Percy Powell-Cotton

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Percy Horace Gordon Powell-Cotton
Born (1866-09-20)20 September 1866
Garlinge, Margate, England
Died 26 June 1940(1940-06-26) (aged 73)
Midhurst, Sussex, England
Education Hythe School of Musketry
Occupation Hunter, explorer, conservationist
Spouse(s) Hannah Brayton Slater
Children Diana Powell-Cotton
Antoinette Powell-Cotton
Mary Powell-Cotton
Christopher Powell-Cotton
Parent(s) Henry Horace Powell-Cotton
Matilda Christina (née Gordon)
Relatives Ida Powell-Cotton
Gerald Powell-Cotton

Major Percy Horace Gordon Powell-Cotton, FZS, FRGS, FRAI, JP (20 September 1866 – 26 June 1940)[1] was an English explorer, hunter and early conservationist, most noted for the creation of the Powell-Cotton Museum in the grounds of his home, Quex Park in Birchington-on-Sea, Kent, England. Powell-Cotton is noted for bringing an extraordinary number of animal specimens back from his travels across Africa, potentially creating the largest collection of game ever shot by one man.[2] Despite this, Powell-Cotton was an early conservationist, helping categorise a wide number of species across the globe. His two daughters, Antoinette Powell-Cotton and Diana Powell-Cotton shared his passion for conservation, pursuing archaeology and anthropology respectively.

Powell-Cotton made a large number of films (Powell-Cotton filmography) including ethnographic, documentary and wildlife films (Powell-Cotton Ethnographic Films).

Early life[edit]

Percy Powell-Cotton was born on 20 September 1866, in Garlinge, Margate, to Henry Horace Powell-Cotton and Matilda Christina (née Gordon).[3] Powell-Cotton had two siblings: a sister, Ida and a brother, Gerald. Most of Powell-Cotton’s early life was spent in London, although he joined his family on many weekend and summer trips to their home in Margate. Aged fifteen, Powell-Cotton helped his father modernise Quex House, before the family returned to live there. Whilst living there, Powell-Cotton began breeding chickens, hunting rabbits and photographing wildlife. He kept meticulous records of these endeavours, a habit that would follow him into later life.[4]

Military career[edit]

Powell-Cotton joined the Militia Battalion of Northumberland Fusiliers in 1885, and attended the Hythe School of Musketry for training. During the Second Boer War, Powell-Cotton served in the Volunteer Regiment of the 5th Battalion, who were stationed in Malta. In July 1901, he retired from military service. However, at the outbreak of World War I in July 1914, Powell-Cotton offered himself up for military service. He was turned away as, at 48, he was considered too old to serve. In lieu of serving in the war, Powell-Cotton offered his home, Quex House, to the Birchington Volunteer Aid Detachment to use as an Auxiliary Military Hospital.[5]


Powell-Cotton embarked on over 28 expeditions between 1887 and 1939, across Africa and Asia, gathering various zoological and ethnographical specimens[6]

In 1900, Powell-Cotton met with Emperor Menelik II, who granted him permission to hunt across Ethiopia. Powell-Cotton's subsequent expedition across Ethiopia formed the basis of his first book, A Sporting Trip Through Abyssinia.[7] In 1902 he was in Uganda and Kenya, visiting Lake Baringo.[8]

In November 1905, whilst on an expedition in Kenya, Powell-Cotton married Hannah Brayton Slater in Nairobi Cathedral. To save interrupting his ninth expedition, his new wife chose to join him on his expedition, for a honeymoon that lasted two years.[1]

In 1907, still on his honeymoon expedition, Powell-Cotton was badly mauled by a lion he had thought incapacitated by a precious shot. As he approached it, the lion leapt up and attacked with its claws and jaw.[1] Powell-Cotton escaped relatively unharmed due to a rolled up copy of Punch magazine in his breast pocket protecting him from the majority of the lion's attacks. The lion, the suit that Powell-Cotton was wearing and the copy of Punch are now all on display at the Powell-Cotton Museum.[4]

Powell-Cotton's expeditions directly led into the creation of the Powell-Cotton Museum. After bringing back a range of zoological specimens from his early travels, Powell-Cotton contracted Rowland Ward to prepare the animals for display. Whilst on an expedition through India in 1896, Powell-Cotton enlisted his brother Gerald to oversee the construction of the Powell Cotton Museum in the grounds of Quex House.[4]

Whilst on his expeditions, Powell-Cotton created a wide range of ethnographic films documentary the peoples and animals of the countries. In later life, he collaborated with his daughter Diana, who further added to the filmography after Powell-Cotton died.

