Biographical notesIsabella Gifford is best known as an algologist but collections of her vascular plants and mosses survive. Her life was recorded in a substantial obituary in the Journal of Botany in 1891. She is noted for having lived a "quiet life", spending most of her time in Minehead, Devon, after settling there with her parents around 1850.
She was born in Wales around 1825, her father being the agent for John Christie, her grandfather, who had land and business interests in Breckonshire. Both the Gifford and Christie family were active Protestant dissenters and details of the family history are sparse. Her age at death, late December 1891, was given as 67 but she had reported ages suggestive of several years of birth in the previous six censuses. The age of 16 in 1841 is probably close to the truth consistent with a mid 1825 birth. Her parents had married in October of 1824.
It is generally believed that she was self-taught as a scientist, her parents being of a more literary persuasion. An interesting family link is provided by her uncle, Dr. Thomas Southwood Smith, who had married her mother's elder sister, Mary Christie, in 1819. Southwood Smith was the friend to whom Jeremey Bentham had bequeathed his body in 1832 for dissection to illustrate a course of public lectures. Although Mary and Southwood do not appear to have lived together after the 1830s, a continued link is demonstrated by the fact that their son, cousin Herman Southwood Smith, administered her (and her mother's) estate in 1892. Another of her mother's sisters, Ann, married the noted attorney Edgar Taylor in 1823. This provided a family link with this celebrated clan of Unitarian Norfolk polymaths. Her uncle Edgar's siblings included the geologist Richard Cowling Taylor and the children's author Emily Taylor.
Her major publication is The marine botanist which was published, in various guises, from 1842 to 1853. Probably still living in Melcombe Regis when it first appeared, she had previously lived in Wales, France and Jersey.
|1841 June||Census - Thomas-street, Melcombe Regis, Dorset|
|1844 September||Falmouth, Devon (death of brother)|
|1851||Census - The Parks, Minehead, Somerset|
|1861||Census - The Parks, Minehead|
|1871||Census - The Parks, Minehead|
|1881||Census - The Parks, Minehead|
|1891||Census - The Parks, Minehead|
- Thirsk Botanical Exchange Club
- Botanical Exchange Club (to 1871)
- Somerset Archæological and Natural History Society
|Annotated family tree of the Gifford and Christie families with a transcription of her Journal of Botany Obituary.|
|The FENSCORE database gives details of some of the museum collections containing her material.|