In February 2013, NatSCA kindly granted me the Bill Pettit Memorial Award in order to assess and describe the algal herbarium of Margaret Gatty in the St Andrews University Herbarium.
Margaret Gatty (1809-1873) started collecting seaweeds in 1848 when she spent some months convalescing at Hastings. She built up a large herbarium of her own collections, supplemented by local and foreign specimens sent to her by phycologists such as William Henry Harvey, Catherine Cutler and Jacob Georg Agardh. Margaret Gatty and her daughter Horatia carefully organized the herbarium in albums, following Harvey’s taxonomical insights. In 1863, Margaret Gatty published a two-volume book on British seaweeds.
The bulk of Margaret Gatty’s herbarium was donated to the Gatty Marine Laboratory in St Andrews in April 1907, by her daughter Horatia Eden. The collection was initially kept at the Gatty Marine Laboratory, which was named after its benefactor Charles Henry Gatty (1836-1903), a distant cousin of Margaret Gatty’s husband, the reverend Alfred Gatty. The collection was later incorporated in the St Andrews University Herbarium (STA) and moved to the Department of Botany. The STA collections are currently housed at the St Andrews Botanic Garden.
Margaret Gatty’s herbarium was curated by Dr Helen Blackler (1902-1981), who started working in St Andrews in 1947. Dr Blackler published several short notes regarding the collection, but a comprehensive description of the whole collection was never made. My assessment of the collection started by locating and counting specimens and plates in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, which were retrieved from many different shelves and cabinets in the St Andrews Herbarium.
More than 8,825 specimens and 500 plates belonging to the Margaret Gatty herbarium have now been found in STA. Some 4,250 specimens in the collection are still mounted in the original albums, approximately 2,975 specimens were kept in folders or in unsorted stacks or packages. Around 1,600 specimens were taken out of the original albums and were mounted by Dr Blackler on herbarium sheets.
The collection shows a great deal of variation: some specimens are very nicely preserved, other specimens are in poor condition. Some specimens specify the collector, taxon name, collection date and location, whereas other specimens have no associated data at all. In her notes, Dr Blackler suggested that at least 500 specimens in the collection should be designated as type material. Although the full taxonomic scope of the collection has not yet been assessed, it is apparent that the collection contains several type specimens.
Following the retrieval and assessment of specimens, the STA collections were reorganised to allow the specimens in the Margaret Gatty herbarium to be stored together. Further curation is ongoing and includes numbering and databasing of selected specimens.
Detailed results of my findings will be described in a forthcoming paper in NatSCA News. I would like to thank NatSCA for providing this fantastic opportunity to promote and safeguard a very interesting and important historical collection.
Dr Heleen Plaisier, St Andrews University (Visiting Scholar, School of Biology)