He was educated at Hofwyl College, near Bern in Switzerland, and afterwards at the high school at Bremen in Germany.
At 17, he went to Brazil as a junior clerk and was there for about five years, in Bahia and Rio de Janeiro. The land was purchased and samples were sent to England, which showed a high percentage of copper. Dutton visited England in 1845 and sold his interest in the mine for a large sum.
While in London, he prepared for publication his South Australia and its Mines, a work of 360 pages, a valuable contemporary account of the new colony published in 1846.
He was Commissioner of Crown Lands and Immigration in the Hanson government from 30 September 1857 to 2 June 1859, and was premier from 4 to 15 July 1863. He formed his second cabinet on 22 March 1865 and was premier and commissioner of public works until 20 September of the same year, when he became agent-general in London for South Australia.
Dutton"s Bluff, later Dutton Bluff, a hill some 66 km north-west of Quorn, was named for him and the Victorian government botanist named Eremophila duttonii in his honour. Francis "Frank" MacDermott Dutton (1850 – c 9 May 1932)
Caroline Birch Dutton (15 August 1852 – ) married barrister Charles T. Mitchell in 1878.
Sir Frederick Dutton (14 April 1855 – c 10 October 1930), solicitor of Wilkins, Blyth, Dutton and Hartley, married Beatrice Aimee Bridger Administration Member of the Order of the British Empire (1863 – 1 August 1928) in 1883.
William Hampden Dutton (1805–1849), pastoralist of Anlaby Station and miner at Kapunda, was a brother, as was pastoralist and parliamentarian Frederick Hansborough Dutton (1812–1890).
Dutton returned to South Australia in 1847 and in 1849, became a member of the Adelaide board of city commissioners. He was elected a member of the Legislative Council for East Adelaide in 1851 and sat until 1857, when he was elected to the House of Assembly as member for City of Adelaide (9 March 1857 to 18 March 1860) and then for Light (19 March 1860 to 22 April 1862. And 17 November 1862 to 28 September 1865).
He was a good linguist, able to speak French, German and Portuguese, and had an excellent knowledge of business which enabled him to carry out his duties with success until his death on 25 January 1877.