This is a continuation of the series of posts giving the correspondence between Ellen and her brothers, and Ellen and James Townsend Mackay in 1807, with extracts of the letters posted here on the day on which they were written.
On 3rd April 1807 Ellen wrote to her youngest brother, Samuel, telling him about her study of botany and asking for his help to find out about Lewis Dillwyn’s book, British Confervae. This letter is also one stage in the story of Ellen not wanting her name to be given as the finder of plants.
‘My dear Sam,
Tom has sent £80 for you in cash. Let him know when you have received it. You never gave any accurate description about the nightshirts you wish for. Write exactly what you wish to have done about them and Tom will have it done. What number do you want? You must describe the size as well as you are able and the quality of the linen. [??] Tom desires you to tell Manny [Emanuel] that there is no chance at present of doing any thing with Thinn in the business I mentioned in my last. He is not now disposed to sell.
I wish that you may be as successful in Law as I have been in botany. I have made some discoveries in sea plants of some kinds entirely new, others new to Britain but known to botanists of other countries, and I have also found many rare, curious and beautiful plants.
Now I want to ask you to give me a little assistance will you call on Mr Sowerby, No 2 Mead Place, Lambeth and enquire whether “Dillwyn’s British Confervae” is to be had, how many numbers of it there are published, and the price of each number. Let me know as soon as you can what you have learned about this work. I can get it sent from Cork as soon as I know whence it is to be had. Mr Dillwyn is describing and giving plates of Confervae, a beautiful genus of sea and fresh water plants. His work will contain some of the plants I have found here which have been sent to him from Dublin. My name will not be mentioned as the finder. I have desired that it should not.
I enclose you a specimen of one of them. A very elegant little plant. Most of the others I have got are too large to put in a letter. I have a very fine collection of marine plants and have sent Doctor Stokes a vast many specimens – I should learn a great deal of botany if I had good assistance but all the fine works on that subject are very expensive.
My Mother is tolerably well, tho she is often ill of late. Tom is the same way – I am but middling. I am very subject to a troublesome complaint in my stomach but tho I am some times very ill with it, I am generally pretty strong and able to walk a great deal.’
The letter continues with news of family and neighbours, and ends:
‘My mother desires her love to you and hopes you will soon write.
My dear Sam I am affectionately yours
Ellen had four brothers, the eldest was Emanuel (Manny) who was seventeen years older than her, and he had studied law at Trinity College Dublin, and now lived and worked in London. Arthur was sixteen years older than Ellen and he had bought land at Ardnagashel, just round the coast of Bantry Bay from Ballylickey where Ellen lived, and was married to Matilda and had young children. Next was Thomas (Tom) seven years older than Ellen, and he had lost the use of his limbs, one account says through an accident falling on ice at school, and had to be carried from room to room. Ellen cared for Tom and her widowed mother. When Lewis Dillwyn (author of British Confervae) visited Ballylickey in 1809, he described Tom as the head of the household at Ballylickey. Ellen’s youngest brother was Samuel (Sam) who was eighteen months younger than Ellen. Sam had been to school in England and was staying with Emanuel in London prior to going to college to study law.
While a large number of letters written by Ellen to Emanuel and Sam have survived, so far none have been found written by either brother to Ellen.
The next letter will be posted on 16th April, when Ellen writes to he eldest brother Emanuel about her botanizing and whether to allow her name to be given in publications as the finder of plants.