Tag Archives: 1809

Drawings of Seaweeds from Bantry Bay 1808 – 1812

Ellen Drawing 054

Ellen’s drawing of Fucus asparagoides. 1811

On Thursday 20th August 2015, an exhibition opened in Bantry House of Ellen Hutchins’ watercolour drawings of seaweeds. This was their first showing in the Republic of Ireland and their home coming. They were drawn by Ellen Hutchins, at Ballylickey, about four miles from Bantry House, on Bantry Bay.

Ellen was born at Ballylickey in 1785 and lived there most of her life. She died two hundred years ago, in 1815, after a long illness, aged only twenty nine.

Seaweeds

Ellen described seaweeds as a ‘curious and difficult branch of botany’ and other botanists at that time called them ‘neglected’. She appreciated their beauty and puzzled over their similarities to each other.

Remarkable botanist and accomplished artist

 Botanical illustration was, and still is, incredibly important to those who study plants. In the early nineteenth century, some botanists engaged a botanical artist to draw for them; others, such as Ellen had the skills to do the drawing themselves.

The first mention in Ellen’s letters of her drawing plants is in July 1808, and then again in December when she wrote to fellow botanist, 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 at Bantry House, 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.’

‘Botanical Illustration involves the painting, drawing and illustration of plants and ecosystems. Often meticulously observed, the botanical art tradition combines both science and art.’ Irish Society of Botanical Artists

Despite the advent of photography and digital technology, botanical illustration continues to be of great value to science today.

Ellen bequeathed her extensive collection of plants to Dawson Turner. Her sister in law, Matilda Hutchins, at Ardnagashel, Bantry Bay, who was organising this, suggested to Dawson Turner that he should have Ellen’s drawings as well: to you as a botanist I should hope they would be a great acquisition; if there should be duplicates of any of the drawings, I would feel much obliged by your returning the inferior ones.’ (Matilda Hutchins to Dawson Turner 14th December 1815) We do not know if this happened. The Hutchins family has only one of Ellen’s drawings, of Fucus Asparagoides which is included in the exhibition at Bantry House.

The drawings passed from Dawson Turner to William Jackson Hooker, another young botanist encouraged by Dawson Turner, to whom Ellen’s liverwort finds were sent. Either Turner or Hooker had the two hundred and thirty seven drawings bound into a volume with an index. In 1841 Hooker became the first official Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London. The volume was in Hooker’s private library, and is now in the archives at Kew Gardens, where you can make an appointment to see it.

One evening during the exhibition saw a demonstration of botanical art by Shevaun Doherty; and a Pop Up exhibition of one of Ellen’s botanical dictionaries, some of her books and letters.

The exhibition of the seaweed drawings at Bantry House, and the one which ran concurrently in Bantry Library, Ellen Hutchins, the young woman, her work and her world were part of the Ellen Hutchins Festival in and around Bantry for Heritage Week 2015.

Botanists at Ballylickey 1809

A picture of Bantry Bay and the Hutchins household at Ballylickey

In the summer of 1809, botanists Lewis Dillwyn, Joseph Woods and William Leach travelled to West Cork, and they had with them a letter of introduction from Dr Whitley Stokes of Dublin to Ellen Hutchins at Ballylickey.

From Lewis Dillwyn’s diary we get his impressions of Bantry Bay, which he described as ‘heavenly’, and the Hutchins family set up at Ballylickey. Dillwyn’s party travelled in to Bantry from Dunmanway:

Bantry Bay

Bantry Bay

‘From the summit of a high hill we enjoyed a grand and impressive view of Bantry Bay which is surrounded by wild mountains.’

 The letter of introduction was sent by messenger from Bantry to the Hutchins family at Ballylickey, and an invitation was issued to Dillwyn and friends to spend the next day with the family. In the morning, Ellen’s youngest brother, Sam, who was visiting from Dublin where he was studying law at Trinity College, rode to Bantry to escort them to Ballylickey.

Ballylickey House a century later - 1910

Ballylickey House a century later – 1910

In his diary, Dillwyn described the house at Ballylickey and his day with the Hutchins household, and a return visit the next day for breakfast and then his journey over Priests Leap to Kenmare.

 Monday 17th July 1809

 ‘The house [Ballylickey] surrounded by a plantation of trees is delightfully situated at the head of a small cove… & commands a beautiful prospect of the bay & its surrounding mountains.

 

Whiddy island across the bay

 I busied myself until noon in looking over a part of Miss Hutchins’s extensive and well arranged collection of algae [seaweed] etc and we then, accompanied by her younger brother [Sam] embarked on board the family pleasure boat for a sail on the bay. We landed on a rather large island called Whittie [Whiddy], the shores of which are very steep and rocky & there I gathered several marine algae which I never saw growing before.

 We returned to Ballylickey and after dinner employed ourselves until 10 o’clock in examining different parts of Miss Hutchins’s extensive collections

.Specimens at TCD 161Specimens at TCD 162Specimens at TCD 163Specimens at TCD 164Specimens at TCD 165

Seaweed specimens collected by Ellen Hutchins in Bantry Bay 200 years ago; courtesy of the Herbarium. Botany Dept. Trinity College Dublin.

The master of the house at Ballylickey is Mr Thomas Hutchins who about ten years ago lost the use of his limbs so that he is obliged to be carried from one room to another, & with him an aged Mother and his Sister [Ellen] reside. The liberality, politeness and hospitality of all these we have great cause to remember.’

 Tuesday 18th July 1809

 ‘In the bay large quantities of corallines (coral sands) are dredged up for the purposes of manure, & on our way to Miss Hutchins’s, I for an hour examined some heaps in which I found several scarce and valuable shells & among these are two or three which Mr Leach thinks are new to Britain.

 About half past twelve, we with great regret parted from our new friends at Ballylickey & set out for Kenmare. At 1 o’clock we arrived at the foot of the Priests Leap….. It is a tremendous mountain for a carriage to pass & can only be accomplished with great difficulty on which account we found a respectable farmer with fifteen of the peasantry waiting by Mr Hutchins’s order in readiness to assist us.

 The prospect from its summit is very grand and extensive. To the southward the smooth and glassy surface of Bantry Bay with its numerous creeks & inlets formed a fine contrast to the dark line of its surrounding mountains, & a large tract of country with the Atlantic Ocean beyond as if spread in a map beneath us.’

 Writing to fellow botanist Dawson Turner, Lewis Dillwyn describes Bantry Bay as ‘perhaps the best garden in the world for the marine algae (seaweed), and they there grow in deep pools secure from the ravages of every storm, and as you know, attain an enormous size’.

 For a modern day picture of ‘heavenly’ Bantry Bay see the Wild Atlantic View, described as Ireland’s most beautiful viewing point.

If you are visiting Bantry Bay yourself, see the Heritage Trail page for a self guided tour of the area and enhance this with the Audio Guide which includes readings from Ellen’s letters and Lewis Dillwyn’s diary.