EXHIBITION: Trinity College Dublin

The exhibition, Celebrating Ellen Hutchins, has one free public open session still available on Thursday 27th April for Part Two of the exhibition, from 5pm to 6:30pm.

The exhibition opened on 9th February 2017 in the Entrance Hall of the Old Anatomy Building of Trinity College Dublin and is on until Friday 28th April 2017. The Ellen Hutchins Festival is delighted to be working with the Herbarium of the Botany Department of TCD in mounting this exhibition for the staff and students of the School of Natural Sciences of TCD.

It is the first ever display of seaweed specimens collected by Ellen Hutchins in Bantry Bay more than 200 years ago, alongside letters she wrote to James Townsend Mackay, the Botanist in charge of the Trinity College Botanic Garden at the time. This material from the Herbarium of the Botany Department of TCD is displayed beside text and pictures telling the story of Ellen Hutchins: the Young Woman, her Work and her World; letters Ellen wrote to her brothers about her botanizing from the Hutchins family private collection; and prints of her exquisitely detailed and accurate drawings of seaweeds, reproduced with the kind permission of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Museums Sheffield.

There are three opportunities for the public to see the exhibition, for free, on the last Thursdays of each month, 23rd February, 30th March and 27th April, between 5pm and 6:30pm.

Provost Patrick Prendergast of Trinity College Dublin formally opened the exhibition on Thursday 9th February, the 202nd anniversary of Ellen’s death in 1815. She was twenty nine years old.

Provost Patrick Prendergast at the Ellen Hutchins exhibiton opening, Trinity, 9th February 2017

Provost Patrick Prendergast at the Ellen Hutchins exhibiton opening, Trinity, 9th February 2017

Photographs of cryptogams and plants linked to Ellen from West Cork and display of specimens, letters and drawings, part of the Celebrating Ellen Hutchins exhibition at Trinity

Photographs of cryptogams and plants linked to Ellen from West Cork and display of specimens, letters and drawings, part of the Celebrating Ellen Hutchins exhibition at Trinity

The Opening of the Celebrating Ellen Hutchins exhibition, Trinity, 9th February 2017

The Opening of the Celebrating Ellen Hutchins exhibition, Trinity, 9th February 2017

Drawings of seaweeds and information panels on the Celebrating Ellen Hutchins exhibition.

Drawings of seaweeds and information panels in the Celebrating Ellen Hutchins exhibition.

The Old Anatomy Building, Trinity College Dublin

The Old Anatomy Building, Trinity College Dublin

The Entrance Hall of the Old Anatomy Building provides a very suitable space to house this material, and as Ellen was supported and encouraged in her study of botany by two of the staff of Trinity College, Dr Whitley Stokes and James Townsend Mackay, it is very appropriate that the exhibition is being mounted for the current staff and students of the School of Natural Sciences at TCD.

Fucus ovalis collected by Ellen on Whiddy Island, 1805. Image Courtesy of The Herbarium. Botany Dept. Trinity College Dublin.

Fucus ovalis (now called Gastroclonium ovatum) collected by Ellen on Whiddy Island, 1805. Image Courtesy of The Herbarium. Botany Dept. Trinity College Dublin.

Ellen’s specimens have been in the Herbarium at Trinity for over two hundred years, since she posted them or sent them in parcels (a different process in the early nineteenth century) to James Mackay. Illustrated above, is one of the first specimens she would have sent; it is dated 1805 and Ellen only started collecting and studying seaweeds at the suggestion of James Mackay when he visited West Cork and spent some days with her at her family home, Ballylickey, in the summer of 1805.

Crosshatched letter with Specimen from Ellen to James Mackay at TCD

Crosshatched letter with specimen from Ellen to James Mackay at TCD

The letters that Ellen wrote to James Mackay were found in the Herbarium correspondence files in 2015. Some contain small specimens of plants, and the letter shown above also has cross hatching, where Ellen has filled the page with writing and then turned it sideways and written over it.

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Here is another beautiful seaweed specimen, of Delesarria sanguinea, collected by Ellen Hutchins in Bantry Bay over two hundred years ago. This and the others were found in the Herbarium by Professor John Parnell in 2015, when Ellen’s significant links to Trinity were being researched.

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This image shows the exciting moment in Spring 2015, when Professor John Parnell found the first of the Ellen Hutchins seaweed specimens in the Herbarium.

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The exhibition uses specimens and letters, words and pictures to tell the story of Ellen’s life, and her significant contribution to the understanding of the non flowering plants known as cryptogams.

The prints grouped ready for hanging

The prints grouped ready for hanging

There are a selection of the prints of Ellen’s drawings of seaweeds, first shown in Ireland at Bantry House in August 2015, and seen here being prepared for that exhibition. The prints are reproduced with the kind permission of the Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.


Exhibition and Botanical Art Trail: August 2016

Click here to download a Trail Leaflet

A legacy from the Exhibition Trail

The Trail took place during the Ellen Hutchins Festival in Heritage week, August 2016. While the Trail is no longer in place, in Bantry you can find an information panel about Ellen in the Bantry Tourist Office, and (the same panel) at Ballylickey in Mannings Emporium and the Ouvane Falls, as well as at Future Forests near Kealkil.

