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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


CHILTON, Charles


Scientist and educationalist.

A new biography of Chilton, Charles appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Charles Chilton, the son of Thomas Chilton, was born in Leominster, Hereford, on 27 September 1860. He came to New Zealand in 1861 with his parents who finally settled on a farm at East Eyreton in North Canterbury. At an early age he suffered from hip trouble which led to amputation. Despite this handicap he was able to get about freely and actively all his life and was quite at home over rough country. Although originally destined for a life on the land, he early showed signs of scholarship and was sent to West Christchurch District School and was for some years a pupil teacher. West Christchurch had some good masters – among them Charles Cook and T. S. Foster – and in later years he spoke of his good training there. Early in life he was impressed with the fact that teaching was an art. He entered Canterbury College in 1875 as an unmatriculated student, studied there for three years and matriculated in 1878. He won a junior university scholarship in 1880 and gained his B.A. with an exhibition in natural science, and senior scholarships in English, physics, and natural science. In 1881 he gained his M.A. with first-class honours in zoology. At this time F. W. Hutton was professor of biology at Canterbury College and his inspiring teaching led Chilton to concentrate on biological study. Hutton advised him to specialise in the study of Crustacea, a group up to then comparatively neglected in New Zealand. Chilton got in touch with George M. Thomson, of Dunedin, who had also been advised to study Crustacea, and they collaborated in research and remained close friends.

In 1886 he was appointed to the Dunedin Training College, at the same time continuing his studies at the Otago University. In 1887 he took his B.Sc., being the first student of the University of New Zealand to gain this degree. In 1888 Chilton was appointed rector of Port Chalmers District High School. His spare time was given to the study of marine zoology in Otago Harbour, and in 1893 he gained a doctorate in science, again being the first to do so. Feeling that the field of marine zoology in New Zealand held no promise, Chilton decided to study medicine. In 1895 he entered on his medical studies at Edinburgh; he gained his M.B. and C.M. with honours and was also awarded the Aitken Carlyle scholarship. He specialised in ear, nose, and throat diseases and was appointed house surgeon in the ophthalmic ward at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh. In 1900 he studied diseases of the eye at Heidelberg, Vienna, and London, and in the following year he returned to Christchurch when he began practise as an ophthalmic surgeon.

At this time Dr Dendy was professor of biology at Canterbury College, and having a year's leave of absence, he persuaded the board to appoint Chilton as his locum tenens. When Dr Dendy accepted the post of professor of biology at King's College, London, the board appointed Chilton in his place. He occupied the chair of biology and palaentology till 1910, and from 1910 to 1928 continued in the chair of biology. In 1921 Chilton was appointed rector of Canterbury University College, this being the first appointment to such a post in any University College in New Zealand or Australia. In 1929 he was awarded the title of Professor Emeritus of Canterbury College. During his time the Canterbury mountain biological station at Mt. Cass was established and practical work in the field was started.

Chilton was a member of the committee of the West Christchurch District High School, of the Board of Governors of Canterbury Agricultural College, Lincoln, of which he was chairman in 1917. Dr Hilgendorf said of him: “I have never known a man who turned with such understanding and such effect to the young.”

Chilton's first scientific paper, Additions to New Zealand Crustacea, was read before the Canterbury Philosophical Institute on 13 October 1881. He contributed altogether 51 papers to transactions of the institute, besides many to foreign societies. He was president of the Canterbury Philosophical Institute in 1903, 1904, and 1914, and was a member of the Board of Governors of the New Zealand Institute in 1913–14 and president in 1917. He was awarded the Hector Memorial Medal for Researches in Zoology and, in 1926, the Hutton Memorial Medal for his researches in crustacea. He intended to bring together the fruits of his researches in a monograph and had just entered upon this task when he succumbed to a sudden attack of pneumonia and died on 25 October 1929. In 1888, Chilton married Elizabeth Jack, whom he had met at Dunedin Training College. Throughout their married lives she remained a great support and encouragement to him. Their son and only child was killed on Gallipoli in 1915. A second-year medical student, he was a lieutenant in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Chilton was much more than a mere learned man, a storehouse of facts. The warmth of his nature made him an inspired teacher of youth. He worked for the public good in a practical way, contributing greatly to the Workers' Education Association, of which he was president for two years. He showed the aesthetic side of his nature by his labours for the Public Gardens. His great quality as a scientist was his devotion to scientific truth.

by George Ranald Macdonald, Retired Farmer, Kaiapoi R.D.

  • Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute, Vol. 60 (1930) (Obit).


George Ranald Macdonald, Retired Farmer, Kaiapoi R.D.