Sir Henry John Cotton, KCSI Liberal MP who supported Indian freedom struggle

Sir Henry John Stedman Cotton, KCSI (13 September 1845 – 22 October 1915) was  a young  officer of  the Indian Civil Service (ICS),  at a time when the Indian subcontinent was just out the worst rebellion Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 and the administration came under the direct Crown government, London.  He is not only known for his administrative skill and hard work but also for his personal interest in India-centric problems. He is well remembered for his solid contribution toward education and development of NE India. Further, he was primarily responsible for starting a college in Guwahati, a remote poorly developed town in those days.  

Born in 1845 in the city of Kumbakonam (now in Thanjavur district, Tamil Nadu)  in the Madras region of India, to Indian-born parents of English descent, Joseph John Cotton (1813-1867) and Susan Jessie Minchin (1823-1888), he was educated at Magdalen College School in 1856, Brighton College in 1859, and King's College London in 1861. After he successfully passed the Indian Civil Service Examination, a tough entrance exam essential for a career in India he had  joined the British India government. In 1867 in Freshwater, Isle of Wight, Cotton married Mary Ryan (1848-1914). The couple had four children - two sons and two daughters.

Arriving at at Midnapore, Bengal, Cotton worked under  his immediate superior  William James Herschel, then the local magistrate. From here, Cotton moved up the professional ladder with ease, each time proving  his skill and ability to carry on his work with conviction. 

In 1872 he was posted to Calcutta, and in  the following year he became  Assistant Secretary to the Bengal Government by Sir George Campbell, and later worked under Sir Richard Temple. In 1878 he became magistrate and collector at Chittagong; in 1880 he became Senior Secretary to the Board of Revenue in Bengal. He saw further progress in his career and this time,  Cotton became Revenue Secretary to Government, Financial and Municipal Secretary, and then a member of the Bengal Legislative Council where he had a chance to interact with powerful people.
There was no stopping of his upward mobility in his professional career and his commitments to work helped him get a covetous job -  Chief Commissioner of Assam (1896 to 1902), during which time Assam and other regions were struck by  a powerful earthquake in 1897.With concerted efforts, he handled the emergency situation well. 

Focusing his attention to the neglected field of education in the NE part of India, he committed himself to starting a college there.   On November 3, 1899 in Guwahati, he made the announcement to establish a college in Assam, the records mention. In 1901, Cotton College was started and on May 27, 1901, Sir Cotton said that it was affiliated to Calcutta university. The college that began with 39 students and 5 teachers, now has become a leading institution with more than 5000 students and 244 teachers. Lately, it has become a state university.
Henry Cotton on camp,  dispensing justice in Bengal.

Home Rule exponents. Annie besant and Tilak YouTube

 In his 1885 book New India, or India in Transition (revised edition 1907) Henry Cotton openly supported Home Rule   and advocated his cause. Indian home rule movement began in India in the back ground of World War I and in 1910s  Annie Besant, freedom fighter of Irish descent  and freedom fighter Bal Gangadra Tilak advocated  Home Rule with only Indian participation.  Sir Cotton was not happy the way the British ran the administration, paying least attention to the aspirations of the Indians for a Home land.  He was quite sympathetic toward Indian struggle for freedom and his frequent interactions with Indian leaders gave him a chance to be the President of the Indian National Congress in 1904 - one of the few non-Indians to do so. For effective administration  and efficiency  Lord  Curzon mooted the idea of partition of Bengal, which Sir Cotton opposed vociferously. The partition of Bengal  took place on 16 October 1905 and it separated the largely Muslim eastern areas from the largely Hindu western areas. This irritated the Hindus  who recognized it as a ploy to "divide and rule" policy. The  invasion of Tibet (Dec.1903 to Sept. 1904) by the British under the Tibet Frontier Commission, again proposed  by  Lord Curson irked Sir Cotton.

After returning to England, he served as a Liberal Party Member of Parliament (MP) for Nottingham East from 1906 to January 1910 and continued to evince keen interest in India's freedom and never failed to give his support for it. There he formed a radical pro-Indian parliamentary group, and  was highly critical of  his own government's actions in India. Already in poor health, he was narrowly defeated in his attempt for re-election in 1910. In spite of his poor health and financial constraints  he was an active writer and activist on behalf of Indian rights until the end of his life.
In 1911 he published his memoirs, Indian and Home Memories. Sir Henry Cotton died at his home in St John's Wood, London, in October 1915.