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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.