Celebrating 201 Years!

There was a small gathering in Dublin on 10th February 2016, of people who were involved with the Ellen Hutchins Festival in August 2015. It marked the end of the bicentenary year, and looked forward to continuing celebrations of Ellen’s life.

Ellen Hutchins Festival 2016 and more
And there was plenty to celebrate. Arrangements were underway for the second Ellen Hutchins Festival around Bantry in Heritage Week, 20 – 28 August 2016, including walks with botanists, talks, exhibitions including the Pop Up exhibition of Ellen’s letters and one original drawing, and a children’s event.

It was also encouraging to see that others were celebrating Ellen, for example the publication by the Representative Church Body of the memoir written by Ellen’s niece, Alicia Hutchins, as their Archive of the Month for February 2016. Click here to see this.

An Exhibition in Dublin
At a meeting earlier the same day, an agreement had been reached between the Ellen Hutchins Festival and the Botany Department of Trinity College Dublin for the Department to host an exhibition on Ellen at some time in the next academic year (September 2016 to May 2017). This will bring Ellen to the attention of all staff and students of the Botany Department, and there will be at least one public access evening.

The Old Anatomy Building, Trinity College Dublin

The Old Anatomy Building, Trinity College Dublin, now occupied by the Botany Department and where the Ellen Hutchins Exhibition will be housed.

No longer unknown or forgotten
Those at the gathering felt justified that they could celebrate that by this, the 201st anniversary of her death, they had succeeded in rescuing Ellen’s story from obscurity.

The date of Ellen’s death
Ellen died on either 9th or 10th Feb, there are records with each of these dates in them. We use 9th Feb on the website etc, as that is what Michael Mitchell decided upon in his excellent publication of the Ellen Hutchins and Dawson Turner letters of 1999, as it is the date given in the letter from Ellen’s sister in law, Matilda Hutchins, to Dawson Turner notifying him of Ellen’s death.

The article about the memoir and the memoir use 10th Feb as that is the date in the church records. Matilda says in the letter written on February 26th 1815, “My beloved Miss Hutchins breathed her last in my arms on the ninth of this month”. In the paper accompanying the memoir on the Representative Church Body website, the author of the paper, John Lucey, says in a note about 9th and 10th February as the date of death, “the likelihood is that she passed away in the early hours of the latter date”.

A lock of Ellen’s hair
Another letter from Matilda Hutchins to Dawson Turner, where Matilda was packing Ellen’s collection of plant specimens and watercolour drawings and sending them to Dawson Turner, she mentioned that she would send Dawson Turner a lock of Ellen’s hair.

There is no portrait of Ellen, and the few descriptions we have of her looks do not say whether she was fair or dark haired. There is a slim chance that in the Dawson Turner papers held by the Norfolk Museums there might be the lock of Ellen’s hair sent to him by Matilda.

Lots more still to be uncovered
We think that there is probably much more still to be found out about Ellen and her work in botany on the cryptogams (non flowering plants) and on shells. There are probably more specimens and drawings of hers to be found. So far, we only have drawings by Ellen of algae (seaweeds and fresh water algae), but it is clear from her letters that she also drew mosses and lichens. Maybe, by February 2017, when we are celebrating 202 years, we will have made some exciting new finds.