Ellen Hutchins

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Ellen Hutchins
Born(1785-03-17)17 March 1785
Ballylickey House, Bantry Bay, County Cork, Ireland
Died9 February 1815(1815-02-09) (aged 29)
Resting placeBantry churchyard, County Cork, Ireland
CitizenshipBritish, Irish
Known forFinding plants new to science, collections of specimens, plant identification, botanical drawings.
Scientific career
FieldsBotany especially algae, mosses, liverworts, and lichens
InstitutionsCounty Cork, Ireland

Ellen Hutchins (1785–1815) was an early Irish botanist. She specialised in seaweeds, lichens, mosses and liverworts. She is known for finding many plants new to science, identifying hundreds of species, and for her botanical illustrations in contemporary publications. Many plants were named after her by botanists of the day.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Ellen Hutchins was from Ballylickey, where her family had a small estate at the head of Bantry Bay, County Cork, Ireland. She was born 17 March 1785 at Ballylickey House, the second youngest surviving child of her parents. Her father, Thomas, was a magistrate who died when Ellen was two years old, leaving his widow Elinor and six surviving children (from twenty-one).[2] She was sent to school near Dublin, and while there, her health deteriorated, largely it appears through being underfed (healthy appetites not being considered ladylike).[3] Dr Whitley Stokes, a family friend, took her under his and his wife's care in his house in Harcourt Street, Dublin. She regained her appetite and health, and also followed Stokes advice to take up natural history as a healthy hobby. Following her improved health, she returned to her family home to care for her mother and her disabled brother Thomas.[3]

However, her own health declined again and by late 1812 she was seriously ill. She and her mother moved to Bandon in 1813 to receive medical care. After her mother died there in 1814, she moved back to Ardnagashel House, close to Ballylickey, to be cared for by her brother Arthur and his wife Matilda. She died on 9 February 1815 and was buried in the old Bantry churchyard. Her grave was unmarked, but a plaque was erected in 2002 by the Hutchins family in their private family burial ground. [4] A public memorial was placed in the old Bantry (Garryvurcha) graveyard in 2015, the bicentenary of her death, by the National Committee for Commemorative Plaques in Science and Technology.[5][6]

Botanical collecting and illustration[edit]

She focused on botany (Stokes' own specialism) and spent much time out of doors accompanied by the indoor occupations of identifying, recording and drawing the plants she collected. She studied plants, specialising in the Cryptogams such as mosses, liverworts, lichen, and seaweeds.[7][8] Nearly all of her collecting was undertaken in the Bantry area and County Cork. The Lusitanian flora of West Cork was comparatively unknown at this time. She learnt quickly and clearly had a gift for plant identification, produced very detailed watercolour drawings, and meticulously prepared specimens. She sent samples to Stokes which he passed on to other botanists. Through Stokes she became acquainted with James Townsend Mackay, a curator at the Botanic Garden of Trinity College. He helped her in the classification of the plants she was collecting and she contributed to his Flora Hibernica. In 1807, Mackay sent her specimens to Dawson Turner a botanist in Great Yarmouth on the East Anglian coast of England, for his publication Fuci. Turner's 'thank you' note was the beginning of a seven-year correspondence and exchange of specimens and drawings.[9] A selection of these letters has been published by the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin, Dublin in 1999.[10] This publication also reprints the list of nearly 1100 plants that she prepared between 1809 and 1812 at the request of Dawson Turner for "a complete catalogue of plants of all kinds that you have found in your neighbourhood".

During her searches for specimens she recorded over 400 vascular plant species, around 200 species of algae, 200 bryophytes and 200 lichens. Among the latter two groups she discovered several new species including Jubula hutchinsiae, Herberta hutchinsiae, Leiocolea bantriensis (Bantry Notchwort), the lichen Thelotrema isidiodes and three further species of lichen that are named after her. Differences between her species lists and later records from West Cork are also of interest since they help date the decline of some species caused by changes in agricultural practices as well as the arrival of invasive species from other parts of the world.[9]

Her ability to find new plants, and the quality of her drawings and specimens drew admiration from the leading botanists of the day, and her work was featured in many publications.[11] Although she never published under her own name, she was a major contributor to the new and developing plant sciences of her era. At first refusing to have her name associated with her finds, she soon relented.[9] The later volumes of English Botany (1790–1814) from James Sowerby and James Edward Smith included descriptions of her discoveries. The latter wrote of her that "she could find almost anything".[2] Dawson Turner, in his Fuci (4 vols., 1808–19)[12] in 1819, after her death said "that botany had lost a votary as indefatigable as she was acute, and as successful as she was indefatigable." In William Hooker's liverwort monograph British Jungermanniae (1816), her name was more or less connected with nearly every rare species mentioned within it.[13] Her rare finds included lichens and she contributed to Lewis Weston Dillwyn's work British Confervae (1802–09).[14]

She was a keen gardener, and she tended plants including ones sent to her by Mackay, in a field at Ballylickey, known as Miss Ellen's Garden. She was at her happiest in the garden, or out in her little boat, gathering seaweeds, which she then brought home to classify and paint.

