A botanical insight – memoir

A botanical insight – memoir

A short memoir of the life of Ellen Hutchins (1785-1815), who became Ireland’s first female botanist, has been digitized and made available online as the Library’s online February Archive of the Month presentation.

The memoir of her life was compiled by her niece Alicia Maria Hutchins (1832-1915) and completed in 1913. The nine-page typescript which is preserved in the RCB Library) provides an account of Hutchins’ short life and surroundings ‘as gathered from letters and the conversation of the few that knew her’.

Thirty years after its completion, it was lodged in the library by Ellen’s grand-niece and the author Alicia’s niece, Lady Barbara Stephen (1872-1945).

As well as publishing the memoir for the first time, and exploring its provenance, the related online presentation includes examples of Ellen’s work, and links to a more detailed research paper by Madeline Hutchins (the great-great-grandniece of Ellen Hutchins) and John Lucey (a biologist and historian based in Kilkenny). This provides further detail about Ellen’s background and the writing of the memoir.

Constrained by ill-health and family commitments, she nonetheless managed to identify and catalogue more than 1,000 plant species in a short period of botanising between 1805 and 1813.

Speaking at the RCB Library, Dr Susan Hood, who manages Archive of the Month, said that collaboration with Madeline and John has brought to life the intriguing story of one of the library’s more unusual sources.

“We are delighted that our online exhibition platform provides a space for their scholarly presentation in the field of botany,” she said.