Isobel Wylie Hutchison

Isobel Wylie Hutchison, Scottish Arctic explorer and botanist, 1889-1982

Called “The Quiet Explorer,” Isobel Wylie Hutchison was the first Scottish woman to visit Greenland, or to traverse the Icey coasts of northern Alaska and Canada. During her expeditions she collected, preserved and labelled thousands of plant specimens, sending regular parcels back to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew by boat, these specimens still remain in the gardens archives today. She is also considered one of the very first documentary filmmakers in history.

Hutchison was born at Carlowrie Castle, her lifelong home, one of five children. Her father and   brothers died prematurely and she was a solitary child who wrote poetry. She was itinerant, too, leaving the castle for days at time, worrying her long suffering mother. She trained in horticulture at Studley College in Warwickshire, debuting a lifelong wanderlust and love of flora. She never married, and preferred to be “an onlooker,” as she described it. 

Having covered most of Scotland on her rambles, she went further afield to Iceland in 1925 where she completed a 260-mile walk with no map or guide that her detractors said was too dangerous. In the 1920s, polar exploration was still very much the domain of men. Hutchinson explored historical sites, and traded with the Inuit people. She danced and cooked with Greenlanders, and learned to communicate in their language. She was interested in the ordinary lives of the Northern peoples and would film them cooking and sewing in some of the first documentary footage ever recorded. 

It became clear that to protect herself from the elements, as well as from insects, she would need a pair of their thick sealskin trousers, and she wore them proudly in photographs. She recorded what she learned and expressed the beauty of what she saw in poetry, prose and paintings, her brush sometimes freezing to the canvas. “My heart beats for the wilderness,” she wrote.

Back in Scotland she hit the lecture circuit to talk of her travels and read her poetry on BBC radio. She published articles in National Geographic, and her paintings were shown in the National Gallery of Scotland. A commemorative plaque in her honour has been installed at Carlowrie Castle and her trailblazing documentary footage now belongs to the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

In 2020, Kingdom Scotland (Scotland's first fragrance house) created "The Albaura Fragrance" in tribute to Isobel Wylie Hutchison.  Albaura captures the glacial freshness of snow and ice blended with berries and botanicals, and its fresh, grassy notes are inspired by cuttings which, according to Hutchison, ‘spent the night with me in my tent on Eggers Island,’ in South Greenland. The same trip saw her preserve a sample of angelica sylvestris, which provides the aromatic heart notes to this fragrance.


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