Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Glasnevin Botanic Gardens

Summer has hit Dublin with a vengeance and I am really enjoying the sunshine and long doesn't get dark till around 9.30 or 10pm, so you can manage to fit so much more into a day.
On Monday I had an appointment to view items in the Glasnevin Botanic Gardens Herbarium which I had already identified months ago. Many herbaria simply do not have the manpower or resources to accommodate random requests to view their collections, so one has to have both the knowledge of the collection itself and the ability to work independently within that environment to gain access. Lucky for me I have some cred...haha....after this I will call myself "the seaweed whisperer" ...all will be revealed....

Glasnevin Botanic Gardens, Dublin

View of the Palm House

Like the Herbarium at TCD, Glasnevin Herbarium was furnished with gorgeous old wooden cabinets and drawers, although most of the collection itself is kept in a steel compactus. Items I had requested were waiting for me, but I was also given free range to the unincorporated material which, to my mind, holds the greater interest because it is material that is not broken up into taxa and distributed within the scientific working collection. For me, this is where I can find untold stories, mysteries and give rein to my inner supersleuth.

The Herbarium

My primary object of interest was a 19th century album of Irish seaweeds collected by William Sawers, a collecting companion of my focal collector, Charles Morrison. I have documented approximately 15 Morrison albums now, and this album would enable me to pinpoint specific collection locations and times that they collected together. Comparison of handwriting on duplicate specimens will enable me to accurately interpret an album I will be viewing during my residency at the Ulster Museum Herbarium in a few weeks time. I have planned everything down to the nth degree for this trip as it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get the final clues needed for me to finish writing  a paper and focus on new artistic work for an exhibition next January.

Sawers Seaweed Album

Here are a few examples of Sawer's album. Incredibly, there was also a letter attached from a botanist written  in 1952 who was also trying to determine the same things I was - the differentiation between Sawers and Morrison collections! Unfortunately she has passed, but I wish I could go back in time to discuss my findings with her.

Looking familiar, same but different!

The wonderful thing about life is it always throws you up something you don't expect, and on this trip so far there have been two collections which have not had information about them on file, but which I have managed to find provenance for, or add substantially to that knowledge. One collection was at TCD, and the other here at Glasnevin.

Encounter Bay Seaweed folio
In a listing of holdings there was an item called "Encounter Bay seaweeds" - no other information.
I had asked to view it but initially thought it must be a Jessie Hussey collection. Jessie Hussey was an Australian seaweed collector of some regard in the 19th century who lived at Port Elliot in SA and collected in Encounter Bay. She was a respected collector for Von Mueller and Agardh, the Swedish phycologist.  I followed her footsteps last year, collecting at Encounter Bay, and introducing my husband's young nephew to the joys of mounting seaweeds and beach fossicking.

One of the many Plocamium specimens from Encounter Bay

This huge folio of over 90 mounted specimens was definitely not her style - there were no collection locations or dates and the specimens were very repetitive - very much an amateur collection, yet impressive in its size ( each sheet was 75cm in length)  and expensively bound. I carefully sorted through each fragile specimen. This was no easy task as many of these collections are either covered in soot or dust or, even more insidious, chemicals for preservation. This means that it is necessary to keep washing your hands at regular intervals....tiresome, time-consuming, but not negotiable. As I was sorting through the specimens, one of the pages had a name on it - the only one in the whole folio. It was Hon. G. was that??? The Keeper and I had no idea but a quick internet search by me found that the Honorable G. Hawker had been  a prominant and well-loved politician in the SA Assembly from 1858. He arrived from the UK in 1840 with a Bachelor of Arts from Trinity College, Cambridge, and went into sheep farming. At the time of his death he was one of the oldest JP's of the district, and was one of the longest serving member of the SA Parliament in history. I didn't find any direct refernce to seaweed collecting as a hobby, but it's early days yet and I haven't finished with the Hon. Hawker yet! More sleuthing abounds........

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Hello from Ireland

My blogging has been suffering ever since I started posting on Instagram, but I am about to make up for lost time during my 6 weeks in Ireland. Many of my readers will already know of my interest in seaweed, or more particularly, seaweed albums of the 19th century. This obsession started in 2016 when I had an arts residency at the NMA in Canberra, and fell in love with an anonymous seaweed album.

The Port Philip seaweed album, NMA

This obsession lead to the discovery of many more albums by the same collector and I am now in Ireland to undertake further research on him as artist in residence at the Ulster Museum Herbarium in Belfast. I will also be doing an arts residency at Cill Rialaig near Ballinskelligs on the south west coast of Ireland, which starts at the end of this week. A big thankyou at this point to artsACT for supporting my travel to Ireland to undertake this residency.

I touched down in Dublin two days ago and have been walking around getting a feel for the city and its ambience. The predominant matter to hand has been the vote yesterday on the referendum to repeal the 8th Ammendment of the Constitution which bans abortion in all cases except to save the life of the mother. This is a vote to repeal, not a vote on abortion as such, and counting the votes starts today, but watching the news last night there were many counties with 50-75% turnout to vote, although voting was still open till 10pm, long after I had crashed!

Trinity College Botany Bulding

My first full day yesterday was spent in the Trinity College Herbarium where I had organised to view their seaweed albums. This was a rare and wonderful opportunity, and although my collector was not represented there were several other intriguing albums to compare and contrast with our Australian ones.

Trinity College Herbarium

Several of the 19th Century Seaweed albums in the collection

A page showing some beautiful red seaweed

Trinity College Herbarium was the academic home of the eminent Irish phycologist William Henry Harvey. Harvey notably wrote the 5 volume Phycologia Australica, after spending two years from 1854-6 collecting over 20,000 Australian seaweeds. And yesterday I was privileged to handle his handwritten letters and his Traveling Set of Australian seaweeds. This has to be a 12 on a scale of 1-10 in amazing experiences, to know that my hands were touching the seaweeds he picked up from our shores all those years ago. I am so grateful to Staff at TCD for allowing me access entrusting me with these historical documents and objects. And don't worry, I will be going back on Tuesday to see the Book of Kells!

The Herbarium Library also contained the volumes of “The Nature-Printed British Sea-Weeds” by Bradbury and Evans, published in 1859. These intricate prints were created using the unique “nature-printed” process whereby a plant is pressed into a plate of soft lead, leaving an impression from which an electrotype is made. The resultant prints are incredibly detailed and realistic, capturing the fine detail of each seaweed, and it is possible to see and feel the raised surface of the printed inks on the paper.
Front page of one of the Bradbury Nature Printed Seaweed books

A gorgeous Delesseria sinuosa.

Punctaria latifolia

Sphacearia scoparia

Its been a great first couple of days here sightseeing, walking, walking and trying to decide whether the national pastime is smoking or drinking....! Off to the National Botanic Gardens tomorrow to see more suprises in their herbarium.