Tag Archives: 1807

1st June 1807: Ellen to Sam

Ellen’s letter to her youngest brother, Sam, written 210 years ago today – 1st June 1807

Ballylickey June 1st 1807

My dear Sam

Tom has got your letter. Arthur is gone to Dublin. We cannot tell exactly when he will return. ….. 

You have got my letter by T. Taylor before this. I hope soon to get an answer. You don’t say how or where Manny is and as of late he never writes to Tom. We have no other way of hearing of him but when you write. I suppose you will soon enter college.

My Mother is pretty well she says she would write to you some times but that it is very painful to her to stoop she is so weak.

Arthurs children are here. The little girl is a sweet tempered funny little thing. She is not at all petted but Tommy is the most troublesome obstinate ill tempered child I ever saw. His Mother pets him so, that his temper is quite ruined. ….. 

Will you tell T. Taylor that all his friends at Inchilogh are very well. Mrs Taylor is downstairs every day to breakfast.

Tom is just as usual.

I am very well, quite strong. I walk, I botanize a good deal, to that I attribute my having health or strength, for living as I do without any person to take a walk with me, if I had not Botany to interest me, I should have no inducement to take exercise.

I hope that you have made enquiry about Dillwyn’s work for me. I am very anxious to have it. It will contain plates and descriptions of new plants found by me. I have discovered a great many marine plants, great beauties too.

My Mother and Tom desire their love
Yours affectionately
E Hutchins

Ellen to her youngest brother Sam: 16 May 1807

The latest letter from 1807 posted here on the day it was written 210 years ago. Ellen to Sam, 16 May, in which Ellen uses the departure of her third cousin, Thomas Taylor, also a botanist, and studying Physic (medicine), as the means of delivering a letter to her youngest brother who was living in London. We hear that her eldest brother Emanuel (known by the family as Manny) has a habit of not opening letters. She asks all over again for help to get Lewis Dillwyn’s book on seaweed. We learn that her disabled brother Tom has a gig and begins to go out every day.

A ‘gig’ in 1807 was not a ‘single professional engagement by a musician or comedian’ or ‘an abbreviated form of gigabyte’ but a ‘light two wheeled carriage pulled by one horse’.

Sam is expected to be going to Cambridge University to study law. Ellen hopes he is studying diligently.

She is full of praise for her third cousin, Thomas Taylor, and asks Sam what he thinks of him. Some researchers on Ellen have suggested that there may have been a romantic connection between her and Thomas Taylor. So far this is the only mention I have found in the letters of anything that could remotely suggest an emotional interest between them, and it not much to go on. There are still letters that I have not read, and maybe they will reveal more. Watch this space!

Ballylickey 16 May 1807

My dear Sam
Tho’ I have not much to say I cannot let Mr Taylor go without a line to you. He seems to wish much to see you and Manny. Mrs Taylor is anxious that Manny should see him and would thank him for any advice and assistance he could give him.

I wrote to you some time ago to Eton St and fear you have not received my letter as you have not answered it. I begged you to make enquiry about a book for me that I wish very much to get. Will you acquire of Mr Sowerby No 2 Mead Place Lambeth whence “Dillwyn’s British Confervae” is to be had, how many numbers of it are published and the price of each number. Let me hear from you as soon as you have made this enquiry for me. I wrote to Manny [Ellen’s eldest brother, Emanuel] some time ago but as he has a habit of putting letters in his pocket without opening, I fear he has not read mine – will you ask him.

Tom desires you will tell Manny that he thinks Mr Parsons is offended with him for never having written to him since he went to England. He mentioned something in a letter to Tom that plainly shows he feels angry with Manny.

Arthur and Mrs Hutchins are not at home. Two of their children are here. Tom is in pretty much the same state as he has been this some time past. He has now got a gig and begins to go out every day. I hope the exercise he will have during the summer may serve[?] him, going out in his chair was not exercise sufficient for him. My Mother is better than she was during the winter. The fine weather has had good effect on her health tho’ not much on her spirits. She never goes out any where but in the garden or just about the house. I rejoice that the winter is past. She was so ill.

I am very well, quite strong.

Why don’t you write oftener? I suppose you will soon go to Cambridge. Is Manny now in town?

I have nothing new to tell you, what passes in this country cannot interest you and even if it did I should not have much to tell as I am not very inquisitive to know what my neighbours are about and we have no visitors except the Taylors. Phyllis is with us very often and is at all times our most welcome guest.

