Tag Archives: botanist

Breakfast at Ballylickey

Mannings

Mannings

When botanists Lewis Dillwyn and Joseph Woods visited Ellen Hutchins at Ballylickey in 1809, they were invited to breakfast with the Hutchins family.

Ellen’s letters often mention breakfast:

“Mrs Taylor spent a day here lately. She came out to breakfast and did not go home till evening, was in excellent spirits and very pleasant.” Ellen to Sam 11th Sept 1807

“I have been called again & again to breakfast & have written in such a hurry that I hardly know what I have said. I can only be sure that I alway feel your truly obliged and faithful E Hutchins.” EH to DT Sept 4th 1809

“How I long for the summer mornings when I can have many undisturbed hours before breakfast.” EH to DT Jan 10th 1810

Nowadays, in season, you can have brunch in Ballylickey at Mannings Emporium, at weekends from 10am to 3pm and enter into the Ellen breakfast mood. Mannings has an information panel on Ellen, and sells limited edition prints of one of her seaweed drawings.

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, Samuel, 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 [Samuel] 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. And for Ballylickey House, see the Estate Agent’s advertisement which includes a spectacular aerial view.

See the events page for information on the mountain walk up Priests Leap on Sunday 23rd August and the boat trip to Whiddy Island on Saturday 29th August as part of the Festival in Bantry Bay: Celebrating Ellen Hutchins. Booking is now open for both of these free events.

 

An amazingly strong friendship through plants and letters

Dawson Turner, in Yarmouth, England, was preparing a book on seaweeds. He received some of Ellen’s specimens and drawings from James Mackay, assistant curator at the Botanic Gardens in Dublin. Turner was delighted and in April 1807 he sent a parcel of plants to Ellen as a thank you. This was the beginning of a seven year correspondence, lasting right up to Ellen’s early death aged twenty nine.

Dawson Turner

Their early letters are full of descriptions of plants. Often the letters have specimens identified by numbers, pinned to the pages. Ellen and Turner offer to fill in each other’s collections and ask each other to help with identification. Ellen gives substantive detail; where she has found each seaweed, moss and lichen, their appearance. In the case of seaweeds, she says which season they fruit in, and which others they resemble. She describes the colour changes as they dry, and talks of what she hopes to be able to find next season. Turner writes about plants too, initially mostly providing Ellen with answers to her questions relating to her specimens. He also tells her about other botanists he is in contact with, their tours and publications, meetings he is attending in London and sends her botanical books.

Dawson Turner invites Ellen to stay with them in Yarmouth; Ellen explains that her caring duties prevent her from leaving home. She, in turn, suggests the Turners would be welcome at Ballylickey. Turner explains that a visit to Ireland is as improbable as Ellen coming to Yarmouth.

Gradually the topics covered in the letters extend past plants and botanists. His letters start to cover ‘domestic concerns’ of the Turner family, and the illness and death of friends and botanists, and Ellen writes of her mother’s ill health and her own. Ellen describes how much she enjoys the stillness and solitude of the night by the riverside, and clambering over rocks and up mountains in search of plants. Turner quotes poetry. They confer on literature they have enjoyed and he recommends books to Ellen.

Thus an incredibly strong and supportive friendship develops through the correspondence. Ellen has periods of illness that prevent her doing any botanizing, and she alludes to family troubles but doesn’t gives any detail. Ellen finds the letters and the friendship a wonderful source of comfort when she is immersed in dealing with her own and her mother’s illness. Dawson Turner and his wife face great sadness when a child of theirs dies. He names one of his daughters after Ellen and asks her to be the child’s godmother. He says that Ellen of all women in the world is the one he would be most pleased for his daughter to emulate. Ellen collects and sends sea shells to his eldest daughter, Maria. Ellen and Turner show real concern for each other in times of stress and illness, and seek to console and encourage the other.

By 1813, Ellen’s health is poor and she and her mother move to Bandon for better medical care. When Ellen’s health deteriorates further in 1814, and she is bed-bound and under doctor’s orders not to exert herself by letter writing. She disobeys and sends Turner a letter to reassure him that she is still alive. He is extremely relieved and writes back immediately. She replies that she reads his letters ‘with tears of gratitude and affection for such kindness.’ In this, her last letter to him before her death, she ends with ‘Send me a moss -anything just to look at.’

Ellen dies on 9th February 1815 at Ardnagashel, just along the coast of Bantry Bay from Ballylickey, her lifetime home, at the house of her brother Arthur and his wife Matilda who nursed her for the last nine months of her life.

 

 

Delightful Book

The Wild Plants of Bere, Dursey & Whiddy

The Wild Plants of Bere, Dursey & Whiddy

This delightful book, The Wild Plants of Bere, Dursey, Whiddy and other Islands in Bantry Bay, published by Sherkin Island Marine Station in 2013, puts on record the variety of wild plants found in this part of Ireland famed for its dramatic scenery, mild climate and sub-tropical gardens. The book examines the history, geography, geology, vegetation and land use of this beautiful corner of Ireland, as well as giving an illustrated catalogue of its wild plants. Ellen Hutchins features strongly, as the first botanist to record the plants of Whiddy Island and produce a list from the Bantry Bay area. Ellen’s story is retold in the section on the History of Botanical Exploration. This book represents the first comprehensive plant listing for Whiddy Island since Ellen’s work in 1807 to 1811.

Right Person, Right Place, Right Time

Ellen Hutchins of Ballylickey was botanizing in the Bantry Bay area of West Cork, Ireland, long before collecting seaweeds became a fashionable hobby for Victorian ladies.

Oil painting c1850 by  Louisa Shore Nightingale.

Water Colour of Bantry Bay  by Louisa Shore Nightingale (nee. Hutchins)

Between 1805 and 1812 Ellen was discovering new seaweeds, mosses and lichens, and sending her specimens and drawings to the leading botanists of the day who published her finds and were highly appreciative of her skills and achievements.

She was very much the right person, in the right place, at the right time. She was short sighted which is probably one reason why she chose to concentrate on the small non flowering plants known as cryptogams (seaweeds, mosses and liverworts, and lichens) and it helped her in distinguishing tiny differences between similar species. She was determined and curious, and put in the hard work needed to collect and preserve the specimens, then with her microscope she would puzzle over their features and fathom out whether they were already known or new. Her descriptions are detailed and precise. Her specimens are painstakingly and carefully spread out.

West Cork including the Bantry Bay area had been neglected by the botanical community, largely because it was remote, unknown, and travel to it and around it was difficult. Not until the beginning of the nineteenth century, in Ellen Hutchins’ time, did botanists start to realise what a rich and diverse flora the area possessed. This realisation came both from the specimens sent by Ellen, as well as visits that a few of them made to the area, often visiting Ellen at Ballylickey to pore over her sizeable collections of specimens.

The rich array of plants growing there and the neglect that has been given to the area meant that it was relatively easy for Ellen, with her short sightedness, determination, and knowledge of the non flowering plants to find new species. She also knew the Bantry Bay area very well indeed, and was careful in discerning different habitats, so knew where to look to find specific plants.

Her glowing descriptions of the seashore at Ballylickey and the woods at Glengarriff show a young woman in love with her environment. Later in the nineteenth century the landscape and natural delights of Bantry Bay and West Cork were to draw tourists to the area and many appreciated the same scenes as Ellen, as indeed they still do today.