a memoir of the life of ellen hutchins

While the arboretum in Ardnagashel is decaying more and more, there are quite some new findings, which give us a better insight into the short but highly productive life of Ellen Hutchins, Ireland’s first female botanist.


The author of the manuscript, Alicia Hutchins, was aged 76 when this photograph was taken in 1908 [Hutchins Family Private Collection]

This February the Representative Church Body Library turns to a typescript manuscript of previously unknown provenance that has ended up in its custody. It turned out that it is a memoir of the life of Ellen Hutchins; it is accessioned as RCB Library Ms 47.

Her niece Alicia Hutchins (1832–1915, one of the unmarried sisters of Samuel Newburgh Hutchins) is responsible for this important compilation, which was completed in 1913 and which provides us with some glimpses of her life and surroundings “as gathered from letters and the conversation of the few that knew her”.


Fucus asparagoides by Ellen Hutchins [1811] now named Bonnemaisonia asparagoides [Hutchins Family Private Collection]

Before it was typed, Alicia had sent the hand–written memoir to her sister Louisa in England asking for comments and Louisa replied on 17 July 1913, saying that it would be ‘profanation to meddle with it’. Louisa had married William Shore Nightingale (first cousin of Florence Nightingale (1820–1910)). Louisa’s daughter had kept house for a time, after going down from Cambridge, for the celebrated nurse. It was this daughter Margaret Thyra Barbara Shore Nightingale – the Lady Barbara Stephen – who lodged one copy of the manuscript in the RCB Library in 1943, while another copy was retained in the Hutchins family collection. Both copies consist of nine folios of typescript tied into a limp card folder.

Ellen’s grandniece, Alicia’s niece, Lady Barbara Stephen (1872–1945) had lodged the hand written memoir with the RCB Library in 1943. The year 2015 marked, respectively, the bicentenary, centenary, as well as the 70th anniversary, of the deaths of these three ladies. In the 201st year since Ellen’s death (in February 1815) it is thus a fitting time to belatedly publish the family manuscript.

Read more on the website of the RCB Library where you can also find the link to the full full text of the paper by John Lucey* and Madeline Hutchins** and the digitalized nine-page typescript.

**Madeline is the great-great-grandniece of Ellen Hutchins and lives in Surrey. She was a co-organizer of the Ellen Hutchins Festival in Bantry in August 2015 and researched Ellen’s life for an exhibition in Bantry Library having given an illustrated talk there, and for the website www.ellenhutchins.com *John is a biologist and historian based in Kilkenny.

BTW: The Ellen Hutchins Festival will have an Encore in Heritage Week, 20 to 28 August 2016. This is a reason for you too to visit the Bantry Bay area and learn more about Ellen and her botanizing. You can help to fund the Festival by purchasing a limited high quality print of the above drawing by Ellen Hutchins, click here!

some trees in ardnagashel came from kew

Eliane Zimmermann

Exhibition in Bantry Library

The life of Ellen Hutchins (1785-1815) and her many achievements in botany were celebrated this summer with a series of well attended events which were part of Heritage Week in August 2015. You can read about the successful Ellen Hutchins Festival here. It achieved its target of bringing Ellen’s story back to life on the 200th anniversary of her death, and ensuring that it will not be forgotten. It was very fitting that this first ever celebration of her life took place in her home territory of Ballylickey, Bantry, Glengarriff and Whiddy Island. Two plaques were unveiled that will be lasting memorials to Ellen. The plaque at the site of Ellen’s burial in Garryvurcha Churchyard in Bantry, will ensure that her story is included in the Heritage Trails round Bantry for years to come. The other plaque at her birthplace and home, Ballylickey, on the shores of Bantry Bay, honours the place where she undertook her work on the non flowering plants such as seaweeds and lichens that made a significant contribution to scientific knowledge.

