Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Cotton, Henry (1821-1892)

COTTON, Sir HENRY (1821–1892), judge, was second son of William Cotton (1786–1866) [q. v.] His eldest sister, Sarah (1815–1876), was wife of Sir Henry Wentworth Acland [q. v. Suppl.] (cf. Isambard Brunel, Sketch of the Life and Character of Sarah Acland, 1894). Henry was born at Walwood House, Leytonstone, on 20 May 1821, and educated at Eton, where he won the Newcastle scholarship in 1838. In May of the following year he matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, where he was a student until 1852. He graduated B.A. in 1843. In the same year he entered as a student at Lincoln's Inn, and was called to the bar in 1846. He quickly acquired a large practice in the equity courts, and through the influence of his father was appointed standing counsel to the Bank of England. In 1866 he took silk and attached himself to the court of Vice-chancellor (Sir) Richard Malins [q. v.], where he shared the leadership with Mr. W. B. Glasse. Among the important cases in which he was engaged were the liquidation of Overend, Gurney, & Co.; the King of Hanover v. the Bank of England; Rubery v. Grant; Dr.Hayman v. the Governors of Rugby School; and the Republic of Costa Rica v. Erlanger. In 1872 he was appointed standing counsel to the university of Oxford, and shortly afterwards only went into court on a special retainer. In 1877, on the death of Lord-justice Sir George Mellish [q. v.], he was appointed a lord-justice of appeal, sworn on the privy council, and knighted. In the same year the university of Oxford conferred upon him the honorary degree of D.C.L. As a judge he was learned, painstaking, and courteous, and he enjoyed the reputation of being one of the strongest members of the appeal court. He retired from the bench in October 1890, when his health already showed signs of breaking down. As a boy Cotton was attached to athletic pursuits, though his stature was small. At Eton he was a 'wet bob,' and in later life specially distinguished as a figure-skater. For many years he took a grouse moor at Kinloch-Rannoch in Perthshire. While shooting there he had the misfortune to damage his right hand, which resulted in the amputation of the tips of most of the fingers. But this did not prevent him from remaining an active member of the Inns of Court volunteers from 1866 until his elevation to the bench. On his retirement from the corps he presented a challenge cup, to be decided by the sum of shooting and drill scores. In 1853 he married Clemence Elizabeth, daughter of the Rev. Thomas Streatfield of Charts Edge, Kent, by whom he had a family of five sons and two daughters. Three of his sons died unmarried, of whom one was a captain in the guards, and another was well known as president of the Oxford University boat club. He bought the estate of Forest Mere, near Liphook in Hampshire. Here he died on 22 Feb. 1892, and was buried in the neighbouring churchyard of Milland.

His eldest brother, William Charles Cotton (1813–1879), writer on bees, born in 1813, was likewise educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated in 1836, with a first in classics and a second in mathematics. In 1842 he went out to New Zealand as Bishop Selwyn's first chaplain, but soon returned in broken health. In 1857 he took the college living of Frodsham in Cheshire, where he died unmarried in 1879. From a boy he was devoted to the study of bees. At Oxford he was one of the founders of the Apiarian Society, of which he was the first secretary. In 1838 he printed at Oxford two 'Short and Simple Letters to Cottagers from a Bee Preserver,' which were afterwards expanded into an illustrated volume, 'My Bee Book' (London, 1842), with a bibliography of the subject.

[Private information; Times, 23 Feb. 1892; Foster's Men at the Bar, and Alumni Oxon.]

J. S. C.