The handwritten inscription reads “Mrs Allen, La Botaniste”
When sorting by books gathering mud within the attic, it is common to discover mementos of the previous reminiscent of a poem, a pressed-flower, or a letter.
But when workers on the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) went by a whole bunch of previous plant books, they came upon a group of botanical treasures the likes of which they’d by no means seen earlier than.
Tucked inside a replica of The English Flora from 1830 had been poems, doodles, plant specimens and a cartoon.
Judging by the contents, the proprietor was a eager crops girl. But her identify, Isabella A Allen, seems to have slipped from history.
She often is the early nineteenth Century botanical illustrator about which little is thought. Or she might be among the many legions of uncelebrated nineteenth Century ladies with a passionate curiosity in crops.
Either means, the RHS is hoping to monitor her down to discover out extra about her life.
“All we’ve got is a reasonably common name and lots of contextual stuff that she’s interested in botany,” says head of libraries and exhibitions, Fiona Davison.
“What I’m hoping is that somebody is aware in their family tree of an Isabella A Allen, that they’ve got any information about being a botanical artist or involved in botany.”
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The ebook the unknown botanist scribbled in was by a weighty scientific writer, Sir James Edward Smith, from a time when botany was a well-liked scientific topic for girls within the greater social courses.
Botany was an space the place they might make discoveries and be a part of a broader scientific neighborhood. Many contributed to herbaria, the collections of preserved crops that kind the cornerstone of botanical examine, whereas others had been expert botanical artists.
“I think she clearly is a keen botanist because pressed in a number of the pages are wild flowers,” says Fiona, itemizing kidney vetch, cranesbill, louse wort and sow thistle, amongst others. “They’re wild flowers when you’re out on a botanising trip you would have picked up, identified with the help of the book and pressed.”
It’s not a uncommon ebook; the RHS alone holds many copies of the 4 volumes. But this was an uncommon version as a result of it contained annotations, bookmarks and a cartoon. It got here to gentle when workers had been going by packing containers of books forward of mixing their two collections inside the newly constructed science laboratories at RHS Wisley.
“I don’t think that this volume had been opened in decades. It’s just been sat in an attic in Wisley,” Fiona explains. “We opened this little one and we were really amazed to find all of this additional material left by its original owner.”
It’s not identified how the ebook got here into the palms of the RHS, that means some detective work is required. It’s protected to assume Isabella lived within the UK, however there are not any hints of any geographical location reminiscent of an tackle.
The ebook has quite a few wild plant specimens inserted within the pages
As effectively as an annotation (“this is the book of Isabella A Allen”), a print referred to as a personification is caught inside. Printed and bought as sheets, they depicted individuals constructed of artefacts embodying their character or instruments of their commerce. For occasion, a girl working within the potteries was usual from bowls, jugs and plates; whereas an apothecary had tablet tins for ft.
The one inside Isabella’s ebook was composed of flowers and greens. It was produced by a male midwife and surgeon referred to as George Spratt, who was identified for his caricatures and botanical works.
The ebook was a present to Isabella Allen in 1830 from “my good friend Mrs Green”. There can also be a handwritten poem that seems to be an adaptation of a standard work, with a reference to botanists filling a backyard with Greek- and Latin-named crops. “Lovely women all unschooled and wild,” Isabella writes, probably referring to ladies’s involvement in botany.
The RHS has made an try to discover Isabella A Allen or Mrs Green, however there are countless ladies of this identify on family tree web sites.
They are eager to monitor her down to discover out extra about ladies’s contributions to botany. At the time, Linnean classification was in vogue. This system, developed by the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus within the 1700s, was primarily based on the similarities of the reproductive components of a plant moderately than their look as an entire. Plants and animals had been every given two names primarily based on their genus and species identify.
“Those are very straight forward, legible, easy-to-understand ways of classifying plants and that made it very accessible to amateurs and therefore to women,” says Fiona. “And it becomes a fashionable and respectable accomplishment to be botanically interested and well-educated. “
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Botany was seen as an exercise for self-enchancment and a “feminine” pursuit that gave ladies alternatives to publish their work. Unlike different areas of pure history, crops might be collected and studied at residence.
However, later within the nineteenth Century botany grew to become thought to be knowledgeable exercise for specialists and consultants moderately than amateurs, and girls’s contributions to the sector had been belittled.
John Lindley, a botanist who served as secretary to the RHS and gave his identify to their London library, was decided to make distinctions between “ladies botany” and botanical science, which he mentioned was “an occupation for the serious thoughts of man”.
Despite such efforts, ladies continued to take part in botany, particularly by writing for different ladies, youngsters, and normal readers.
As for Isabella A Allen, it is hoped somebody can resolve the thriller of the ebook. “We hope that we’ll be able to share it with people and show it in the new library as part of the wider effort we’re making to encourage people to take an interest in the plants that are growing around them in the same way that Ms Allen did,” says Fiona.
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