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Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Cotton, Arthur Disbrowe (1879-1962)


Reference code(s): GB 0068 COT

Held at: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Title: Cotton, Arthur Disbrowe (1879-1962)

Date(s): 14 Nov 1907-11 Dec 1952

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 2 boxes: Manuscript and typescript papers; photographs and illustrations

Name of creator(s): Cotton | Arthur Disbrowe | 1879-1962 | mycologist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Arthur Disbrowe Cotton was born on 15th January, 1879 in London. He was educated at King's College School, London, which is where he began to develop his interest in plants. Cotton attended a 3 year course in horticulture directly after school before embarking on a 3 year course on botany at the Royal College of Science, London. It was here that Cotton became attracted to and then specialised in fungi, algae and lichens. His first professional post came in 1902 when he was appointed as Demonstrator and Assistant lecturer at the University of Manchester, where he specialised in lichens and marine algae. It was also at this time he became a member of the British Mycological Society; a membership that lasted the rest of his life. In 1904, Cotton accepted a post at Kew in the Cryptogamic section under Dr George Massee, where he remained for the rest of his career, save for 2 years during the First World War, which was spent under the Board of Agriculture, undertaking research in plant pathology to assist the Food Production Department in the protection of food crops, particularly potatoes, against fungus diseases. Before this appointment, from 1904 to 1915, Cotton concentrated on marine algae from a taxonomic and ecological perspective. This culminated in seven separate trips between 1910 and 1911 to Clare Island, a small island off the west coast of Ireland, from which Cotton published his findings in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy in 1912.

It was on 1st March 1922 that Arthur Cotton succeeded Otto Von Stapf to become Keeper of the Herbarium and Library at Kew, where he remained until his retirement on 31st January 1946. Cotton was interested cultivated species, such as the tree Senecios, which were found by Cotton during his trip to Mount Kilimanjaro, East Africa in 1929-1930 and of which some samples of the tree were collected to be planted at Kew. Cotton's ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro, 1929-1930, with Dr A S Hitchcock, the US Agrostologist was one of a number of trips Cotton made as Keeper at Kew. Many of this trips included making acquaintances with botanical institutions on the Continent, including Berlin (1927, 1931), Copenhagen (1931), Paris (1935), Prague (1927) and Vienna (1927). Cotton attained the Keepership at Kew at a time when there was a revival of interest in plant taxonomy and plant-nomenclature, which meant many undeveloped countries called on Kew for assistance in naming botanical specimens. Another consequence of these renewed interests, meant enormous amounts of un-mounted and unclassified material, some hundreds of thousands specimens, had accumulated in the Herbarium during the previous 50 years before Cotton's appointment. Credit needs to be paid to Cotton, in that during his tenure as Keeper at Kew, he managed to add 900,000 sheets of specimens to the collections, through the careful guidance and gentle encouragement Cotton paid to his staff.

Cotton was also an active member of many societies and committees outside his work at Kew, which included; joint vice-chairman of the Lily Group Committee of the RHS 1935 to 1962; a member of the Lily Group's editorial committee 1953-1962; the British Mycological Society; a Fellow of the Linnaean Society 1960-1962; president of Linnaean Society 1943-46, Vice-President 1927-28 and 1946-47; Council member of Association of Applied Biologists 1917-21; Vice-President from1923-24; member of the British Ecological Society and President of the Kew Guild, 1940-41. During his life, Cotton was also awarded with the Lyttel Lily Cup in honour of his valuable contributions to the knowledge of the genus Lilium in 1944 by the Council of the PHS; the Victoria Medal of Honour by the RHS for Cotton's services to botany and horticulture and an OBE in 1934 for his contributions to botany. After the death of his wife Enid Mary Jesson, he lived with his daughter, where he died on 27th December 1962.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Arthur Cotton, 1907-1952, comprising four series. The first is a collection of correspondence, dating from 1907 to 1952, addressed to and from Arthur Cotton, primarily from other botanists and botanical in subject (COT/1). The second series consists of a bound notebook containing Cotton's findings of his trips to Clare Island from 1909 to 1911 (COT/2). The third series contains photographs relating to various species of Senecio from botanical trips to Africa between 1930 to 1948 (COT/3). The fourth and final series contains botanical works, papers and a monograph written by Cotton, referring to his work on Myrionema, c 1910 to 1935 (COT/4)


Language/scripts of material: English, German and French

System of arrangement:

Arranged in 4 series, as follows:
COT/1 Correspondence
COT/2 Clare Island Survey
COT/3 Photographs
COT/4 Monograph of Myrionemaceae

The collection has been left in the order it was found in, but has been separated into 4 different series which denote different subjects. The order is roughly chronological, although the correspondence is out of place slightly with the other dates. The original order of the collection cannot be ascertained as it is unknown when Kew acquired the collection and what its original order was.

Conditions governing access:

Unrestricted - surrogates to be used where available.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Please contact the Archive for further information.

Finding aids:

Contact the archives for a detailed catalogue.


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Unknown, presumably passed onto Kew when Cotton retired as Keeper of the Herbarium in 1946.


Related material:

In the Archives: Registered File 1\EMB\25 which relates to Cotton's trip to South Africa in 1929 to visit different Herbaria. Also includes a report written by Cotton about his trip dated 12 Nov 1929. Included also is a botanical survey of the African region.

Registered File 1\T\4 in which there is a letter to Cotton regarding the Ministry of Transport's new roadside planting scheme.

Many specimens in the Herbarium, see Herbarium Catalogue for details.

RBG Kew's Main Library holds many publications by Cotton and also biographical material.


Archivist's note: Entry transcribed by Sarah Drewery, March 2011. To complete the AdminHistory for Arthur Cotton, the following articles were consulted, all of which are available in the Main Library. Jornal of the Kew Guild, volume 6, number 48, 1941, pp.4-6; Taxon, volume 12, number 4, 1963, pp.129-137; Journal of the Kew Guild, volume 8, number 48, 1963, pp.335-336

Rules or conventions: General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: March 2011

Botanical gardens | Nature reserves | Nature conservation | Natural heritage
Field work | Research work
Fungi | Plants | Flora | Vegetation | Botany

Personal names
Cotton | Arthur Disbrowe | 1879-1962 | mycologist

Corporate names
Royal Botanic Gardens | Kew

Ireland | Western Europe