Tag Archives: West Cork

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.

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 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 were full of descriptions of plants. Often the letters had specimens identified by numbers, pinned to the pages. Ellen and Turner offered to fill in each other’s collections and asked each other to help with identification. Ellen gave substantive detail; where she had found each seaweed, moss and lichen, their appearance. In the case of seaweeds, she wrote which season they fruited in, and which others they resembled. She described the colour changes as they dried, and talked of what she hoped to be able to find next season. Turner wrote about plants too, initially mostly providing Ellen with answers to her questions relating to her specimens. He also told her about other botanists he was in contact with, their tours and publications, meetings he was attending in London and he sent her botanical books.

Dawson Turner invited Ellen to stay with his family in Yarmouth; Ellen explained that her caring duties prevented her from leaving home. She, in turn, suggested that the Turners would be welcome at Ballylickey. Turner explained that a visit to Ireland is as improbable as Ellen coming to Yarmouth.

Gradually the topics covered in the letters extended 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 wrote of her mother’s ill health and her own. Ellen described how much she enjoyed the stillness and solitude of the night by the riverside, and clambering over rocks and up mountains in search of plants. Turner quoted poetry. They conferred on literature they had enjoyed and he recommended books to Ellen.

Thus an incredibly strong and supportive friendship developed through the correspondence. Ellen had periods of illness that prevented her doing any botanizing, and she alluded to family troubles but didn’t give any detail. Ellen found the letters and the friendship a wonderful source of comfort when she was immersed in dealing with her own and her mother’s illness. Dawson Turner and his wife faced great sadness when a child of theirs died. Turner named one of his daughters after Ellen and asked her to be the child’s godmother. He said that Ellen of all women in the world is the one he would be most pleased for his daughter to emulate. Ellen collected and sent sea shells to Tuener’s eldest daughter, Maria. Ellen and Turner showed real concern for each other in times of stress and illness, and sought to console and encourage the other.

By 1813, Ellen’s health was poor and she and her mother moved to Bandon for better medical care. When Ellen’s health deteriorated further in 1814, and she was bed-bound and under doctor’s orders not to exert herself by letter writing, She disobeyed and sendt Turner a letter to reassure him that she was still alive. He was extremely relieved and wrote back immediately. She replied that she read his letters ‘with tears of gratitude and affection for such kindness.’ In this, her last letter to him before her death, she ended with ‘Send me a moss – anything just to look at.’

Ellen died 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 had 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.