Eliane Zimmermann

Madeline Hutchins held a lecture about the life of her ancestor Ellen Hutchins in Bantry Library

Ellen Hutchins became famous for her work on algae (seaweeds), lichens, mosses and liverworts. She found many plants new to science, and as well as producing very carefully presented specimens, she was also a talented artist and created exquisitely detailed drawings. Her finds were described and published by the leading botanists of the day, her drawings were engraved as plates in their books, and many plants have been named after her.

Eliane Zimmermann

Ballylickey House: pop up exhibition about Ellen Hutchins

The history of the arboretum, including which members of the Hutchins family did the planting, is not yet very clear, but some useful new information has been found which provides an interesting bit of the story of the planting.

Eliane Zimmermann

Ballylickey House long time ago

There are four owners of Ardnagashel during the nineteenth century who could have been responsible for the planting. These are ARTHUR Hutchins, from 1800 to 1838; his youngest brother SAMUEL, from 1839 to 1862; Samuel’s son, EMANUEL, from 1862 to 1880; and Emanuel’s brother, SAMUEL NEWBURGH from 1880 to 1910. While these are the periods in which they owned the estate, more research is needed to clarify the dates for when they lived there, and were therefore more likely to be involved in planting and developing the arboretum and gardens.

Eliane Zimmermann

Bantry House: exhibition of some of the original botanical drawings by Ellen Hutchins, Madeline Hutchins holding a short speech

Letters found recently by the Hutchins family show that after Ellen’s early death in 1815 aged 29, her youngest brother, Samuel, kept in contact with a botanist friend of Ellen’s, and that Samuel planted trees at Ardnagashel in the 1840s or early 1850s that came from Kew Gardens, London. The botanist friend that Samuel kept in touch with was Sir William Jackson Hooker, who became the first Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London, and was knighted for his services to botany.

Eliane Zimmermann

Ardnagashel: Seashore walk to explore seaweeds and lichens with Dr Howard Fox and Maria Cullen

Two letters written by Samuel’s daughters have come to light. From one letter we learn that Samuel stayed for six weeks in lodgings on Kew Green, ‘constantly seeing Sir William and Lady Hooker and in the Gardens at all times’. In the other letter, written in 1884, we are told that a whole series of fir trees at Ardnagashel came from Kew ‘about forty years ago’ which fits well with the account of the lengthy visit there in the first letter. The second letter accompanied a parcel of cones and branches from some of the trees at Ardnagashel being sent by the Hutchins family to Kew for identification.

ardnagashel – who will care for the remaining beauties of the arboretum?

leaving_ardnagashel_dec2014We moved out. Just a bit of cleaning tomorrow. We wonder: Who will look after the seriously endangered place? It was home to the first Irish woman botanist Ellen Hutchins and her brothers who started the arboretum with extremely rare trees. It was home to the Kaulback family, who continued the work with enthusiasm, money and many dedicated gardeners.

appartment_ardnagashelWe met with the “girl” who spent her happy childhood in Ardnagashel this summer. She is seventy now and cannot believe how an owner of such a precious place can let it decay to the point of no recognition. Destruction by complete negligence. Negligence due to an appalling unawareness of the significance of the place.

trailer_ardnagashelIn about 50 hours the Ellen Hutchins Year will start. We will remember her life, her work and her death in February of 1815. We will remember the birth of Richard Hutchins (her great-grandnephew) in April of 1915. But there is hardly anything left of their legacy. A priceless botanical gem, a part of Irish heritage is nearly gone.



Ardnagashel HouseA lazy sunny afternoon was the background for our farewell party yesterday. Now the days are numbered, we are moving out –  slowly the house will become the empty shell it was, when we moved in three seasons ago. Many of the guests in our guesthouse felt at home during this time and brought back happy memories of a very special place.

We had dreams to become worthy custodians of this once magnificent historical place where Ireland’s first woman botanist Ellen Hutchins (1785-1815) spent a couple of years. She lived in the old Big House before her brothers started an arboretum with very rare trees, some of which became Irish Champion Trees. Seeds were brought from plant collecting expeditions to Australia and other subtropical parts of the world. Most of those old trees are dead by now, as trees are living beings in need of dedication and care. Most of the tender shrubs had no protection either, and all of the paths around them are completely overgrown or destroyed by the 12 storms from last winter. The layout of this once extraordinary park is gone.

