AN exhibition in Trinity College Dublin, celebrating Ellen Hutchins of Ballylickey, Ireland’s first female botanist, was opened by the Provost of Trinity on February 9th, the 202nd anniversary of Ellen’s death.
On show for the first time ever are wonderful specimens of seaweeds that Ellen collected in Bantry Bay, parcelled up and sent with letters to James Townsend Mackay, botanist at Trinity.
Two hundred and ten years ago, in 1807, Ellen found many new species and supplied specimens (dried plants on paper) of them to the leading botanists of the day. The letters and specimens on display illustrate this story. Alongside them are letters from Ellen to her brothers, asking whether she should allow her name to be published as the finder of plants, and with details of life in West Cork in 1807.
There are panels of text and images about Ellen’s life and achievements, and Ellen as botanical artist, which were first shown in Bantry Library during the Ellen Hutchins Festival in 2015, and prints of a dozen or so of Ellen’s exquisitely detailed and accurate watercolours of seaweeds from Bantry Bay, seen in Bantry House in 2015.
The exhibition is in the foyer of the old Anatomy Building in Trinity and has been put together by the Botany Department of Trinity and the Ellen Hutchins Festival for the staff and students of the School of Natural Sciences to introduce them to the story of Ellen Hutchins.
It was very fitting that the first exhibitions about Ellen were in Bantry, her home territory, in 2015, the bicentenary of her death.
Indeed, the botanical wealth of Bantry Bay contributed significantly to Ellen’s success as a botanist.
It is now very appropriate that her story is being told in Trinity, as Ellen was ‘prescribed’ botany as a healthy pastime by a family friend, Dr Whitley Stokes, Professor of Physick (Medicine) at Trinity, and it was James Townsend Mackay, botanist in charge of the Trinity Botanic Gardens, who started Ellen off on seaweeds when he visited her in Ballylickey in 1805.
Ellen sent her specimens to Mackay and he distributed them to the leading specialist botanists.
There are free public open sessions on the last Thursdays of each month, March 30th and April 27th, 5pm to 6:30pm, with members of the Ellen Hutchins Festival team.