Source: “Sir Henry Cotton: A Sketch of His Life and His Services to India”, Indian Biography: Volume I (Madras: G.A Natesan & Co.)

Henry Cotton

Sir Henry Cotton was born in 1845 in Tanjore to a prominent family in the Indian civil service.

Cotton held that politics should be subordinate to morals. He believed in bridging the gulf between the English and the Indian races, and asserted that the British Raj’s refusal to relinquish a share in the administration of the country to Indians deepened this gulf. He was further contemptuous of the widespread belief among Anglo-Indians that India existed for their sole exploitation.

He was strongly interested in the education of the young, believing that they held the key to India’s future. Another social issue that captured his interest was that of early marriage. He spoke strongly of the powerful threat that the practice posed to the morals among young Indians. Cotton pronouncedly felt that moral training should begin in the home, and deemed that the practice of early marriage constituted a direct loss to the cause of morality. Indeed, he felt that early marriage acted as premature gratification and therefore resulted in the loss of an opportunity to exercise restraint.

Henry’s opinions on the social issue of caste also heavily influenced the shape of Cotton’s ideal for India’s future. He deemed that autonomy, and not assimilation, held the key to India’s political evolution. Based on this conviction, he envisioned the future political state of India to be a federation of states held together by the suzerain power of the British. Each would be based on the hierarchical leadership of caste. Henry felt that the solution to the problems of caste was not its destruction but rather, its modification through rooting it in a social instead of a supernatural basis while preserving its distinctive conceptions.

After retiring from the Civil Service, Cotton continued to take an active interest in Indian politics. Following a brief stint in England, he returned to India and was appointed the President of the Twentieth Session of the National Congress in 1904 . He passed away in 1915.

Source: “Sir Henry Cotton: A Sketch of His Life and His Services to India”, Indian Biography: Volume I (Madras: G.A Natesan & Co.), 1-46


New India, or India in Transition (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, & Co., 1886)

Indian and Home Memories (London: T.F. Unwin, 1910)

Ideas of IndiaIdeas of India