The place is for sale and we as tenants could only do as much as was permitted during those past 30 months which flew so fast… Very soon our guesthouse will be reopened in another dwelling which once was the Hutchins’ family home too. If you want to join us, come to Ballylickey House (click!).


Eliane Zimmermann

The fragrant jasmine at the back of the house is currently flowering for the third time this year.

Our season is soon coming to an end, just yesterday more than a dozen of happy guests left Ardnagashel House. At present some new people are enjoying the place we loved so much. One lady said: I already feel very much at home! But everything comes to an end and so our days at the once so beautiful place are numbered.

Eliane Zimmermann

Like 2013 we had so much sunshine and even heat that we could again enjoy many a delicious fig from the back yard.

I had recently met with one of the two “girls” who had spent their childhood in Ardnagashel in the fifties and sixties and I felt so incredibly sorry about her sadness to see the place of happy memories decaying more and more. I wonder what will happen in the near future. Will somebody buy the place? Will some future owners love the place as much as we did during the past few years? Like “the girl” who used to meet below “Molly”, the lovely huge Magnolia campbellii Mollicomata? Or will it be left to more destruction by storms, salty water, damp air, general neglection…

the wind of change

1Ardnagashel_after_the_stormWednesday February 12th saw the worst storm for the past two decades. Mainly the Southwest of Ireland was affected by storm Darwin, an estimated of 7,5 million trees were felled by the gales with force up to 100 mph. The following weeks we were just able to clear a few of the main paths to minimize the imminent danger they posed to visitors, though there are still more than 50 fallen trees just lying all over the place. Some of the rare and tall rhododendrons and camellias were damaged but some of them might grow better next spring as there will be much more light for them.

1_fenster_bootWhat was left of the lovely park of Ardnagashel is now more doomed than ever. Only the weeds around the entrances of the holiday homes are looked after (i.e. sprayed with poison).

1Jasminum_officinale2014The huge Kousa dogwood tree (Cornus kousa) near one of the two remaining cork oaks was covered in its butterfly-like flowers for many weeks and so was the jasmine in the greenhouse which covered the (at times smelly) back yard with its perfume.

1Trochodendron_aralioides_flowerThe tall Trochodendron aralioides was spared by the many surrounding fallen trees. It is hardly ever noticed by passers-by – it was in full flower in May. But the nearby graceful Pinus wallichiana (Pinus griffithii) with its delicate long needles tumbled with the whole of its root system now lying upside down.

1house_no_10Ardnagashel House or as it is known House No. 10 is up for sale now, we weren’t able to renew our contract. So our (third) season will soon be coming to an end and we cannot any longer be custodians for this lovely historical place.

1swans_ArdnagashelIt will be very sad to say bye bye in a few weeks time but we will treasure many happy memories. We had made up the bare house to a lovely and cozy home which our guests dearly appreciated.

2guests_sunbathSo far the summer of 2014 has been wonderful and nobody really noticed that the yard doesn’t look as nice as it did before the incredible floodings we had in early spring.

1gedeckterTischBut there will be a new opportunity to spoil our guests and to offer them lovely holiday experiences.

4bojenblick_ardnagashel_pfeilBantry Bay is huge and there are more lovely houses around.

freak storms and flooding

Eliane Zimmermann Ardnagashel HouseWe had some freak storms so far during this winter…

Ardnagashel_high_tide…some of them brought the waves over the wall in front of Ardnagashel House.

Eliane ZimmermannMany waves were taller than the house.

Ardnagashel_waves_Jan2005And reminded of terrifying waves in January 2005.

6wosind_diestufenThe house will continue to suffer due to the rising sea level in the near future.

5türThe waves broke the door open. Probably not for the last time.

1bar_wozitür_seetangThere was sand, seaweed and grit…

Ardnagashel_entrance_after_storm…all over the first floor.

4woziThe carpets were soaked with sea water and became smelly.

