A genealogical puzzle at the Royal Horticultural Society

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The Royal Horticultural Society of London is trying to learn more about the woman who owned a uniquely annotated copy of The English Flora (1830) by Sir James Edward Smith. The book itself is not especially rare, but staff recently discovered one copy that contained poems, doodles, numerous plant specimens and a cartoon: a “personification” of the botanist as a woman made up flowers and vegetables. The book is inscribed “This is the book of Isabella A Allen,” with a note that it was a gift from “my good friend Mrs Green.”

The RHS wants to learn more about Isabella A Allen, who appears from her notes and collections to have been a knowledgeable botanist. There was an early 19th-century botanical illustrator by that name but little is known about her. Or this might be a different Isabella, one of the legions of uncelebrated 19th-century women with a passionate interest in plants.

Staff say they have searched genealogical websites for Isabella Allen and a contemporary “Mrs Green,” but the names are so common that it is difficult to make headway without more information. RHS exhibitions head Fiona Davison told the BBC, “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.”

You can read more about the find on the BBC website.

Thanks to CGS member Nancy Cork for finding this interesting story!