My Mother desires her love to you and hopes you will soon write.
I am my dear Sam affectionately
E Hutchins

I suppose you are diligently studying Law. Tho’ I may not see you, I hope to hear of you yet. You are now the only one of my brothers I expect to hear much of, I mean in any profession.

Tom Taylor is studying Physic. I think he looks the Doctor already. How do you like him? He is esteemed a young man of genius and has obtained many honourable marks of distinction, Premiums and Medals at College.

24th April 1807: Name or no name?

Much has been made in many accounts of Ellen’s life and botanical achievements of her reluctance to have her name mentioned as the finder of plants. From the research I have done and the letters to her brothers that surfaced in 2012, I think that Ellen’s reluctance and therefore assumed modesty about being named is over-stated.

This post is one of a series in which I am making available the letters (or extracts from them) written by Ellen and James Townsend Mackay in 1807 about Ellen’s study of botany, and Ellen’s letters to her brothers about her botanizing. They are being posted here on the date they were written.

The letters provide a fascinating account of Ellen’s botanizing and details of life at the time, and will also provide material to reassess her modesty and reluntance about having her name published.

On 24th April 1807, 210 years ago today, James Mackay, botanist of Trinity College Dublin writes to Dawson Turner, botanist specialising in seaweed, based in Yarmouth, England:

Miss Hutchins is as yet rather averse to her name being mentioned in any publication as the finder of any plant – so that in case you should describe any of the discoveries you can say they were found by a lady near Bantry – but I hope to be able to prevail with her to allow her name to be mentioned.

Mackay to Dawson Turner 24th April 1807

16th April 1807 Ellen to Emanuel: botany and use of her name

Ellen wrote to her eldest brother, Emanuel (known in the family as Manny) on April 16th 1807, 210 years ago today. Ellen’s father, Thomas, had died when Ellen was two years old, and Emanuel (who was 17 years older than Elln) was the head of the family. He had studied law at Trinity College Dublin and lived and worked in London. This appears to be the first time that Elln has told him about her botany studies.

Dear Manny
I address you once more to ask a little advice as I have no other friend [relative] to consult. For some time past I have amused myself learning botany. I am told by those who are good judges that I have made very great progress for the time I have been learning, in a curious and difficult branch, that of marine plants. I have been very successful and have discovered a great number of kinds unknown before. Of these new plants, plates [engraved drawings] and descriptions will be given by botanists now publishing their works, and it is usual to mention the place where the plant was found and the name of the person who was the discoverer. I desired that my name should not be published & I have since been asked to allow it to be mentioned as Ladies who have found plants always do so. I am doubtful whether I ought to do so or not & beg you to tell me what I shall do.

If you have any dislike to writing to me will you tell Sam whatever answer you wish to give, as I wish to give a decisive answer. Mrs Taylor and Phyllis wish my name to be mentioned for the plants I have found, but I would not suffer it to be done until I knew if you thought it right.

I send my plants to Mr Mackay, a very good botanist who was sent by the college [Trinity College Dublin] to this and many other parts of Ireland and has made great discoveries in botany. He has now the care of the new college botanic garden. He gives me all the information that I want & sends the plants to those who describe and publish. I also send a great number of Dr Stokes & have made him a very fine collection. He says he is quite astonished at the progress I have made.

I hope you will excuse my troubling you on this subject & that you will tell me what is right for me to do.’                     Ellen to Emanuel 16th April 1807

The people mentioned in the letter include her youngest brother, Sam, who was living with Emanuel in London at this time, and Mrs Taylor who lived near Ballylickey, at Inchilough. She was a relative of Ellen’s and mother of Thomas Taylor, Ellen’s third cousin and another botanist. Phyllis was a member of the Taylor household but we have not identified her further. James Townsend Mackay and Dr Whitley Stokes were both of Trinity College Dublin. Dr Stokes was a family friend and he ‘prescribed’ botany for Ellen when she was returning to Ballylickey after living in his household in Dublin.

3rd April 1807

This is a continuation of the series of posts giving the correspondence between Ellen and her brothers, and Ellen and James Townsend Mackay in 1807, with extracts of the letters posted here on the day on which they were written.

On 3rd April 1807 Ellen wrote to her youngest brother, Samuel, telling him about her study of botany and asking for his help to find out about Lewis Dillwyn’s book, British Confervae. This letter is also one stage in the story of Ellen not wanting her name to be given as the finder of plants.

