Enhancing the beauty of your garden
dr anna dourado - gardening consultant | home counties
Elizabeth Blackwell is one of our most famous female botanical illustrators and we would like to share the story of her extraordinary life with you. Her illustrations appear throughout our website.
Elizabeth was born in Aberdeen and married her second cousin, Alexander when she was twenty eight. They moved to London, where her husband set up an illegal print shop. As a result, he was forced into bankruptcy and was sent to debtors prison for two years. Determined to rescue her husband, Elizabeth attempted to clear his debts.
Through friends in the medical profession, including Sir Hans Sloane (creator of the Botanical Garden in Chelsea), Elizabeth discovered that there was a genuine need for a definitive herbal guide and she set about creating A Curious Herbal. This was a tremendous accomplishment because during this period, most botanical prints were produced by three separate craftsmen - a sketcher, an engraver and a painter. She sketched the plants from live specimens in the Chelsea Physick Garden and then engraved both them and the text, which her husband provided from his prison cell. She is supposed to have hand coloured the plates herself, although the difference in colouring in the two copies at the Holden Arboretum makes this part of the story somewhat suspect.
Elizabeth was an enterprising young woman. In A Curious Herbal, she acknowledged the contributions of several prominent men, and she promoted the book by word of mouth. She placed advertisements in several journals and made special arrangements with booksellers. The book was a financial success and Blackwell's husband was vindicated.
Alexander Blackwell embarked on a new career in land management, serving as director of improvements for the Duke of Chandros. However, he was forced to resign under a cloud of suspicion. He then went to Sweden in 1742 and became embroiled in political intrigue and was charged with conspiracy to alter Swedish succession. Alexander was later executed for high treason.
Fearful for her own safety, Elizabeth Blackwell did not go to Sweden. Upon hearing of his conviction, she wanted to go to him, but was persuaded to do otherwise. Although she never saw her husband again, Blackwell's devotion to him was unswerving. She never worked again and died alone in 1758.
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