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!


the killeen in ardnagashel

eliane zimmermannAs mentioned earlier the Killeen in Ardnagashel (family graveyard of the Hutchins family) is an extraordinary place of peace and tranquility.

eliane zimmermannAround his 90th birthday Richard Hutchins had it restored as it was completely overgrown.

eliane zimmermannThe remarkable Colorado Fir (Abies concolor) with its candelabra-like ellbows was tended by tree surgeon Anthony Cornforth. After six years it has recovered and became one of the main attractions of Ardnagashel Estate.

Visit of the Bantry Historical Society

Eliane ZimmermannThe 14th saw a group of very interested visitors of the Bantry Historical Society.

Eliane ZimmermannThe Killeen, i.e. the family grave yard gave interesting insights into the fates of early members of the Hutchins family.

Eliane ZimmermannChildren and also animals were welcome!

Richard Hutchins himself, the great-great-grand-nephew of Ireland’s first woman botanist Ellen Hutchins (1785-1815) talked about his ancestors. He was born in the Big House nearby. When Ireland was still British.

Eliane ZimmermannThe Killeen of Ardnagashel is a most magical place.

Eliane ZimmermannAfter the outing tea, coffee and cake was served. And everybody was allowed to have a look at the amazing and invaluable original botanical encyclopedia which was used by Ellen Hutchins.

Eliane Zimmermann guesthouse in ArdnagashelWow, she used this book for her studies! And she collected and drew lovely pieces of art from seaweeds and liverworts just at the seashore nearby.

Eliane Zimmermann guesthouse ArdnagashelRichard Hutchins had collected lots of seed of his beloved foxglove which was in full bloom along the avenue to Ardnagashel East.

amateur botanists visit ardnagashel

eliane zimmermannAnother group of amateur botanists came to see Ardnagashel yesterday. They admired the myrtle wood and the wonderful coastal walk in East Ardnagashel and finished their expedition after a visit in the Killeen in Ardnagashel Estate (West) with a cuppa in Ardnagashel House.

eliane zimmermannRichard Hutchins talked about the fascinating history of Ardnagashel:

eliane zimmermannThe Ellen Hutchins Arboretum on the coast of Bantry Bay in West Cork was planted from 1800 onwards by Arthur Hutchins. His sister Ellen Hutchins (1785-1815) is widely recognized as Ireland´s first woman botanist. The arboretum, coastal paths, woodlands, myrtle grove and champion trees comprise the „lost desmesne“ of Ardnagashel. Originally part of a 300 acre estate, it is now in separate ownerships with the arboretum and site of original house and gardens owned by „Rent an Irish Cottage“ and the myrtle grove and coastal paths still in Hutchins´s ownership.