My dear Sam,
Tom has sent £80 for you in cash. Let him know when you have received it. You never gave any accurate description about the nightshirts you wish for. Write exactly what you wish to have done about them and Tom will have it done. What number do you want? You must describe the size as well as you are able and the quality of the linen. [??] Tom desires you to tell Manny [Emanuel] that there is no chance at present of doing any thing with Thinn in the business I mentioned in my last. He is not now disposed to sell.

I wish that you may be as successful in Law as I have been in botany. I have made some discoveries in sea plants of some kinds entirely new, others new to Britain but known to botanists of other countries, and I have also found many rare, curious and beautiful plants.

Now I want to ask you to give me a little assistance will you call on Mr Sowerby, No 2 Mead Place, Lambeth and enquire whether “Dillwyn’s British Confervae” is to be had, how many numbers of it there are published, and the price of each number. Let me know as soon as you can what you have learned about this work. I can get it sent from Cork as soon as I know whence it is to be had. Mr Dillwyn is describing and giving plates of Confervae, a beautiful genus of sea and fresh water plants. His work will contain some of the plants I have found here which have been sent to him from Dublin. My name will not be mentioned as the finder. I have desired that it should not.

I enclose you a specimen of one of them. A very elegant little plant. Most of the others I have got are too large to put in a letter. I have a very fine collection of marine plants and have sent Doctor Stokes a vast many specimens – I should learn a great deal of botany if I had good assistance but all the fine works on that subject are very expensive.

My Mother is tolerably well, tho she is often ill of late. Tom is the same way – I am but middling. I am very subject to a troublesome complaint in my stomach but tho I am some times very ill with it, I am generally pretty strong and able to walk a great deal.’

The letter continues with news of family and neighbours, and ends:

‘My mother desires her love to you and hopes you will soon write. 

My dear Sam I am affectionately yours
E Hutchins’

Ellen had four brothers, the eldest was Emanuel (Manny) who was seventeen years older than her, and he had studied law at Trinity College Dublin, and now lived and worked in London. Arthur was sixteen years older than Ellen and he had bought land at Ardnagashel, just round the coast of Bantry Bay from Ballylickey where Ellen lived, and was married to Matilda and had young children. Next was Thomas (Tom) seven years older than Ellen, and he had lost the use of his limbs, one account says through an accident falling on ice at school, and had to be carried from room to room. Ellen cared for Tom and her widowed mother. When Lewis Dillwyn (author of British Confervae) visited Ballylickey in 1809, he described Tom as the head of the household at Ballylickey. Ellen’s youngest brother was Samuel (Sam) who was eighteen months younger than Ellen. Sam had been to school in England and was staying with Emanuel in London prior to going to college to study law.

While a large number of letters written by Ellen to Emanuel and Sam have survived, so far none have been found written by either brother to Ellen.

The next letter will be posted on 16th April, when Ellen writes to he eldest brother Emanuel about her botanizing and whether to allow her name to be given in publications as the finder of plants.

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

210 years ago today

Ellen Hutchins, botanist, aged twenty one, living in Ballylickey, West Cork, wrote another letter to James Mackay of Trinity College Dublin, her third in just over two weeks.

She seems to have had more to say than she had paper to write it on. Having filled the sheet completely on the front, she turned it sideways and wrote over what she had already written. This is called cross hatching. Maybe she had literally run out of paper, or maybe she was economising because she did not have enough to say to fill a whole second sheet, and maybe she was acutely aware that James Mackay would have to pay twice the amount to receive a two sheet letter rather than a one sheet letter. In the early nineteenth century, the person receiving the letter paid, not the person sending it.

Ellen letter to Mackay, 15th February 1807 with cross hatching. (Image courtesy of the Herbarium, Trinity College Dublin)

Ellen letter to Mackay, 15th February 1807 with cross hatching. (Image courtesy of the Herbarium, Trinity College Dublin)

Ellen says that she is enclosing six new plants that she has found since her last letter on 1st February. Of one she says

‘I could not think of any safe way of sending it but inside of two little plates belonging to my little microscope. I am afraid to put it on paper. If you put a drop of water on it and then place it in a microscope you will immediately see it plainly. Its manner of growth seems entirely new to me, perhaps it is a plant of some kind you are acquainted with. I found but very little of it.’

Ellen writes:

Fucus viridis I believe grows some where in this bay. I have got one small ……. bit of a plant which I think agrees with Mr Turner’s description.’

Later in the letter, Ellen writes

‘I am determined to pursue the sea plants this year with all my might and wish to know the kinds you wish to have either dry or fresh. I am much obliged to you for your last letter. I fear it was some inconvenience to you to waste so long. How very eager my curiosity may be to hear of the plants. I should be sorry its fructification was inconvenient to you.’

