Writer, mycologist and botanical illustrator Anna Maria Hussey, née Reed was born in Leckhampstead, Buckinghamshire. In 1831, she married Rev. Dr Thomas John Hussey, rector of Hayes, Kent.

By the mid-19th century, the study of botany had become ‘an occupation of choice, part of the parcel of normative activities for girls and women’1 where they could learn informally from each other about the social and divine order so long as they did not venture into a masculine area of scientific study outside the domestic sphere.2 Although Hussey appears to have positioned herself within this sphere of female engagement as a daughter of Flora,3 her writing hints at a willingness to transgress the normative use of the domestic sphere and garden as an enclosed female space.

Hussey wrote a fairly conventional and cheerful holiday diary relating a family holiday to Dover in 1836 to her sister, Henrietta.4 An increase in disposable income for at least some in the middle class in the mid-19th century led to a growth in tourism in Britain and ‘the first concentration of resorts developed in the south-east, particularly on the Sussex and Kent coasts’5 and ‘elite men and women, and travellers were expected to keep a record of what they observed.’6 Hussey describes their experience of sea bathing popular by this time7 and is keen to have new experiences, commenting on poetry, American literature, and art. Her initial interest seems to have been geology, but she became fascinated in her ‘botanical treasures’ expressing typical modesty tropes that she was ‘surprised..[that she] really possessed the power of making acquaintance with strange plants’.8 Borsay emphasises that the ‘environmental and social’ visual experience at the seaside was a growing ‘commodity’ in the early 19th century where ‘new ways of perceiving and capturing’ the environment were explored.9

Dr Hussey was no ordinary rector either. He was a keen amateur astronomer. He regularly contributed to The Transactions of the Royal Astronomical Society.10 Although he theorised that there was an eighth planet later to be named, Neptune11 his idea was ignored by his peers 'because of his lack of skill in mathematics’.12 However, he was recognised as one of the first astronomers in Britain to record the return of Halley’s Comet in 1835.13 He had a very impressive network of friends and acquaintances, for example, he personally knew Charles Darwin. However, Darwin was less than complimentary about Dr Hussey in a letter to his sister: 'Dr. Hussey and Mr. Willott called yesterday afternoon: the Dr. talked grand nonsense…. Poor little Mr. Willott could hardly get a word in sideways..'.14 Nonetheless, it seems that Hussey gave up his astronomy observations in 1837, selling his observatory to Durham University in 1839.15

At this time Hussey’s career as a botanist, illustrator and writer took off, probably because she now needed to provide a financial stability for her family.16 Hussey published her magnum opusIllustrations of British Mycology (1847-55).17 Although she is canny to position herself as a humorous female educator, instructing mothers and daughters on how to study mycology, Hussey is an original. She advises that her readers should appreciate the beauty of the world by their foraging, dispelling any worry about appearing unladylike by getting dirty.

She regularly communicated by letter with Rev Miles Joseph Berkeley, the renowned mycologist of the day asking for advice in identifying certain fungi.18

Hussey also wrote a short story ‘Matrimony’, anonymously published in Fraser’s Magazine in 1848-9.19 This magazine was a popular conservative publication well known for its humour in attacking policies of the Whig government.20 Hussey’s writing is peppered with her sharp wit in dissecting peculiarities of a nineteenth century marriage. Hussey confided to Berkeley: ‘This pays well – much better than Mycology’.21

This article was published: 6 January 2022.


  1. Shteir, Ann, B. Cultivating Women Cultivating Science. John Hopkins University Press, 1996.7. 

  2. George, Sam, Botany, Sexuality & Women’s Writing: From Modest Shoot to Forward Plant (Manchester University Press, 2007), p.60, p.59. 

  3. Shteir, Op.Cit., p.6. 

  4. Finn, Elizabeth, A. 'Introduction’ pp. I-vi in Libby - Botany, Boats and Bathing Machines: Anna Maria Hussey's holiday in Dover in 1836 (libbyapp.com), p.ii. 

  5. Borsay, P. A Room with a View: Visualising the Seaside, c. 1750-1914. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 2013 (Sixth Series, Vol. 23. 175-201). 180, accessed 13/08/22. 

  6. Ibid., p.181. 

  7. Borsay, Op. Cit., p.177. 

  8. Finn, Elizabeth, A. Botany, Boats and Bathing Machines: Anna Maria Hussey's holiday in Dover in 1836 (libbyapp.com), p.60 

  9. Ibid., p.201. 

  10. Women's Work (lindahall.org) accessed 271122. 

  11. Skyscript: The Birth of the Outer Planets: Neptune accessed 271122 

  12. Historic Dispute : Is Urbain Le Verrier the true discoverer of Neptune (scienceclarified.com) accessed 271122 

  13. Appearance of Halley's comet The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science: Vol 7, No 39 (tandfonline.com) accessed 271122 

  14. "Darwin Correspondence Project".accessed 271122 

  15. Woman’s Work Op.Cit. 

  16. Judith W. Page and Elise L. Smith, Women, Literature and The Domesticated Landscape: England’s Disciples of Flora, 1780-1870. (CUP, 2014).106. [ser.1 (1847) - Illustrations of British mycology - Biodiversity Heritage Library (biodiversitylibrary.org) ] ser.2 (1855) - Illustrations of British mycology - Biodiversity Heritage Library (biodiversitylibrary.org) 

  17. [ser.1 (1847) - Illustrations of British mycology - Biodiversity Heritage Library (biodiversitylibrary.org) ] ser.2 (1855) - Illustrations of British mycology - Biodiversity Heritage Library (biodiversitylibrary.org) 

  18. Women's Work (lindahall.org) accessed 271122 

  19. Fraser's Magazine 1849-05: Vol 39 Iss 233 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive; Fraser's Magazine 1849-06: Vol 39 Iss 234 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive ; Fraser's Magazine 1849-07: Vol 40 Iss 235 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive accessed 28/12/22. 

  20. Fraser's Magazine 1830-1882 : Free Texts : Free Download, Borrow and Streaming : Internet Archive accessed 28/12/22. 

  21. Page and Smith, Op.Cit.108.