Time and Place

History and Geography

Early 1800s and Bantry Bay, West Cork



For Ellen, collecting and identifying specimens would have been a difficult task. I have spent time in some of the places around Bantry where Ellen conducted a lot of her work, including her home place of Ballylickey. Visiting these coastal areas fills me with admiration for the work of this pioneering female botanist. The scale and precision with which she undertook her botanical inquiries is astonishing even in our contemporary terms. She often rowed boats and hiked to remote locations. She would send the samples by post from West Cork to Dublin to be verified by colleagues such as James Mackay and Dawson Turner. In the 1800s this would have been both expensive and time consuming. If I were to attempt what Ellen did in the present day, then I would have a number of resources at my disposal, including the internet, reference guides, modern equipment, ease of transport — the list goes on. She discovered new species and identified rare plants, work that has contributed hugely to the most significant collections of botany in Ireland and the UK. Her contribution to the science of botany is as relevant today as it was two centuries ago.

Breda Moriarty is Research Assistant, Deep Maps: West Cork Coastal Cultures. http://www.deepmapscork.ie/

For two more personal perspectives on Ellen from present day female Irish botanists click here


On this page you can find:


pieces about Ellen that emphasis the time and the place in which she was studying botany, and remind us of the differences between then and now.


Extracts from Ellen’s letters


an account of a visit by botanists to Ballylickey in 1809

Information on the type of microscope Ellen might have used


piece about what Ellen might have been wearing while plant hunting and at home,


And some wonderful photographs that show the splendours of the Bantry Bay area


Breda Moriarty on Whiddy Island,

Bantry Bay, 2017



A Note on Ellen Hutchins by Mark Lawley, a botanist interested in the history of natural history

Ellen: One of the First, by John Parnell, Professor of Botany at Trinity College Dublin.


Ellen Hutchins of Ballylickey: Botanist, by Angela O’Donovan, Cathaoirleach (chairperson) of the Bantry Historical & Archaeological Society

To read these pieces click here 




When Lewis Dillwyn and two other botanists visited Ellen at Ballylickey in 1809, Dillwyn kept a diary from which we can learn about Bantry Bay and the Hutchins household. 

For more click here



Ballylickey House, photo from 1910 (HFC)




Taking just one short time period in 1811, and selecting passages from Ellen’s letters that describe aspects of geography and social history, we find out about the area she lived in and explored when plant hunting. (These letters from 1811 were transcribed in 2017 and this is the first time that this material has been published.) 




On 29th September 1811, Ellen wrote to Dawson Turner in her normal fashion; covering a great range of topics in one letter, and running out of paper. For the last page of text, she turned the full page sideways and wrote over it. This is called cross hatching. The photographs of the letter pages show the cross hatched page and allow you to see if you can read it. The full text of the letter is given, so you get a feeling for the breadth of issues that Ellen would cover in one  piece for correspondence with her greatest botanist friend. The style of the language, as well as references to literature, give a useful sense of the period in which she was writing.  This letter was transcribed in 2017 and is published here for the first time.) 



Dawson Turner, aged 40 in 1815

Outside of folded letter, Ellen to Dawson Turner


Jones Improved microscope



It can be very helpful in understanding a period of history to have some pictures from that time of the ordinary and everyday things .Carrie O’Flynn, a historical re-enactor from Cork, who is knowledgeable about the clothes and footwear of the early 1800s is a creating a Pinterest board with some wonderfully useful notes specially for this site. We will be sharing it shortly so please check here back in a few days. 




While drawings and paintings of the time can give a great feel for the period, it can be easy to forget that Ellen, her family and the botanists who visited Ballylickey saw the landscape and seascape of Bantry Bay in glorious technicolour the same as we do. Here are some wonderful photographs of a very special place.  





Of all the technical equipment that a botanist uses today, a microscope and a hands lens or “glass” are the only ones that Ellen would have had, and the microscope would have been of a fairly basic design.


We know that Ellen had a microscope when she started her botany studies and that she and her botanist friends said that it was “not the best”. It was limited in how much it could magnify things. Later Ellen replaced it with a better one and she drew many of the seaweeds again, using higher magnifications than before. 


The microscope in the photo here is the sort we think Ellen might have had as her second, better one. It is a Jones Improved. Its barrel and eye piece are set vertically. The next one that Jones produced was the Most Improved, and it could be tilted, making it much easier to use.



taken by local photographer,

Deirdre Fitzgerald.

Women’s clothes, early 1800s

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Key to abbreviations used in photo captions

HFC  - Hutchins Family Collection  KEW - Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London

NHM - Natural History Museum London. TCC  - Trinity College Cambridge. TCD -  Trinity College Dublin