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James Hutton

Sir Henry Raeburn: James Hutton Scottish National Portrait Gallery Purchased with the aid of the Art Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund 1986.James Hutton was a Scottish geologist, physician, chemical manufacturer, naturalist, and experimental agriculturalist, born in 1726. He originated the fundamental theories in geology - Hutton’s work established geology as a proper science, and he is often referred to as the Father of Modern Geology.”

Entering the University of Edinburgh in 1740 he apprenticed as a lawyer, but fascinated by medicine; became a physician’s assistant in 1744. In 1749 he received his Masters Degree at Leiden University with a thesis on the circulatory system and, returning to London in the mid-1750’s with his friend James Davie, started a profitable company manufacturing crystalline salt for dyeing and metal works.

Then moving to a farm he had inherited from his father, James Hutton began to make improvements to the practice of agriculture and animal husbandry.  Whilst working and clearing his land he noticed that much of the rock was composed of fossilised plant or animal material.

Between 1767 and 1774 Hutton shared his knowledge of geology with the company constructing the Forth and Clyde canal, then expounding his geological theory that the earth was a product of decay of previous organisms in his Theory of the Earth; or ‘An Investigation of the Laws observable in the Composition, Dissolution and Restoration of Land upon the Globe’, which was presented to the Royal Society on July 4, 1785.

Other notable publications by James Hutton include the Theory of Rain in which he stated that the amount of moisture which can be contained in air increases with the temperature, and that rainfall is regulated by humidity and air currents. He became renowned for being the Father of Modern Geology and ‘the Man Who Found Time’ in recognition of his work to establish the true age of the Earth, as opposed to its age as defined in the Bible.

James Hutton worked in close collaboration with other contemporaries of the Scottish Enlightenment (Erasmus Darwin, Adam Smith, John Playfair, James Watt, Joseph Black, David Hume) and was described by Donald B. McIntyre in his ‘James Hutton’s Edinburgh: a précis’ as having ‘an exquisite relish for whatever is beautiful and sublime in science’, and ‘the implications of his geological discoveries ‘were matter, not of transient delight but of solid and permanent happiness’.