The Curious Life of Elizabeth Blackwell: Why Has History Ignored Her?

September 28, 2023 - September 28, 2023

28th September 2023


A beautiful print of a dandelion from the 18th century. It has the yellow folwers and the fluff.


Herbs, prison, and passion, these pepper the story of Elizabeth Blackwell, Britain’s first female botanical illustrator. Though her parents warned Elizabeth that Alexander would not make a dependable husband, only after eloping with him did she wonder if they may have been right… After their marriage, the couple find lodgings in London. Alexander opens a print shop, falling foul of Guild rules and is sent to the Marshalsea, the notorious debtors’ prison, leaving Elizabeth to fend for herself. Alone and penniless, she embarks on a quest that earns her a small fortune and, against all the odds, turns her skill in engraving into gold. Capitalising on an introduction to Sir Hans Sloane, physician to the King, she persuades him to arrange for fresh specimens from the Chelsea Physic Garden to be delivered to her. Her weekly instalments of ‘herbals’, stunning painted images of plants with clear text on their therapeutic value sell to apothecaries and the public alike. She makes enough money to pay off Alexander’s debt and buys his freedom. But that’s just the start …Though Elizabeth’s book of prints, The Curious Herbal, is a treasure of the British Library, few people know her incredible story on which I base my novel.

About the speaker:

Pamela Holmes was born in Charleston, South Carolina. At the age of eight, she moved with her family to England. After school, she lived on a Somerset commune where she became adept at milking cows and laying hedges. Then she graduated as nurse from London University and started a band. When her sons left home, she turned to writing. The Curious Life of Elizabeth Blackwell is her third novel. She has also written The Huntingfield Paintress (2016) and Wyld Dreamers (2018).

About the event: 

  • -5:45 pm: Doors open.
  • -6:00-7:00 pm: Talk + Q& A.
    -7:15-8:30 pm:

    • -Music will play in the Herb Garret.
      -The Apothecary Bar is opened until 8:10 pm. Drink tokens can be purchased at Front of House (Glass of wine/beer £5 and thematic cocktail £6).
      -Workshop/Activities to take place in the Herb Garret and book signing.
      -Time to look at the exhibitions. (Be advised that we do not allow any drinks in the Old Operating Theatre itself).
  • -8:30 pm: Event ends, but you can continue the party at Amazing Grace below us if you are so inclided!

And some other things…

*Access is through a 52-step spiral staircase. For more information go to Access. 

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Book Tickets

Please note: a 95p per basket booking transaction fee will be applied to online bookings