(c1820-1918) 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 did most of the drawings between the years 1846 and 1874.
During part of that period she lived at Wetheral in Cumbria, but she appears to have moved to Norham on Tweed, Northumberland, in 1868. She never married and remained at Norham until her death on the 9th December 1918 at the age of 98. Her family grave can still be found in the churchyard of St Cuthbert’s Church, Norham.
Many of the plants she painted were of local origin – Northumberland, Durham, Cumbria, Berwickshire and the Scottish Borders. She also visited the Cirencester area, Yorkshire, North Wales and Ireland. Her visits 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 Hancock Museum.
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 enter ‘Margaret Dickinson’ to see the drawings of Narcissus here
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 has been prepared.
June Holmes and Barbara Harbottle
Photographers: Graham Steen and Ian Mckie
Website editor: Dr David Gardner Medwin
BNC(1897) Berwickshire Naturalists’ Club
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HARBOTTLE, B (1995) Prestwick Carr: Its drainage and Enclosure. Archaeologia Aeliana 5th Series, Vol.23. The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne.
MABEY, R (1996) Flora Britannica
SWAN, George A (1993) Flora of Northumberland. The Natural History Society of Northumbria.
WINCH, N J (1831) Flora of Northumberland and Durham. Trans.nat.Hist.Soc.Northumb., 2,1-149
WALLIS, J (1769) The natural history and antiquities of Northumberland . Vols 1-2. London: W and W Strahan.