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Sir Arthur Cotton
15 May 1803 – 25 July 1899
Arthur cotton.jpg
Place of birth Oxford
Place of death Dorking
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch Madras Army
British Army
Rank General
Battles/wars First Anglo-Burmese War

General Sir Arthur Thomas Cotton(Telugu: కాటన్ దొర)(15 May 1803 Oxford – 25 July 1899 Dorking) was a British general and irrigation engineer.

Cotton devoted his life to the construction of irrigation and navigation canals throughout the British Empire in India, however, his dream was only partially realized, but he is still honored in parts of rural Andhra Pradesh for his efforts.[1]

He entered the Madras Engineers in 1819, and fought in the First Burmese War. Cotton was knighted in 1861.

An evangelist, he was the father of Elizabeth Hope.



Arthur Cotton was born on 15 May 1803 as tenth son to Mr. and Mrs. Henry Calvely Cotton. He was one of eleven brothers, who lived honorable lives through all the vicissitudes of their different careers. At the age of 15 i.e., in 1818 Cotton joined as a cadet for Military at Addiscombe where cadets for Artillery and Engineering Service of East India Company received training. He was appointed to the Royal Engineers as Second Lieutenant in the year 1819.

Lieutenant Cotton started his career with Ordnance Survey in Wales in January 1820 where he received a high praises for his admirable reports. When he was 18 (i.e., 1821) he was appointed for service in India and attached to the Chief Engineer to Madras initially and later appointed as an Assistant Engineer to Superintending Engineer of Tank Department, Southern Division from 1822 to 1824. Cotton spent partly in the Irrigation Tank Department and partly in Military duties in Burma.

After return from Burma, Cotton has conducted marine survey of Pamban passage between India and Ceylon. Cotton was promoted to the rank of "Captain" in the year 1828 and was in charge of Investigation for Cauveri Scheme. The Cauveri Anicut( dam) was successful and paved the way for great projects on Godavari and Krishna Rivers. In the year 1844 Cotton recommended the construction of "Anicut( dam )" with Channels, Embankments, and roads of Godavari Delta, prepared plans for Visakhapatnam port. In the Year 1847 the work on Godavari Anicut was started.

In the Year 1848 he proceeded to Australia due to ill health and handed over the charge to Captain Orr. In the year 1850 returned to India and promoted as Colonel. Cotton made best use of local materials, that he had in the shape of Hydraulic lime, good stone, and excellent teak available in the neighborhood. He succeeded in completing the magnificent project on Godavari river at Dowleswaram in the year 1852. In the same year work on Gannavaram Aqueduct was also commenced.

After completing the Godavari Anicut Cotton shifted his attention to the construction of Aqueduct on Krishna River. The project was sanctioned in the year 1851 and completed by 1855. After completing the Krishna and Godavari Anicuts, Cotton envisaged of storages of Krishna and Godavari rivers

In the year 1858 Cotton came up with still more ambitious proposals connecting almost all major rivers of India and suggested drought relief measures in Orissa and interlinking of canals and rivers. Arthur Cotton was retired from the service in the year 1860 and was knighted in the year 1861 and left India. In the year 1862 and 1863 visited India and offered advice on some river valley projects.

His work in India was so much appreciated and honored with K.C.S.I (Knight Commander of Supreme India) in the year 1877. The Spiritual solace strengthened and comforted him until the very end of his earthly mission i.e. the 24th of July 1899 at the age of 96 years. He is a much revered figure in the state of Andhra Pradesh for his contribution in irrigating the area of land also known as Konaseema.

In India due to his contributions the new barrage constructed across River Godavari Upstream side of the Anicut was also named after him and dedicated to the Nation by the Hon'ble Prime Minister of India in the year 1982.


Thomas Cotton went to attend an interview for the post of an engineer. There were three candidates including himself. All that the selectors told them was to have a 'good sleep' and were provided three separate beds. The candidates did what they were told. While the other two candidates slept happily, poor Cotton could not get a wink of sleep. However, after some time, he slept happily.

The next day, all the three were asked if they slept happily by the selectors. While all the three nodded in the affirmative, Cotton added that he felt restless while on the bed—bending down, he realised that one of the four legs of the bed was a little high. To his surprise he found a pound beneath one of the legs which he promptly removed. That was the catch set up by the selectors.[2]

His works

An insight

Sir Cotton was hated by his administrative superiors—thanks to his loving attitudes towards the people of India[3]. At one point impeachment proceedings were initiated by his superiors for his dismissal[4]

Going through the famine and cyclone-ravaged districts of Godavari, Cotton was distressed by the sight of famished people of the Godavari districts[5]. It was then that he put in process his ambitious plans to harness the waters of the mighty Godavari for the betterment of the humanity.

John Henry Morris in Godavari [6] writes about the work of Sir Cotton thus: "The Godavari anicut is, perhaps, the noblest feat of engineering skill which has yet been accomplished in British India. It is a gigantic barrier thrown across the river from island to island, in order to arrest the unprofitable progress of its waters to the sea, and to spread them over the surface of the country on either side, thus irrigating copiously land which has hitherto been dependent on tanks or on the fitful supply of water from the river. Large tracts of land, which had hitherto been left arid and desolate and waste, were thus reached and fertilized by innumerable streams and channels."

In 1878, Cotton had to appear before a House of Commons Committee to justify his proposal to build an anicut across the Godavari[7]. A further hearing in the House of Commons followed by his letter to the then Secretary of State for India shows about his ambitiousness to built the anicut across the Godavari. His final sentence in that letter reads like this: My Lord, one day's flow in the Godavari river during high floods is equal to one whole years' flow in the Thames River of London[8]. Cotton was almost despaired by the British Government's procrastination in taking along this project.

That Government of India's plans to interlink rivers was long envisioned by Cotton is a fact[9].

While at Rajahmundry, Arthur Cotton used to attend the Church of the Godavari Delta Mission.

See also

Some external links


  1. ^ Hope, Elizabeth; Digby, William (2005). General Sir Arthur Cotton his life and work. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services. p. 4. ISBN 81-206-1829-7. 
  2. ^ Rev. Premjit Kumar in an anecdote in a Sunday Worship Service in a Church in Vijayawada [1]
  3. ^ Please refer to Gautam Desiraju's letter to Current Science
  4. ^ Gautam Desiraju op. cit.
  5. ^ The District of Godavari: Before and After Arthur Cotton worked his Magical Change [2] p.77
  6. ^ Descriptive and Historical Account of Godavari District in Madras Presidency [3] page 109
  7. ^ S. Gurumurthi in the Business Line [4] Godavari: Still a sleeping beauty
  8. ^ Gurumurthi op. cit.
  9. ^ Refer to Ch. Prashant Reddy's article in the Business Line
Further reading
  • Hots, Susan. (2008). "Cotton, General Sir Arthur Thomas." in Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland. Volume 2: 1830-1890. p. 195-199. ISBN 9780727735041.


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