The plaque commemorating Ellen is on the old Garryvurcha church wall in Church Road, Bantry, and the gate to the churchyard is unlocked most days.

Bantry library (open Tuesday to Saturday) has loan and reference copies of the book of Ellen Hutchins and Dawson Turner’s letters, and books on Irish lichen and wild flowers of the area.

The Craft Shop in Glengarriff Road, Bantry and Mannings Emporium in Ballylickey have prints of her watercolour drawing of the seaweed Fucus asparagoides for sale at 25 Euros. They are also available online on the Limited Edition Prints for Sale page of this website.

About the Trail

The Trail had fifteen sites, in shop windows and indoors in shops, Bantry Credit Union, the library and the Tourist Office. Each site could be seen and appreciated separately for part of Ellen’s story, and the sites could be undertaken in any order. Taking the trail round all the sites (fifteen of them) allowed you to discover more about Ellen and see a wonderful range of her seaweed drawings.

The Ellen Hutchins Festival is very grateful indeed for all the support from the shop owners and others who hosted the Exhibtion Trail, and says a huge thank to all of them: Bantry Credit Union, Bantry library, Bantry Tourist Office, The Craft Shop, The Cookware Company, Phyllis’ Art Shop, Organico, Bantry Charity Shop, the former Kelly’s Hardware Shop, Hi Lites, Bantry Yarns; in Ballylickey – Mannings’ Emporium and Cronin’s Centra; and in Glengarriff – O’Connell’s Shop. 

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Part of the exhibition in Bantry Credit Union

Part of the Ellen Exhibition in Bantry Credit Union

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The illustrated information panels, on Ellen Hutchins: the Young Woman, her Work and her World, were first seen in Bantry Library in the Ellen Hutchins Festival in Heritage Week, August 2015, and the seaweed drawings were exhibited in Bantry House at the same time, with the kind permission of the Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London.

Some of the Trail sites had ‘extras’ alongside the watercolour drawings and the information panels. The Library had a hand painted silk scarf by Annie Sage, commissioned to commemorate the Ellen Hutchins Festival in 2015.

There were also Ellen’s Treasures, which are explained on the Ellen’s Treasures page on this website here.

Disability Access

Bantry Library had a simple ‘sit down’ version of the whole Trail (as well as being a site on the Trail). There was a folder with all twenty two of the prints of Ellen’s watercolours of seaweeds, and small versions of the five information panels available to be studied while sitting at a table. You could ask for it at the desk, and return it there when you had finished with it.

A Home Coming

The seaweeds came from Bantry Bay and the drawings were done by Ellen at Ballylickey, where she lived for almost all of her short life. Last year, 2015, was the ‘home coming’ for the drawings, the first time that they had been seen in Bantry, (and in the Republic of Ireland) since they were drawn here by Ellen over two hundred years ago. This year’s Festival Trail was an opportunity to see them again, in a very public setting, and close to where she collected the seaweeds.

Ellen as botanical artist

Ellen had been collecting and studying seaweeds, and making specimens (dried plants on paper) since the summer of 1805, when she was twenty years old and James Townsend Mackay, a botanist from Trinity College Dublin, visited her at Ballylickey and suggested that she should make a particular study of seaweeds.

The first mention in Ellen’s letters of her drawing plants is in July 1808, and then again in December when she wrote to Dawson Turner:

‘Dear Sir, Your most interesting letter found me employed finishing the drawing you wished for of Fucus tomentosus. I have sent it with drawings of some Confervae. … These are the very first that I have attempted.
Ellen to Turner 2nd December 1808

The first three drawings exhibited, of Confervae, are dated October and November 1808, and are some of Ellen’s ‘very first’. Dawson Turner was full of praise for them and encouraged Ellen to continue drawing:

Your Fucus tomentosus will be very soon engraved. The others, I am sorry to say, seem doomed ‘to blush unseen’ in my portfolios, but they shall not be wholly lost. I trust you will not fail to cultivate this art, without which it is scarcely possible to study the Confervae with success. … Let me advise you also, if the trouble is not too much, to sketch the leaves of the mosses you examine under the microscope. It saves a prodigious deal of trouble.’
Turner to Ellen 21st March 1809

In July 1809, Ellen wrote that she had drawn ‘near 76 Confervae and a few Fuci.’

Ill health, death and burial

Ellen suffered from periods of ill health for most of her life, and she seems to have stopped being able to draw in 1812. Her botanising seems to have ended in 1813, and she was very seriously ill for much of 1814, dying in February 1815, just before her thirtieth birthday. She was buried in an unmarked grave in Garryvurcha churchyard, near the south wall of the church.

Memorial / Commemorative Plaque

In August 2015, a commemorative plaque for Ellen was unveiled on the church wall in Garryvurcha churchyard. She is described on it as Natural History Pioneer, and cited for Cryptogamic Botany and Coastal Flora and Fauna. This acknowledges her significant contribution to the understanding of seaweeds and other non flowering plants, known as cryptogams, and fauna is included because of her study of shells, and she found at least two that were previously unknown.

The gate to Garryvurcha churchyard is unlocked during the day, and you can go in and see the plaque.

Ellen Hutchins plaque at Garryvurcha Church , Bantry.