Mystery surrounds Victorian lady seaweed collector

Whitby-based seaweed expert Dr Jane Pottas collecting seaweeds in Scarborough's South Bay beach. Picture by Tony Bartholomew
Whitby-based seaweed expert Dr Jane Pottas collecting seaweeds in Scarborough's South Bay beach. Picture by Tony Bartholomew
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A seaweed expert is appealing for information on a Victorian lady collector ahead of a talk in Scarborough next week.

Dr Jane Pottas, from Whitby, is a phycologist – phycologists study algae, a loose term which includes seaweeds.

She is giving a talk entitled Seaweeds – Cinderellas of the Seashore about the diversity of seaweeds in the area to Scarborough Field Naturalists’ Society on Tuesday.

While researching background information for her talk, Mrs Pottas looked at the seaweed collections held in the herbarium of the Scarborough Collections, including a leather-bound volume containing pressed seaweeds, which belonged to a Victorian lady called Georgiana Wise. But Jane has been unable to discover much about her.

“There were a number of great women collectors in the Victorian era. Seaweed collecting was a popular occupation for young ladies: they could go unchaperoned to the shore, and books written at the time gave advice on appropriate dress,” she said.

Collecting and pressing seaweed was seen as a social accomplishment and the women who did it were not expected to study science for its own sake, although some did become very knowledgeable and were respected by the male scientists of the time.

Mrs Pottas said: “I would love to know more about Georgiana. Her specimens are beautifully preserved in the album – the colours are as vivid today as when they were collected. I’ve been unable to discover anything about her, although there are two possible names in the 1861 census: a Georgiana J Wise born in Leeds, Yorkshire in 1811, her occupation given as ‘Railway Share Proprietor’, and the other born in Foleshill, Warwickshire, in 1829.

“Is either of these women the owner of the album? What was her connection with Scarborough? Did she go there on holiday? The social history aspect of phycology adds an extra dimension to a fascinating subject.”

Contact Mrs Pottas with information on j_d_pottas@hotmail.com. The talk will take place at Hull University’s Scarborough Campus at 7.30pm.