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Sir Henry Cotton

President: 1845-1915 (Bombay, 1904)

Sir Henry Cotton belonged to a distinguished family who served India for five generations. His great grandfather Joseph Cotton joined the East India Company's mercantile service in the middle of the 18th century, and was a Director of the Company for 28 years.

Henry's father, Joseph John Cotton, was a Madras civilian from 1831 to 1863. Henry Cotton was born in 1845 at Combaconum in the Tanjore district of Madras. In October 1867, he came to India to join the Bengal Civil Service. He became the Chief Commissioner of Assam in 1897, from which post he retired in 1902.

The controversy with the Government of India regarding the readjustment of the boundaries of Bengal and Assam brought him into prominence and made a leader of him in the Partition agitation which was soon to follow. He returned to India to preside over the twentieth session of the Indian National Congress at Bombay, in 1904.

On 10 January 1905 a conference on the Partition question was held at the Town Hall, Calcutta, under the presidency of Sir Henry Cotton. He traced the history of the Partition of Bengal from 1891 when the matter was first discussed till 1897 when he was the Chief Commissioner of Assam. Lushai Hills were then transferred to Assam and the matter was dropped. The proposals of the present partition, in his opinion, were not made either by the Government of Bengal or by the administration of Assam. They had come "spontaneously and uninvited from the Government of India itself." Returning to London, he joined the India group in the House of Commons.

He had many Indian friends with whom he mixed freely - the Tagore family, W. C. Bonnerjee, R. C. Dutt, Surendranath Banerjea and the Maharaja of Darbhanga.

In 1885 he was appointed a fellow of the Calcutta University and was elected unopposed to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. About the same time he published his 'New India or India in Transition'.

His second work ‘Indian and Home Memories’ was published in 1911. Both books reveal his genuine and humane interest in the welfare of India.

“The Indian National Congress has thus its own functions, which I take it upon myself to say, as a watchful eye - witness from its birth, it has discharged with exemplary fidelity, judgement and moderation. Yours is a distinguished past.

If you have not in any considerable measure succeeded in moulding the policy of Government, you have exercised an immense influence in developing the history of your country and the character of your countrymen. You have become a power in the land, and your voice peals like a trumphet - note from one end of India to the other. Your illustrious leaders have earned a niche in the Temple of Fame, and their memory will be cherished by a grateful posterity.”

From the Presidential Address - Henry Cotton I.N.C. Session, 1904, Bombay