Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cotton, Joseph

COTTON, JOSEPH (1745–1825), mariner and merchant, the second surviving son of Dr. Nathaniel Cotton [q. v.], was born at St. Albans on 7 March 1745–6, and entered the royal navy in 1760. After passing the examination for lieutenant he left the navy and was appointed fourth mate in the marine service of the East India Company. After two voyages in command of the Queen Charlotte, East Indiaman, he retired on the fortune thus acquired, and lived for the rest of his life at Leyton in Essex. In 1788 Captain Joseph Cotton was elected an elder brother of the Trinity, and in 1803 deputy-master, which office he held for about twenty years. In 1803 the Trinity House raised a corps of volunteer artillery 1,200 strong, of which Pitt (as master) was colonel and Captain Cotton lieutenant-colonel, to safeguard the mouth of the Thames against a foreign fleet. A picture of the naval review held on this occasion is preserved at the Trinity House, and has been engraved. Captain Cotton compiled a ‘Memoir on the Origin and Incorporation of the Trinity House of Deptford Strond’ (1818), published without his name on the title-page, though it is appended to the dedication to Lord Liverpool. Shortly before this time the administration of the Trinity House had been the subject of parliamentary inquiry, and the special object of this work is to explain the public duties of the corporation and to defend the management of its large revenues. Incidentally the book gives much curious information about the lighting of the English coast at that time and formerly. Captain Cotton was a director of the East India Company from 1795 to 1823; he was also a director of the East India Docks Company (chairman in 1803), and a governor of the London Assurance Corporation. In 1814 the Society for the Encouragement of Arts and Manufactures awarded to him a silver medal for the introduction into the country of rhea, or China grass, an Eastern fibre of extraordinary strength and fineness, which to this day has not been profitably utilised in manufacture. He was a fellow of the Royal Society. Portraits of him and his wife were painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, and engraved in mezzotint by C. Turner. The pictures are now in the possession of his grandson, Lord-justice Cotton. A marble bust of him by Chantrey is preserved at the Trinity House. He died at Leyton on 26 Jan. 1825, and is buried, with his wife and many others of his family, in a vault in the churchyard of the parish church. His son William is separately noticed.

[Personal information; Gent. Mag. 1825, i. 189.]

J. S. C.