The wide range of animal specimens that Powell-Cotton returned with from his travels have proved to be a valuable resource in taxonomic research, even in the present day. Consequentially, Powell-Cotton has several species named in honour of him.


  • Powell-Cotton, P. H. G. (1902). A sporting trip through Abyssinia : a narrative of a nine months' journey from the plains of the Hawash to the snows of Simien, with a description of the game, from elephant to ibex, and notes on the manners and customs of the natives. Rowland Ward. [9]
  • Powell-Cotton, P. H. G. (1904). In unknown Africa; a narrative of twenty months' travel and sport in unknown lands and among new tribes. Hurst & Blackett. [10]


  • Major Powell-Cotton, Notes on a Journey through East Africa and Northern Uganda Journal of the Royal African Society, Vol. 3, No. 12 (Jul. 1904), pp. 315–324
  • P.H.G. Powell-Cotton, A Journey Through Northern Uganda The Geographical Journal, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Jul. 1904), pp. 56–65
  • P.H.G. Powell-Cotton, A Journey Through the Eastern Portion of the Congo State The Geographical Journal, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Oct. 1907), pp. 371–382
  • P.H.G. Powell-Cotton, Notes on a Journey through the Great Ituri Forest Journal of the Royal African Society, Vol. 7, No. 25 (Oct. 1907), pp. 1–12
  • P.H.G. Powell-Cotton, 1. Notes on Crossbows and Arrows from French Equatorial Africa Man Vol. 29, (Jan. 1929), pp. 1–3
  • P.H.G. Powell-Cotton, H. J. Braunholtz 132. A Mancala Board Called "Songo." Man, Vol. 31, (Jul. 1931), p. 123
  • P.H.G. Powell-Cotton, 329. Benin Brass Castings and Handicrafts in the Cameroons. Man, Vol. 32, (Dec. 1932), p. 284
  • P.H.G. Powell-Cotton, 4. Note on the Native Custom of Carrying Stones in the Mouth, Collected Feb.-March 1932, French Cameroons. Man, Vol. 33, (Jan. 1933), pp. 9–10

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Thanet Gazette, 'Obituary of Major Percy Powell-Cotton', 28 June 1940
  2. ^ Spence, Keith (1999). The Companion Guide to Kent and Sussex. Boydell & Breyer Ltd. ISBN 978-1900639262. 
  3. ^ "POWELL-Cotton, Percy Horace Gordon". Who's Who. Vol. 59. 1907. p. 1422. 
  4. ^ a b c 'Major Percy Powell-Cotton' Entrance Hall: Powell-Cotton Museum, Quex Park, Birchington
  5. ^ "untitled". Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  6. ^ David Harris. "Biography information for Cotton at the Southern Sudan Project". Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  7. ^ "Ethiopian Study Visit - Powell-Cotton Museum, Kent". Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  8. ^ "Court Circular". The Times (36811). London. 4 July 1902. p. 3. 
  9. ^ "A sporting trip through Abyssinia : a narrative of a nine months' journey from the plains of the Hawash to the snows of Simien, with a description of the game, from elephant to ibex, and notes on the manners and customs of the natives : Powell-Cotton, P. H. G. (Percy Horace Gordon), 1866-1940 : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". Internet Archive. Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  10. ^ "In unknown Africa; a narrative of twenty months travel and sport in unknown lands and among new tribes : Cotton, Percy Horace Gordon Powell-, 1866- : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". Internet Archive. Retrieved 9 September 2014.