Mrs Margaret Gatty
Dates: British, 1809 - 1873
Biographical Account: Margaret Gatty was a marine biologist and a well known 19th century author of children's literature. She was born in Burnham, Essex in 1809, the daughter of Alexander John Scott, Nelson's chaplain onboard the HMS Victory at Trafalgar. She married Alfred Gatty in 1839 and moved to the Vicarage of Saint Mary's Church in Ecclesfield, where Alfred had just been made the incumbent. In 1848, Margaret suffered a breakdown in health and her Doctor prescribed a sea holiday. It was on this break that Margaret began writing short stories for children, most of which had a natural history subtext to them. Also during this trip, Margaret became interested in beachcombing - quite a common hobby for the middle and upper classes during the 19th century. From this she became very interested in marine algae and began to swap specimens with friends and acquaintances. She was introduced to some of the most well known marine biologists of the day, such as William Harvey and George Busk. She assisted the naturalists by providing specimens and illustrations for their publications, using a microscope she had inherited from her grandmother. Her interest culminated in the publication of two volumes of her own, called British Seaweeds. The book was an amateur guide to "seaweedizing" and was of such high quality, it was still being used in the 1950's. Margaret was well known amongst professional marine biologists and had several species named after her. In 1851, Margaret became the first woman in Sheffield to give birth under the influence of chloroform; a method that had been previously frowned upon, but made more acceptable after Queen Victoria had done the same a few years earlier. By the end of her life, Margaret was in a lot of pain, probably suffering from multiple sclerosis. She died in January 1873. Her large collection of marine algae and sponges, which took up an enormous amount of room in her house, was bequeathed to her daughter, Horatia, who shared her mother's interest in marine biology. Horatia added to the collection and eventually donated it to Sheffield Museum in several parts between 1877 and 1909.