Margaret Rebecca Dickinson (1821-1918) was a talented Victorian artist who assembled a collection of over one thousand British plant specimens in her unique herbarium. Her beautiful botanical painting taken from the prepared herbarium specimens are available to view on our online gallery.
The study of plants was considered to be a very ladylike and genteel activity in Victorian times. Favoured with drawing and painting skills and the slower pace of life, an accomplished lady botanist of the time could produce wonderfully detailed and accurate illustrations of flowers. Margaret Rebecca Dickinson was one of those many talented Victorian ladies, spending her days collecting and drawing every plant specimen she could find as she travelled around the British Isles.
Very little is known about her life other than she collected and painted in watercolour over four hundred and fifty wild flowers. From the manuscript catalogue of her collection she completed most of her drawings between the years 1846 and 1874.
During part of that period, from 1860 onwards, she appears to have visited or lived with her family who are recorded in the 1861 census records as living at Friars Hall, Gattonside, a substantial 18th century regency house in Melrose. Miss Dickinson later moved to Tweed Villa a large house in Norham on Tweed, Northumberland, in 1868 with her parents and sister Rebecca Ann (c.1823-1894).
Dickinson was born on the 22 July 1821 in Newcastle upon Tyne and baptised in All Saints Church. Her father, William Ogle Dickinson (c1797-1870), was a tobacco manufacturer in Newcastle upon Tyne at the time but having been born in Kelso, Roxburghshire he returned to his native country in the 1860s. When he died, at Norham, on the 20 March 1870 he left his estate to his wife Elizabeth; she sadly died just a the year later. The house at Tweed Villa was bequeathed to Margaret and Rebecca Ann. Miss Dickinson remained at Norham until her death on the 9 December 1918 at the great age of 98. She had four further siblings Elizabet Nicholson, Ann Logan Bulman, married to a corn merchant and living in Corbridge and two brothers who inherited the tobacco business.
Miss Dickinson’s family grave is situated in the churchyard of St Cuthbert’s Church, Norham.
In memory of
oldest daughter of William Ogle and
who died at Tweed Villa Norham
9th December 1918
Aged 98 years
Although many of the plants she collected and painted were of local origin – Northumberland, Durham, Cumbria, Berwickshire and the Scottish Borders she did travel further afield. We can speculate that the expansion of the railways in the 1840-50s enabled her to visit sites in the Cirencester area, Yorkshire, North Wales and Ireland. Her expeditions to Green Hill, Kent in 1858 and 1860 led to her collecting and illustrating a number of rare orchids.
Miss Dickinson bequeathed her collection of plants and watercolour drawings to the Natural History Society of Northumbria, where they are housed in the Society’s herbarium and archives at the Great North Museum: Hancock.
There are 468 images from the Margaret Dickinson collection on our online gallery. The accompanying text gives a brief description of the illustration with the plant name recorded by Miss Dickinson and its modern equivalent.
Dickinson recorded further details about the plant specimens in a manuscript catalogue which accompanies her watercolour collection. She recorded the date on which her specimens were collected and made a note of the location of the plants. This information has also been included in the text.
Read the article Margaret Rebecca Dickinson: Victorian Botanist and Plant Illustrator by Jacqueline Banerjee on the Victorian Web.
There is another small collection of Margaret Dickinson’s watercolours in the Lindley Library of the Royal Horticultural Society,London.
The 30 watercolour drawings of Narcissus are bound into an album and appear to have been drawn at Norham in Northumberland between 1886-1893. They were purchased from an auction house in Glasgow on the 6 July 1996 from an unknown vendor.
Visit: The Lindley Library Catalogue and type in ‘Margaret Dickinson’ to access the archive record here.
The Society would like to thank MLA North East for funding the design of the website and the Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting a 3-year archive project (2003-2006) during which the photographs and research were prepared.
Research and cataloguing: June Holmes and Barbara Harbottle
Photographers: Graham Steen and Ian Mckie
Website editors: Dr David Gardner-Medwin and Tim Johnson
BNC(1897) Berwickshire Naturalists’ Club
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