Mad About Cork added the Ellen Hutchins electrical box street art image to their collection on 20th February 2018. Mad About Cork is a guerilla group in Cork City making positive changes in derelict and run-down urban spaces through street art, guerrilla gardening, & more.

The Ellen Hutchins electrical box is the latest in a series paying tribute to significant Cork people. It’s at the start of Clontarf Bridge, just outside the Clayton Hotel in the city centre.

 

The Ellen Hutchins Story – the basics

The story of a remarkable young woman.

In the early years of the 19th century, in a remote corner of Ireland, a young woman in her twenties, with intermittent poor health, and mostly self taught or tutored from a distance, in the space of just eight years, made a whole series of discoveries of plants new to science. Ellen showed great skill and determination in identifying plants, particularly the non-flowering plants, known as cryptogams – seaweeds, lichens, mosses and liverworts. These plants were not well understood at that time, and Ellen’s work was significant in increasing knowledge of them. She sent high quality specimens (dried plants on paper) to the leading botanists of the time who described and published them. Ellen had numerous plants named after her. She was and still is highly respected by those in botany and the history of science for the contribution that she made to scientific knowledge. On top of all this, Ellen was also an accomplished botanical artist and over three hundred of her watercolour drawings of seaweeds survive.

She developed an incredibly strong friendship with the eminent botanist Dawson Turner of Yarmouth, England, through correspondence only. They never met. He named a daughter after Ellen and made her godmother to the child. Many of their letters to each other have survived, and these and other letters Ellen wrote to her brothers, allow us to learn about her story through her own words.

Ellen suffered from poor health and had caring responsibilities for her mother and a disabled brother, and in 1813 she fell seriously ill, was unable to do any botanising for eighteen months or more, and died a month before her thirtieth birthday, on 9th February 1815.

Ellen was a field botanist / plant hunter / plant collector, working on native plants in her home territory. She was born at Ballylickey on the shores of Bantry Bay, and all her plant hunting took place round Bantry Bay and in its neighbouring mountains. As a resident botanist, she knew the area very well indeed and would return to the same spots again and again to check on plant growth.

Bantry Bay was a very remote place two hundred years ago, and its great wealth of plants had not been explored, so Ellen was in exactly the right place, and at the right time to make significant discoveries. She also had the right skills and showed huge determination and perseverance in searching for and then identifying the plants.

There is no portrait of Ellen. A silhouette of how she might have looked was created by the University of Ulster in the 1980s using costume and hair details appropriate to the period.

Those who have discovered the Ellen Hutchins story think that it deserves to be more widely known. The annual Ellen Hutchins Festival in and around Bantry during Heritage Week in August explores botany and botanical art through her story.

Festival: displays continue in Bantry and Kealkil

The third annual Ellen Hutchins Festival took place in Bantry and the surrounding area as part of Heritage Week in August.

As a legacy from the Festival, there are now two permanent displays about Ellen. One is in the Tourist Office, Bantry, which is open on Fridays through the winter, and the other is in the magical wooden building at Future Forests, Kealkil. For more information about this one see the Ellen’s Treasures page in the menu above.

 

 

25th June 1807: a beautiful present of sea plants

This is one of a series of posts of letters written by Ellen to her brothers and botanists in 1807. If this whets your appetite and you are interested in following the story, you might want to start at the beginning of the year and read the letters in date order.

Ellen wrote to her brother Sam on this day 210 years ago, and as usual she mentions the health of her Mother, how her disabled brother Tom is faring, and something about the Taylor family who are both neighbours and cousins. The news this time is about the arrival of a gift of plants.

The formality of the age means that Ellen refers to her sister-in-law Matilda as Mrs Hutchins. Matilda is married to Ellen’s brother Arthur and they are returning from Harrogate in Yorkshire, England, having been there to ‘take the waters’ for Arthur’s health.

Ballylickey June 25th 1807

My dear Sam

Tom is just as usual. He goes out in his gig often and some times goes out boating. His legs are very stiff. I don’t think he improves at all in walking. He makes few attempts and those with difficulty. My Mother is pretty well.

I have got a beautiful present of sea plants from a Mr Turner at Yarmouth. Some of the new plants I found were sent him. He was so pleased with them that he sent me some of the rarest kinds found in England and some foreign ones with some plates [drawings] and descriptions published by himself of Fuci and of Lichens.

You have not told me if you have asked Manny what answer he had to make to my letter. If he has given you any pray tell me.

How is Tom Taylor? All his friends at Inchilogh are very well. Mrs T able to come down stairs every day. She and Phyllis always enquiry after you very much. I hope you will soon enter college. You seem to wish it so much.

Mrs Hutchins says Arthur is wonderfully recovered since he went to Harrogate . I never saw so miserable looking a creature as he was before. He was like death stalking about.

All here write in love to you.

Yours affectionately

E Hutchins

Sea Plants: a large and difficult branch of botany

210 years ago today, Ellen wrote to her youngest brother, Sam.  The following portions of the letter deal with her botanising, her attempts to get a copy of Lewis Dillwyn’s book British Conferva, a gift of plants on its way to her, and her cousin Thomas Taylor, also a botanist.

Ballylickey June 18th 1807

My dear Sam

Thank you for enquiring about Dillwyn for me. I am impatient now to get it. Tom Taylor tells you wrong when he says I am a great botanist for indeed I am far from it. I have I believe made pretty good progress for the time I have been learning. My powers of observation are small and I have had too few books to do much. All the fine works on botany are expensive and my Mother cannot afford to give me books.

In the sea plants, a large and difficult branch I have done most. I have made a great many discoveries of new ones no less than 7 already and some that are not yet determined. Mr Turner, a great botanist in England, has sent me some rare sea plants. They are received in Cork. He is now composing a great work on all known Fuci. I have a work of his on the British species. There is I believe a fine Botanic Garden at Cambridge and the professor is a very excellent botanist.

Tell T. Taylor that all his friends at Inch. are very well. That Mrs T. is downstairs every day. She has been out visiting and we expect her to visit us. Alfred is in the country for one week and Joseph is sent for to Fermoy. I have little to tell you that could amuse. Little Tommy and Margaret are here and in much better health and temper than at home.

Yours affectionately

E H

Her reference to Cambridge is because Sam was expected to be going there as a student to study Law. Little Tommy and Margaret are her nephew and niece who live at Ardnagashel, very close to Ballylickey.