Short Biography: James Hutton

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James Hutton
A report done by Sarah Lynn Brixey

James Hutton was a Scottish geologist, naturalist, and experimental farmer. He is considered the father of modern geology. His theories of geology and geologic time, are also called deep time, and came to be included in theories which were called plutonism and uniformitarianism. Plutonism is the disproven theory that all rocks formed by solidification of a molten mass. Uniformitarianism means of or pertaining to the thesis that processes that operated in the remote geological past are not different from those observed now. Another definition of uniformitarianism is supporting, conforming to, or derived from a theory or doctrine about uniformity, esp. on the subject of geology. In this report on James Hutton, you will learn who he was, his theory of rock formations, and his publication career. James Hutton was born in Edinburgh on June 3, 1726 as one of five children of a merchant who was also Edinburgh City Treasurer, but died when James was very young. He attended school at the Edinburgh High School, where he was particularly interested in mathematics and chemistry. At the age of 14, he attended the University of Edinburgh as a “student of humanity”. He was an intern to a lawyer at the age of 17, but took more of an interest in chemical experiments than legal work. At the age of 18, he became a doctor’s assistant and attended lectures of medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Three years later, he studied medicine in Paris, and in 1749, he received the degree of Doctor of Medicine at Leyden with a thesis on blood circulation. Around 1747, he had a son by a woman named Miss Edington, and other than giving the boy financial assistance, he had little to do with him. The boy went on to become a post office clerk in London. After receiving his degree, Hutton returned to London, and in the summer of 1750, at the age of 24, went back to Edinburgh and resumed experiments with close friend, James Davie. Their work on production of sal ammoniac from soot led to their partnership in profitable chemical works, manufacturing the crystalline salts which were used for dyeing, metalwork, and as smelling salts that were previously available only from natural sources and that had to be imported from Egypt. Hutton owned and rented out properties in Edinburgh, which employed a factor to manage this business. James Hutton inherited his father’s Berwickshire farms of Slighthouses, which are lowland farms that had been in the family since 1713, and a hill farm of Nether Monynut. In the early 1750s, he moved to Slighthouses, with his goal being to making improvements, which introduced farming practices from other parts of Britain and experimenting with plant and animal cultivation. He recorded his ideas and innovations in an unpublished thesis on The Elements of Agriculture. This developed his interest in meteorology and geology, and by 1753, he had become very fond of studying the surface of the earth, and was looking with anxious curiosity into every pit or ditch or bed of a river he came across. Working in a clearing and draining his farm provided many opportunities, and he noticed that a vast proportion of the present rocks are composed of materials afforded by the destruction of bodies, animal, vegetable and mineral, of more ancient formation”. His theoretical ideas began to come together in 1760, and while his farming activities continued, in 1764, he went on a geological tour of the north of Scotland with George Maxwell-Clerk. In 1768, Hutton returned to Edinburgh, leaving his farms to tenants but continuing to take an interest in farm improvements and research, which included experiments carried out at Slighthouses. He developed a red dye made from the roots of the madder plant. He had a house built in 1770 at St. John’s Hill, Edinburgh, overlooking Salisbury Crags. He was one of the most influential participants in the Scottish Enlightenment, and fell in with numerous...
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