26 March 1807

210 years ago today, the Botanist in charge of the Botanic Gardens at Trinity College Dublin, James Townsend Mackay, wrote to Ellen Hutchins of Ballylickey, with whom he had been corresponding since September 1805 about plants she was finding in the Bantry Bay area of West Cork.

He answers questions Ellen has asked about books, comments on her wish not to have her name published as the finder of plants, tells her of a present of sea plants on its way to her from Dawson Turner, and sends her some seeds of a native plant for her garden.

James Mackay: letter to Ellen Hutchins 26 March 1807 Image by kind permission of the Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. 

Dublin, 26 March 1807


I have to thank you for your kind letter of the 16th inst. and also for another of the 15th of last month the contents of which I have not yet had sufficient time to examine. I thank you for your kind invitation of sending more and shall be glad of more specimens of the Conferva you sent me last if the parcel is not gone before this reaches you. I think it seems different from any you sent before but am not as yet certain about its name. I cannot as yet tell you exactly the price of Mr Dillwyn’s work on Conferva but it is published in Numbers at about 2/6 or 5/- each I think each No if 5/- will contain 10 or 12 plates with descriptions. Any of your friends in London that will take the trouble to call at Mr Sowerby No 2 Mead Place, Lambeth, London will get the necessary information where to be got and also know the price and quantity of it published. Mr Turner’s work on Mosses is in Latin. It is entitled Muscologiae Hibernica. The title of Mr Dillwyn’s work is Dillwyn’s British Conferva.

I will attend to what you say of not wishing to have your name mentioned in print – I hope I have not erred in mentioning it to Mr Turner. I should think it were a pity that two persons who have paid so much attention to the same branch of botany should not know one another’s names!

I believe I mentioned in my last letter that he was about to send me for you, specimens of rare British sea plants. I wrote him word I was sure they would be acceptable – I expect them here about the middle or latter end of next month – I will soon have his opinion of some of your rare species which I have sent him. Your Fucus No 6 (?) is certainly Fucus edulis of Turner’s Synopsis and which was considered by some authors as only a variety of Fucus palmatus, although I think it very different from in many respects, as you also justly observe it to be.

I shall mention to Mr Turner, what you say of Fucus membranacens, perhaps he may not have seen it in a recent state.

I understand Mr Taylor will be going to your part of the country next month when I will send you some plants, or may perhaps send them before he comes.

I have found since publishing my list that the plant I took for Turritis glabra is not that plant but Turritis alpina, new to Britain. It will soon appear in English Botany together with my new British Arcnasia. So that instead of a Turritis glabra ?? H Br. you can mark in the list Turritis alpina Linnaeus Systema Vegetabilium page 600. It is a biennial plant. I enclose you a few seeds of it which you can immediately in your garden on a light soil. It grows on a sandy common near the sea side in Connemara perhaps you may find it on your coast next summer.
I remain
yours respectfully
J T Mackay

The original of the letter was given to the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew by the Hutchins family and is in the archives at Kew Gardens, along with the letters from Dawson Turner to Ellen. The transcription is by Madeline Hutchins, one of Ellen’s great great grand nieces, researcher on Ellen and an organiser of the Ellen Hutchins Festival.

The other half of the correspondence, letters from Ellen to Mackay, are held in the Herbarium, Trinity College Dublin, and are on display at present, for the frst time ever, in the exhibition, Celebrating Ellen Hutchins, in Trinity, alongside specimens of plants Ellen found 210 years ago and sent to Mackay at Trinity. There are two free public open sessions, this Thursday, 30th March and Thursday 27th April, 5pm to 6:30pm, in the Old Anatomy Building.

See here