‘I hope to do a great deal this summer and to add largely to our collections. My mother and brother are quite delighted with the beauty of the sea plants. I wish indeed that you could visit some of the rocks with me. I am very glad you liked the last parcel. As soon as I have any good quality specimens for you I shall send these and let you know.’

She ends with:

‘Should the summer be a favourable one, I hope to go to many rocks on either side of the bay. I shall make every exertion in my power to collect plants. I expect to have a great many for Dr Stokes and for you.
I am Sir with many good wishes yours etc etc
E Hutchins’

She is planning ahead in talking about summer, as it was 15th February, when summer still feels a long way away.

The shore of Bantry Bay, at Ardnagashel, one February day, 2013.

The shore of Bantry Bay, at Ardnagashel, one February day, 2013.

Her determination to pursue the sea plants with all her might seems to pay off earlier than the summer. Two of the wonderful specimens in the display cabinet in the exhibition currently running in Trinity College Dublin are from 1807, and one of them is Fucus viridis (now called Desmarestia viridis), dated April 23rd 1807. She found it on Bocarna Point, which is in Glengarriff harbour. It is the one on the left in the photograph below.

Display of seaweed specimens collected by Ellen Hutchins in Bantry Bay 1807-1809

Display of seaweed specimens collected by Ellen Hutchins in Bantry Bay 1807-1809

Display of Ellen's letters to James Mackay with specimens

Display of Ellen’s letters to James Mackay with specimens

A transcription of the letter is available here.

The exhibition has public access sessions on the last Thursday of each month: 23rd February, 30th March and 27th April, 5pm – 6:30pm.

1 February 1807

Ellen’s letters to fellow botanists are one of the most important sources of information about her life and her botanising. A handful of letters from Ellen to James Mackay of Trinity College Dublin have been found and transcribed, and feature in the exhibition open now to 28th April.

1807 was a very significant year in Ellen’s study of seaweeds and other cryptogams. On 1st February 1807, 210 years ago, Ellen wrote to James Mackay sending him specimens. She begins the letter:

Dear Sir
You will no doubt be surprised to see a parcel from me so soon again but as your pleasure in plants equals mine, I could not delay writing with the enclosed minute species of Conferva.

Later in the letter we learn that her last letter to Mackay had been sent just the day before.

I shall be glad to hear (as soon as you can conveniently write) what you think of the enclosed. Is not it an elegant little plant? How full of fruit. I am sorry I had not it to send in my letter yesterday morn but it was after my letter was gone that I found it.

Letter: Ellen Hutchins to James Mackay, 1st February 1807, second side. Image courtesy of the Herbarium, Botany Department, Trinity College Dublin.

Letter: Ellen Hutchins to James Mackay, 1st February 1807, second side. Image courtesy of the Herbarium, Botany Department, Trinity College Dublin.

The photograph above of the letter has this piece at the bottom, up to “but it was after” and then the piece at the top starts with the words “my letter was gone that I found it”. It continues:

I should go out again today to get more only the spring tides are past.
Last night as I was going to sleep I got Turner’s ‘Synopsis’. I have sat up reading it and find I have done wrong by not sending you all the varieties I could of Fucus ??? and what I take for ceranoides of ??? And what I take for F. ??? I believe I have been quite wrong in these plants. I enclose a large variety of ceranoides as I think. I hope Mr T’s work will be in English that I may be able to read it. Fucus esculentus is plenty here.

The ??? indicate a word that has not yet been transcribed. Can anyone help? Can you read what Ellen has written here? Please leave a comment below.

Update on 6th March 2017

Thanks to Dr Anne Secord of Cambridge University for filling the blanks in the transcription above and giving an explanation of an abbreviation. The paragraph should read:

I should go out again today to get more only the spring tides are past.
Last night as I was going to sleep I got Turner’s ‘Synopsis’. I have sat up reading it and find I have done wrong by not sending you all the varieties I could of Fucus Stellatus and what I take for ceranoides of With. And what I take for F. Crispus I believe I have been quite wrong in these plants. I enclose a large variety of ceranoides as I think. I hope Mr T’s work will be in English that I may be able to read it. Fucus esculentus is plenty here.

The explanation of Fucus ceranoides of With.
[‘With.’ stands for William Withering, and I expect the most likely edition of his work that Ellen might have had is William Withering, Arrangement of British Plants, 3rd edition, 4 vols (1796).]