Charles Cotton (geologist)

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Sir Charles Cotton
Born (1885-02-24)24 February 1885
Dunedin, New Zealand
Died 29 June 1970(1970-06-29) (aged 85)
Lower Hutt, New Zealand
Fields Geomorphology
Institutions Victoria University College
Alma mater University of Otago
Influences William Morris Davis[1]
Influenced Lester King[2]
Colin McCahon

Sir Charles Andrew Cotton KBE (24 February 1885 – 29 June 1970) was a New Zealand geologist and geomorphologist, described as one of the leading scientists that New Zealand has produced.

Early life and family[edit]

Born in Dunedin, Cotton was educated at Christchurch Boys' High School, where he lost the sight in his left eye because of a schoolmate's prank. In 1908 Cotton graduated from the University of Otago with an MSc, with first-class honours in geology.

Academic career[edit]

Cotton was then director of the Coromandel School of Mines from 1908 to 1909, and geology lecturer at Victoria University College from 1909 to 1920, when he was appointed to the newly created chair of geology. He retired in 1953. In the 1959 Queen's Birthday Honours, Cotton was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.[3]

Cotton was a leading New Zealand scientist, and became an international authority on geomorphology through the publication of his books and papers, the most notable of which include Geomorphology of New Zealand (1922), Landscape (1941), Geomorphology (1942), Climatic Accidents in Landscape Making (1942), Volcanoes as Landscape Forms (1944), The Earth Beneath (1945), Living on a Planet (1945), and New Zealand Geomorphology (1955).

Cotton's work became the inspiration for much of Colin McCahon's landscape painting.


Cotton is considered to be one of the leading scientists New Zealand has yet produced.[4] Victoria University of Wellington has named a building to honour Cotton. The building on the Kelburn campus contains a low-rise block with science departments, a group of lecture theatres and laboratories and "Cotton Street", an enclosed concourse with shops and displays.[5]


  1. ^ Chorley, Richard J.; Beckinsale, Robert P.; Dunn, Antony J. (2005) [1973]. "Chapter Twenty-Two". The History of the Study of Landforms. Volume Two. Taylor & Francis e-Library. p. 569. 
  2. ^ Twidale, C.R. (1992), "King of the plains: Lester King's contributions to geomorphology", Geomorphology, 5: 491–509 
  3. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 41729. p. 3740. 13 June 1959. Retrieved 25 April 2016.
  4. ^ New Zealand Dictionary of Biography
  5. ^ "Kelburn Campus Map" (PDF).