Sir Harry Evan Auguste Cotton
Born27 May 1868
Died7 March 1939
OccupationHistorian, author

Sir Harry Evan Auguste Cotton CIE (24 May 1868 – 7 March 1939), better known as Evan Cotton or H. E. A. Cotton, was a Liberal politician, barrister, administrator, journalist, historian and writer. His Calcutta Old and New, first published in 1907, remains unsurpassed to this day.[1]

Formative years

The son of Sir Henry Cotton,[2] who had the rare distinction of presiding over the 1904 session of the Indian National Congress, and the Irish-born Mary Ryan, he was born at Midnapore, where his father was then posted. He had his early schooling at Mount Liban School, Pau and then at Sherborne School.[1]

He held an open scholarship at Jesus College, Oxford, where he obtained a second class in Classics Honour Mods, followed by second class degrees in history and jurisprudence. He was a keen debater and was elected secretary and then treasurer of the Oxford Union. He was called to the bar by Lincoln's Inn.

Professional life

Cotton practised at Calcutta High Court from 1893 to 1908. He served as a member of Calcutta Municipal Corporation.[1] He covered the Delhi Durbar of 1903 as a correspondent of the Manchester Guardian. He subsequently served as the Kolkata correspondent of the Daily News. He undertook the editorship of India, the weekly organ of the British Committee of the Indian National Congress. He served as President of the Bengal Legislative Council from 1922 to 1925.[3] He was an active member of the Indian Historical Records Commission and was chairman from 1923 to 1925.


Evan returned to England in 1906 and joined the Liberal Party. His father was himself a Liberal MP who sat for Nottingham East from 1906–1910. In January 1910, Evan contested the General Election at the Conservative seat of Dulwich;

Dulwich in the London area, showing boundaries used in 1910
Dulwich in the London area, showing boundaries used in 1910
General Election January 1910: Dulwich Electorate 16,478
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Bonar Law 8,472 58.3 +3.0
Liberal Harry Evan Auguste Cotton 6,054 41.7 -3.0
Majority 2,418 16.6 +6.0
Turnout 88.2
Conservative hold Swing +3.0

In March 1910 he was elected as a Progressive Councillor to the London County Council representing Finsbury East;

Finsbury East in the London area, showing boundaries used 1885–1918
Finsbury East in the London area, showing boundaries used 1885–1918
London County Council election, 1910: Finsbury East[4] Electorate
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Progressive Green tickY Henry Evan Auguste Cotton 2,026 27.9
Progressive Green tickY George Masterman Gillett 2,020 27.8
Municipal Reform Lord Hardwicke 1,616 22.3
Municipal Reform Rev. J Lewthwaite 1,592 21.9
Progressive gain from Municipal Reform Swing

The Progressives were the local government arm of the Liberal Party. In March 1913 he was re-elected to the LCC;

London County Council election, 1913: Finsbury East[4] Electorate 6,498
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Progressive Green tickY George Masterman Gillett 2,037 26.2 -1.6
Progressive Green tickY Henry Evan Auguste Cotton 2,026 26.1 -1.8
Municipal Reform Eustace Widdrington Morrison-Bell 1,866 24.0 +1.7
Municipal Reform William George Perring 1,837 23.7 +1.8
Progressive hold Swing
Progressive hold Swing

In July 1918, when a vacancy occurred due to the death of a Liberal MP, for the parliamentary seat of Finsbury East. Cotton was an obvious candidate to defend the seat for the Liberal Party. Due to the wartime electoral truce, he did not face an official Unionist Party opponent and was comfortably elected;

1918 Finsbury East by-election: 16 July 1918
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Harry Evan Auguste Cotton 1,156 59.9 +8.3
Independent Capt. H.S. Spencer 576 29.8 n/a
Independent A.S. Belsher 199 10.3 n/a
Majority 580 30.1
Turnout 38.7
Liberal hold Swing N/A

Following boundary changes, Evan's Finsbury East seat was merged with the Unionist seat of Finsbury Central to form a new Finsbury constituency. The Coalition Government chose to publicly endorse the Unionist candidate who was the sitting MP for the old Central seat. This endorsement made Evan's prospects difficult and after only 5 months as an MP he was defeated;

Finsbury in the County of London, showing boundaries used in 1918
Finsbury in the County of London, showing boundaries used in 1918
General Election 1918: Finsbury Electorate 34,873
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Coalition Conservative Martin Archer-Shee 8,782 63.8 n/a
Liberal Harry Evan Auguste Cotton 4,981 36.2 n/a
Majority 3,801 27.6 n/a
Turnout 13,763 39.5 n/a
Coalition Conservative win

In 1919 he did not defend his Finsbury East seat on the London County Council as after the election he was appointed as an Alderman.

Estimate of the person

In all his activities, his primary concern was for India, a country served by four generations in the family. He provided strong support to the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms and served on an advisory committee at the India Office in connection with the 1919 Act. He was pivot of a small group that supported reforms. However, the changing political environment dampened his spirits. He later became a severe critic of the constitutional changes that led to the Round Table Conference.[5]


In 1896, he married Nora, daughter of William H.Grimley of Bengal ICS. They had a daughter.[5]


Calcutta: Old and New, The Century in India 1800–1900, Hartly House, Calcutta, Murray’s Handbook of India, Burma and Ceylon (13th and 14th editions)

See also


  1. ^ a b c Ray, Nisith Ranjan Ray, Editor's Note in the book Calcutta Old and New, 1909/1980, pp. 1–4, General Printers and Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
  2. ^ "Henry John Stedman Cotton 1845 – 1915". Halhed genealogy & family trees. Archived from the original on 7 October 2011. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
  3. ^ "West Bengal Legislative Assembly". Retrieved 29 July 2007.
  4. ^ a b London Municipal Notes, 1913
  5. ^ a b Obituary in The Times, 8 March 1939, p. 18
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Joseph Allen Baker
Member of Parliament for East Finsbury
1918 Finsbury East by-election – 1918 General Election
constituency abolished