3blaueszimmerEven in the farthest room and bathroom there was a small flooding.

1seatoilet_ArdnagashelThe ancient outdoor toilet lost its wooden fittings.

2bänkeNeedless to say that all of our furniture on the veranda, the flower pots, the heavy palm trees, and the benches were shredded or swimming around the yard.

Ardnagashel_horsefield_after_floodThe waves also flooded good parts of the horse field by the sea.

Eliane Zimmermann Ardnagashel HouseNow the weather is quite mild, the Mountain pepper is almost in flower, two white camellias are in bloom and so is the deep red Rhododendron at the Upper West Walk. Everywhere are fallen branches, there is a lot to tidy up. This is the old Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) which still stands strong. No wonder, it has so many “arms” securing it to the ground.

another giant fell

Eliane Zimmermann Ardnagashel Ferienhaus IrlandThe astonishing extremely tall silver fir (Abies alba) gave up its last big branch during the summer holidays (August 2013). Now the huge main stem cracked like a match. Only an upright growing branch is still alive and standing like a torch. According to Mike Collard from Future Forests, who had – in February – offered to cut most of the dead wood in order not to endanger visitors of the Holiday Homes in Ardnagashel, there should be around 40 tons of timber to be harvested now!

Ardnagashel House Ferienhaus in Irland am MeerIt is so very sad to be witness to the continuing decay of the once so special arboretum which was founded by the family of the first Irish woman botanist Ellen Hutchins. Her brothers and later some of her nephews brought special plants to the place of outstanding beauty and developed a place with a rare collection of trees. The dead silver fir was probably planted around the mid 19th century.

The Kaulback family bought a major part of the magnificent place (after WWII) and they continued to add more specimen trees and very special rhododendrons which had some decades to mature. Some of them might be rare seedlings from Col. Ronald Kaulback who went on two expeditions to the Himalayan mountains [the first as companion of renowned plant hunter Francis (Frank) Kingdon-Ward (1885-1958)]. Now every autumn and winter sees very rare and mature trees falling, breaking, cracking… Along with their surrendering to the gravity they kill precious neighbouring plants. What is not being killed by storms is being eaten by brambles and digested by lichens and moss.

Hard to believe that this place was of interest for many a celebrity who came to visit, among them:

  • Taoiseach Éamonn de Valera
  • Queen Juliana of the Netherlands
  • Peter Markham Scott (the son of the famous explorer)
  • Noel Streatfeild (who wrote The Ballet Shoes)
  • Mazo de la Roche
  • Joyce Grenfell
  • Sir Thomas Pakenham

The above photograph was taken after a minor storm and just before the worst storm for 15 years (26th Dec 2013, 150 km/h), the seaweed went much further and is now ‘decorating’ the front verandah.

ardnagashel featured in a great book

Eliane Zimmermann Ardnagashel HouseAubrey Fennel (on the left photograph with elevated hands) is a hunter of Champion Trees and authoritative voice on their behalf. Recently he published an enormous book about the silent green giants: Heritage Trees of Ireland (The Tree Council 2013, The Collins Press, 328 pages, 24 Euro). Pages 242 and 243 are dedicated to the fabulous myrtle wood in East Ardnagashel (still owned by the Hutchins family).

Ardnagashel IrelandAubrey Fennel has recorded over 10,000 champion trees in Ireland for the Tree Register of Ireland’s database at the National Botanic Gardens. In June 2006 he came to Ardnagashel – together with quite a crowd from the Irish Tree Society and – of course – Sir Thomas Pakenham, the renowned tree photograph and expert (on the left photograph with the white suit).

Aubrey Fennel lives in Carlow among his own champion trees.

golden autumn days

Ardnagashel House

The summer has been glorious, even autumn is warm, friendly and golden. Our guests had just few rainy or misty days, most weeks had abundant sunshine or at least dry days.

Ardnagashel House Bantry Ballylickey

If the forecast is right it will become really nasty from next week on – so we enjoy a few wonderful kitsch situations from the front door of Ardnagashel House… (photographs by Antje Wendel)