Plants named after Ellen Hutchins[edit]

One genus of vascular plant was named after her:

  • Hutchinsia (now Hornungia) in the Brassicaceae.[10] The common name "Hutchinsia" persists in the UK for Hornungia petraea C. Agardh.

Three species of lichen are named after her:

  • Lecania hutchinsiae[4]
  • Pertusaria hutchinsiae[9]
  • Enterographa hutchinsiae[9]

Several marine algae are named in her honour:

  • Cladophora hutchinsiae (Dillwyn) Kützing (= Conferva hutchinsiae Dillwyn)[15]
  • Dasya hutchinsiae Harvey[16]

Two bryophytes that she discovered are named after her:


Street art memorial at the Clontarf Bridge in Cork.

Her specimens are in the most significant museum collections in the UK, Ireland and the USA.[17] She bequeathed her collection of plant specimens to Dawson Turner and many are now in the Natural History Museum, London. Her drawings were given by her sister in law, Matilda, to Dawson Turner, and over two hundred of her drawings of seaweeds are now in the archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, with some in store at Sheffield City Museum. Specimens and drawings that had been sent to leading botanists, and featured in their publications, went into their collections. These include collections at Trinity College, Dublin; the Linnean Society, London (Smith collection); and the New York Botanical Garden (William and Lynda Steere Herbarium).[9][18] Her letters to Dawson Turner are in Trinity College, Cambridge; and Dawson Turner's letters to her are in Kew Botanical Gardens' library and archives. Kew also has letters from Mackay to Ellen, and Trinity College Dublin has her letters to him.

An Ellen Hutchins Festival was held in and around Bantry in 2015 and this has now become an annual event.[19]

An exhibition of her life and work was held in the School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin February – April 2017.[20]


  1. ^ Mulvihill, Mary (1997). Stars, Shells and Bluebells. Women in Technology and Science. ISBN 978-0953195305.
  2. ^ a b Secord, Anne. "Hutchins, Ellen (1785–1815)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 17 August 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Ellen Hutchins: Ireland's First Female Botanist". Ellen Hutchins: Ireland's First Female Botanist. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  4. ^ a b Leslie, Peter (2003). "A memorial to Ireland's first woman botanist" (PDF). The Linnean. 19 (4): 18. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 May 2013. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  5. ^ Marsh, Louise. "Ellen Hutchins, Ireland's first female botanist". BSBI News and Views. Botanical Society of British Isles. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  6. ^ "Wall plaque marks grave of Irelands first female botanist". Southern Star. 10 September 2015. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  7. ^ Pearson, W H (September 1918). "Ellen Hutchins: a Biographical Sketch". The Bryologist. 21 (5): 78–80. doi:10.2307/3238747. JSTOR 3238747.
  8. ^ Braithwaithe, Robert (1905). The British Moss Flora. London: self-published.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Heardman, Clare (April 2015). "Ellen Hutchins – Ireland's 'first woman botanist'". BSBI News. 129: 48–51. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  10. ^ a b Mitchell, Michael (1999). Early Observations on the Flora of South West Ireland:selected letters of Ellen Hutchins and Dawson Turner, 1807–1814. Dublin: National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin.
  11. ^ Butler, Patricia (1999). Irish botanical illustrators and flower painters. ACC Art Books. p. 160. ISBN 9781851493579.
  12. ^ Turner, Dawson (1811). Fuci. London: John and Arthur Arch.
  13. ^ Lett, H W (1915). "Census of the Mosses of Ireland". Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. 22: 70–71.
  14. ^ Dillwyn, Lewis Weston (1809). British Confervae. London: W. Phillips. p. 87. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  15. ^ Staff. "Species Search: Cladophora hutchinsiae". AlgaeBase. Retrieved 20 October 2012.
  16. ^ Staff. "Species Search: Dasya hutchinsiae". AlgaeBase. Retrieved 20 October 2012.
  17. ^ "Hutchins, Ellen (1785–1815) Botanist". The National Archives. The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, UK. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  18. ^ The New York Botanical Garden. "#HerNaturalHistory Facebook Live". Facebook. Retrieved 18 March 2019.
  19. ^ "Ellen Hutchins Festival". Visity Bantry. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
  20. ^ "Ellen in Dublin: exhibition in the Botany Department, Trinity College". Ellen Hutchins. Retrieved 26 April 2017.

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