Isobel Wylie Hutchison

30 May 1889 - 1982

Film-maker, author and poet

Isobel Wylie Hutchison was an Scottish Arctic traveller and Botanist. She also wrote poetry, books on her travels and articles in various geographic magazines. She painted many scenes from her adventures.

Isobel was the third of five children at Carlowrie Castle, Kirkliston, Edinburgh. Her father was Thomas Hutchison (b 1841) and her mother was Jeanie Wylie (b 1857) He was well established in the wine wholesaling trade when he met Jean Wylie whose father was a successful farmer. As Thomas had made a lot of money in the wine trade he was able to spend a great deal of time with Isobel. He taught her about Botany and gardening Isobel was taught by a governess at home and learnt German from a fraulein. She was very active physically at croquet, tennis, archery, skating, hiking, cycling, Scottish Country Dancing and walking. 

From 1900 she went to school in Edinburgh where she studied a curriculum suited for a young Victorian Lady. After her sister married a naval officer and saw very little of him for long periods Isobel decided that marriage would restrict her life. Sadly Thomas died when Isobel was only ten years old. Fortunately he left equal provision for all of the children with trusts and so she was independent for the whole of her life.

She travelled to the Arctic, filming the things she saw around her, the landscape and the wildflowers growing there and the daily lives of the indigenous people. Other travellers of the time who wrote of their discoveries did not dwell on the domestic detail that makes Hutchison's work unique. Her first exploration was to East Greenland in 1927, followed in 1928 by a year in Umanak, North Greenland. She filmed eskimos collecting ice for water and hunting seals from a kayak, the wild flowers of Umanak and the Governor's coffee party! Scottish whalers had taught reels and other dances to the locals, Hutchison filmed them a century later still dancing with enthusiasm. 

In 1934 she set out for Alaska, travelling by coastal steamer from Vancouver to Skagway and then overland to Nome. Here she found a very small freighter to take her along the north coast of Alaska, ending with 120 miles by dog sledge and returning on mail plane to Alberta. Hutchison brought back samples of the plant life for the Royal Horticultural Society and the Natural History Museum. She had a long connection with the Royal Scottish Geographical Society as Honorary Editor of the magazine and as a fellow and Vice President. 

She was awarded the Mungo Park Medal as a tribute to her explorations and in recognition of her original and valuable researches in Iceland, Greenland and Arctic Alaska. She wrote several travel books including 'North to the Rime-Ringed Sun' and 'Stepping Stones from Alaska to Asia' and four volumes of poetry. 

In later life she gave frequent lectures, using films and lantern slides, describing her travels for film-making and writing articles for National Geographic' magazine. She died in 1982. She held the distinctions LLD and FRSGS.

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