Dr Arthur Gilbertson Hutchison

Dr Arthur Gilbertson Hutchison, in whose memory the Hutchison Hut in Coire Etchachan, Cairngorms, was built

Dr Arthur Gilbertson Hutchison, pictured in Bogota, Colombia, in 1949

The Hutchison Memorial Hut is named after Arthur Gilbertson Hutchison (1902-1949) the Aberdeen born and raised senior geologist with the Shell Group.

Hutchison – ‘Hutch’ as he was known to his many friends – spent his formative years wandering in the Cairngorms and further afield both through his involvement with the Scouting movement and, probably more importantly, as a nascent geologist.

Born in 1902, the son of a branch manager of the Bank of Scotland, he was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School, where performed well academically as well as founding a very active art club in 1918. During his time in Aberdeen he was involved in the Scouts at all levels.

He went to university in Aberdeen to study geology and was a keen member of the University Scientific Association. His talks were mainly on geology, but he did give one lecture in 1926, unfortunately now lost, with the intriguing title of ‘Science in modern poetry’. More typical, perhaps, was an illustrated talk on ‘The Corrie of Lochnagar’ in 1924, which included slides and discussion of glaciations all over the Cairngorms. Of one slide showing Coire Etchachan he enthused somewhat fulsomely: “If you cannot see, you can feel, the rounded lip of this corrie of the Juniper as its arms stretch out towards you to embrace you.  The droop in the lip rather spoils the beauty of this corry, but later glacial work is responsible for that. To see in this slide the perfect corrie you have to imagine the full lips and the encircling arms.” The description may be rather lush for modern tastes but you can feel the enthusiasm and his deep understanding and feel for the scenery.

After graduating BSc with first class honours in geology in 1926 he spent two years involved in research work at Cambridge, taking his PhD degree there in 1929. His thesis was a much praised dissertation on metamorphism of the Dalradian limestone of Deeside, Aberdeenshire, based on the rocks around Banchory and above Aboyne. He also wrote a booklet, ‘The Geology of Auchernach, Strathdon, Aberdeenshire’ in 1930.

On completing his studies, Dr Hutchison joined the Shell Group of companies in 1929 and was posted to Malaya, where he worked in the bush for three years, proving an excellent choice for the job but unfortunately contracting a tropical illness which was to trouble him for the rest of his life.

After a short spell at a university post in Cambridge in 1932 he returned to Shell and was posted to Trinidad, being appointed chief geologist of the United British Oilfields of Trinidad in 1936 and remaining there until 1941, when he moved to Burma, as the liaison geologist between the Burmah and Shell oil companies. A year later, though, he had to leave Burma ahead of the advancing Japanese army and ended up in Australia, where he helped instruct flying personnel in the interpretation of aerial photographs, later working with Shell Queensland Proprietary Ltd until April 1943 when he returned to London to assist the Bataafsche Pet Mij (Batavian Petroleum Company), a subsidiary of Shell, which had set up a wartime organisation of technical personnel from the head office in The Hague who had managed to get to London just before or after the invasion of Holland.

Dr Arthur Hutchison in The Hague, 1947.

Dr Arthur Hutchison in The Hague, 1947

With this organisation, Dr Hutchison returned to Holland toward the end of 1945 and remained there until April 1948, when he made a trip to Venezuela on loan to the Caribbean Petroleum Company in Caracas. He left Venezuela in January 1949, making the return trip to Holland via Colombia, Ecuador and the United States.

Dr Hutchison was a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists since 1939. He was elected a fellow of the Geological Society of America in 1943.

To his many friends and colleagues Dr Hutchison – ‘Hutch’ as he was known – was both liked and respected. An obituary noted: “Hutch was known by his unfailing cheerful personality and capacity for friendship. He did not have one enemy and he had an unequalled talent for making and keeping in touch with his friends; these include head-hunting Dyaks who idolised him in his early days in the Malayan jungle and many of his old  negro Trinidad pit-diggers who still beg for news of him.”

