Final Years

James Hutton’s business interests, in particular the Sal ammoniac factory he owned with James Davie, profited him well, so that he did not have to work for a living, leaving him the time to accrue evidence and to develop and expound on his theories.

“Indeed his manner of life, at least after he left off the occupations of husbandry (farming), gave him such a command of his time, as is enjoyed by very few. Though he used to rise late, he began immediately to study and generally continued busy till dinner. He dined early…and passed very little time at table for he ate sparingly and drank no wine. After dinner he resumed his studies or walked for two or three hours. The evening he always spent in the society of his friends”.

After several years of intermittent illness Hutton died on Saturday 26th March 1797 aged 70. His final day, as accounted by John Playfair ;

“On (that day), he suffered a great deal of pain; but never-the-less, employed himself in writing, and particularly in noting down his remarks on some attempts which were then making towards a new mineralogical nomenclature. In the evening he was seized with a shivering, and his uneasiness continuing to increase, he sent for his friend Mr Russel who attended him as a surgeon. Before he could possibly arrive, all medical assistance was in vain: Dr Hutton had just the strength left to stretch out his hand to him and immediately expired”.

Playfair’s reference to the symptoms of Hutton’s illness including a painful retention of urine suggests speculatively that he suffered a prostate problem. In 1791 his friend Joseph Black performed a ‘dangerous and painful operation’ to relieve him of his ailment – without anaesthetic ! He never fully recovered his health and was confined to his house in St John’s Hill for much of the last remaining years of his life.

James Hutton died intestate and his sister Isabella Hutton got his whole estate including the farms at Slighhouses and Nether Monynut and the house he built at St John’s Hill. On her death in 1818 she left Nether Monynut to the Smeaton-Huttons which were James Hutton’s grandchildren (by his son James Smeaton-Hutton), having already sold Slighhouses in 1810. The house on St John’s Hill was left to the Hutton’s great-nephew on their mother’s side, Andrew Balfour. It was later demolished, and the location is now the site of the James Hutton Memorial Garden