A Summary of his talk on 28th October entitled “James Hutton: the forgotton Berwickshire farmer”
On Saturday 28th October 2023 Professor Alan Werritty gave a most accomplished talk elucidating another “side” of James Hutton. We know Hutton as the “Father of Modern Geology”, realising the concept of vast geological time, but unknown to most he was also a Berwickshire farmer.
We heard that he was a prolific Scottish Enlightenment thinker in many areas of the sciences – amongst other areas he was a passionate chemist !
On farming he turned his scientific, logical intellectual mind to its practicalities. Quoting Professor Werritty “His contribution on heat and plant growth was a world-first and his insights into fertility and the physico-chemical properties of soils was far ahead of his contemporaries.” He also provided the experimental justification for measuring atmospheric humidity by “wet and dry” thermometers still in use today.
It seems quite clear that Hutton’s farming interests, theoretical and practical – especially watching soil erosion, triggered his revolutionary thinking on geology.
Professor Werritty closed his talk by telling the audience that Hutton brought together all his practical experience of farming, observations and experiments in the form of a manuscript of some 1,000 pages entitled “Elements of Agriculture”.
However, this manuscript has remained unpublished and the Professor revealed that he has over 90% of it in a form suitable for publication. He now needs a publisher but is determined.
Professor Werritty was thanked enthusiastically by our large audience in the usual way.
As a postscript: in 2026 it will be the 300th anniversary of James Hutton’s birth. The Society would hope to be involved in any celebrations.
Ian D Hardie
10th November 2023