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!


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