Hutchins, Ellen (1785–1815), cryptogamic botanist, was born 17 March 1785 in Ballylickey, Co. Cork, one of the youngest among twenty-one children of Thomas Hutchins (d. 1787) and Elinor Hutchins (née Hutchins); two daughters and four sons survived to adulthood. The family's status was derived from its landed estates, but its income was supplemented by fishing and by smuggling activities in Bantry Bay. Ellen’s father died when she was two, but her brothers were educated for learned professions; the daughters were also well educated. In Ellen's late teens a family friend, Dr Whitley Stokes (qv), took her to live in his household in Harcourt Street, Dublin, where he could provide treatment for her poor health; she suffered all her life from digestive problems.
On her return to Cork to live with and care for her ailing mother and her disabled brother Thomas, Stokes recommended that Ellen take up his favourite science botany, as this would benefit her health by encouraging her to spend as much time as possible in the open air. Though her health was never good, she became an avid and expert collector of plants. Following a suggestion by James Townsend Mackay (qv) who visited her at Ballyickey in 1805, she specialised first in seaweeds, then in bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) and in lichens that flourished around the family home on Bantry Bay. She found many rarities, plants not previously recorded in the British Isles, and several new to science.
She sent carefully preserved specimens of her finds to Mackay who passed them onto leading practitioners in England and Ireland; several commented admiringly on her abilities to find and preserve all kinds of plants. Her generosity was also noted; her visitors in Ballylickey included the naturalists Lewis Weston Dillwyn and Joseph Woods, who reported that she ‘gives most liberally, parting even with her last specimen’. Plants she identified are included in Mackay's Flora Hibernica (1836), in Dillwyn’s British Confervae (1809), and in William Jackson Hooker’s British Jungermanniae (1816).
From 1807 onwards she sent a great deal of material directly to the English botanist Dawson Turner including detailed paintings of seaweeds. They engaged in correspondence over seven years, sending each other plant specimens as well as many letters; it was clearly an important and rewarding exchange for both. At Turner’s request, she compiled a list of over 1,100 species of plants found in her area. She was highly valued as a collector; her name appears by a great many species in the works of the botanists for whom she collected, for instance in Turner's Historia Fuci (1808–19), which also included seven of her drawings and a special tribute to her after her early death, aged twenty-nine. Her name was given by her colleagues to a number of newly recorded non-flowering plants that she found and to a genus of alpine plants. Specimens that she collected are to be found in various herbaria, including that in Trinity College Dublin.
After a lengthy struggle within the family about the disposition of properties after her father's death intestate, and after a legal battle with her eldest brother Emanuel, Ellen and her mother were forced to leave Ballylickey (1813), and (after a short stay in Bandon) moved to Ardnagashel, near Bantry Bay, to live with another brother. Ellen's mother died in 1814; Ellen herself died 9 February 1815, and was buried in Bantry. She was one of the earliest Irish women scientists, still remembered with respect by bryologists. She left in her will the bulk of her collection to Dawson Turner; though its transmission to Turner was threatened by further family disputes, her specimens and records are still preserved in his herbarium at the Royal Botanic Garden in Kew, London.