More testimony to his character came from his nephew, who remarked in a letter of 2012: “He was the ideal uncle, writing to us about his adventures, sending me all sorts of curiosities like stuffed flying fish and alligators, taking me on a fishing holiday to the Ardennes in 1946, teaching me about art, and paying for my schooling.

“I have boxes full of huge numbers of letters and photos from him from all over the world, especially Brunei, Trinidad, Burmah, Sumatra, Australia, Holland and Venezuela, sent to my parents and myself, and to his father.

“Especially vivid are his letters and photos from Brunei. He had a wind-up gramophone with him, and used to play the 78s of Alfred Cortot’s recording of Chopin’s four Ballades to the apparently very appreciative head-hunting Dayaks, with whom he lived in the jungle.”

However the respected geologist and much-loved ideal uncle was to die tragically, following his fascination with rocks.

After returning to work at The Hague in July 1949, he was given two months on leave and, after visiting his sister in Wales, went to Tenby on the Pembrokeshire coast. As usual , he had with him his rucksack and geological hammer and went on daily solitary cliff expeditions along the coast. Although an experienced climber, he must have slipped and suffered a fractured skull, which resulted in his death. His body, washed out to sea, was not recovered for ten days.

His nephew recalled: “My parents and I went down there to look for him, and I remember vividly the nightmarish days searching the coast, asking at every cafe and remote cottage whether anyone had seen him, then giving up and coming home. Ten days later his body was washed up in Carmarthen Bay. His skull was fractured, and he had clearly fallen from the sea cliffs while geologising.”

Dr Hutchison’s nephew – at time of writing this the only surviving relative who knew him when he was alive – knows little of his climbing and walking in Scotland but his obituary described him as an experienced climber and, when he died, his friends chose to build a hut in the Cairngorms to preserve his memory so, although his work had taken him far from the hills of home, it is clear he had always held them dear.

Despite the presence of the bothy in one of the more frequented corries of the Cairngorms, however, for many years now few have known anything about who Arthur Gilbert Hutchison was. Well, a good guy by the sound of it, so next time you’re in the Hutchie, raise a toast to Hutch.

11 Responses to Dr Arthur Gilbertson Hutchison

  1. Pingback: The Hutchie – and Hutch | cairngormwanderer

  2. ian piper shand says:

    Neil, Thanks for all the effort you put put into the research of…Hutch…..

  3. JoyceKLow says:

    Fabulous story of a great character. What a fitting tribute the Hutchison Memorial Hut is. Well done for managing to find this out. Every time I visit a bothy or hut I always wonder about its history. It would be great if each one had an information sheet.

    • It’s an idea, Joyce. I’ve spoken to the MO at the Hutchie about laminating a copy of the pages and putting them on the wall of the bothy. Probably worth doing at other bothies as well. I think people do appreciate knowing some background about the bothies they stay in.

  4. coquetterrier says:

    Thanks for that.Never been to the Hutchison Memorial Hut (hope to soon) but love reading about the history of the bothy[s.Love the blog.

  5. Jim Redding says:

    Jut a small point – Brunei was never a part of Malaya, or later Malaysia for that matter. It was a British Protectorate, but along with all the other British territories on Borneo, was not part of Malaya. (Nowadays Sabah and Sarawak and Labuan are part of Malaysia). So it would be correct to say ‘he was posted to Brunei in Borneo.’ NOT MALAYA!!!!

  6. Dana Alan Hutchison says:

    What a wonderful tribute to a Hutchison! And, a geologist no less! And a field geologist to boot! I’m a bit too old to take on a hike as this would require, but I’ve passed on to my trekking son and daughter-in-law this Hutchie Hut as a ‘destination vacation’. PS My name is Hutchison and I’m an old school field geologist who happened to work for Exxon for 30 years. Who would have thought?

  7. Simon Crowhurst says:

    We’ve recently (Aug 28 2019) found a copy of the Western Mail
    (National Daily of Wales and Monmouthshire) from Aug 8 1949 in the office of the late Professor Harry Whittington here in Cambridge, at the Department of Earth Sciences (Geology). The report of Dr Hutchison’s death is marked with handwritten stars, and is clearly the reason Prof Whittington kept the newspaper.

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