Tag Archives: Specimens

Looking for Ellen’s specimens in Trinity College Dublin and a Homecoming for her seaweed drawings.

Earlier this year, Professor John Parnell of the Botany Department of Trinity College Dublin helped a small team of Ellen Hutchins researchers to hunt in the Herbarium there for specimens of seaweeds, mosses, or lichens collected by Ellen in the Bantry Bay area more than 200 years ago.

The story of the search for them is told by scriptwriter Sean Moffatt in a piece he wrote for RTE’s Sunday Miscellany programme.  It was first broadcast on Sunday 16th August 2015, and repeated the following Wednesday. Click here for the link to listen to it; there is a short musical prelude and the piece itself is about eight minutes long.

Here are the pictures that go with the search:

Trinity College Dublin today.

Trinity College Dublin

TCD 01

Sean Moffatt searching drawers full of small brown envelopes

Bantry Bay Sketch

A 19th century sketch of the hills, forests and inlets of Bantry Bay by Ellen’s niece, Louisa Hutchins


TCD 023

Herbarium corridor; TCD

TCD 027

Prof John Parnell searching the herbarium

TCD 030

On the top rung

TCD 031

Regrouped with large folder on small table

TCD 028

Specimen of Fucus sanguineus (Delesseria sanguinea); collected by Ellen Hutchins, Bantry Bay over 200 years ago

TCD 033

Sean is transfixed as more of Ellen’s specimens come to light

Specimens at TCD 163

Conferva stricta 1809

Conferva Brodiae

Conferva Brodiae

Polysiphonia Sp 1809

Polysiphonia Sp 1809

The Sunday Miscellany piece ends with Sean Moffatt describing the homecoming of Ellen’s drawings for an exhibition in Bantry House.

With wonderful synchronicity, the broadcast went out as Madeline and her husband Sean were driving over from England to Ireland, with the prints of the seaweed drawings from the Archives of Kew Gardens in the back of their car; all mounted, framed and labelled, ready to be hung in the Upper Landing gallery space at Bantry House, for their first ever showing in the Republic of Ireland. They were crossing the Severn Bridge at that moment, from England to Wales, with coast and seaweed below.

One of the Festival Organisers kindly emailed Madeline and Sean the link to the broadcast, and they listened to the Sunday Miscellany piece as the ferry pulled out of Pembroke Dock. Just as the piece finished, they saw, right in front of them, a pod of dolphins swimming alongside the ferry. It all felt very special.

And that special feeling continued throughout the Ellen Hutchins Festival. The organisers were pleasantly surprised by the large number of people attending all events, both locals and those who had travelled great distances; and the level of interest shown in Ellen was inspiring and gratifying. The view from the summit of Knockboy in the sunshine was spectacular. The children made splendid journey sticks and woven wonders in Glengarriff Woods. The botanist Donal Sinnott’s talk was captivating, showing how Ellen dried and laid out her specimens, the sort of microscope she would have used, and other fascinating details.  The scientific knowledge of the botanists brought a new dimension to the walks, and the botanical art demonstration was delightful. Every time the events were outside, the rain stopped and often the sun came out. As if to provide a perfect ending to the Festival week, on the final evening before the journey home, there was a stunning sunset over Bantry Bay.


Bantry House Gardens overlooking Bantry Bay

Bantry House Gardens, looking out over Bantry Bay


Madeline unpacking prints of Ellen’s drawings in Bantry House. 18 August 2015

The prints grouped ready for hanging

The prints grouped ready for hanging


The Exhibition is ready 19 Aug 2015


The Official Opening and Botanical Art Demonstration by Shevaun Doherty


Stunning sunset over the bay at the end of the festival; caught by John Crellin of FloralImages Brecon

Madeline Hutchins: great great grandniece of Ellen Hutchins, researcher on her life, and one of the organisers of the Ellen Hutchins Festival, Bantry, Heritage Week, August 2015

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.