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Cotter, Thomas Young (1805–1882)

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Thomas Young Cotter (1805-1882), by unknown photographer, c1880

Thomas Young Cotter (1805-1882), by unknown photographer, c1880

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 11210

Thomas Young Cotter (1805-1882), medical practitioner, was born at Bantry, County Cork, Ireland, the son of Richard Cotter, a naval purser in the West Indies. At 14 he joined his father as a cadet and later had charge of government stores at Bermuda. He studied medicine in London under Sir Edward Bisdee and gained his licence from the Company of Apothecaries. In December 1835 he was appointed the first colonial surgeon of South Australia and, after helping to promote the new colony, sailed in the Coromandel and arrived at Holdfast Bay in January 1837. His work was demanding, for all the government officers and immigrants and their families were under his care and he also had to provide accommodation for the sick and a home for himself in a raw new settlement. He had little patience with disappointed newcomers with imagined ailments, or with malingering prisoners who demanded admission to the overcrowded infirmary; in this small hut he was also expected to supply necessities from his salary of £100. The press charged him with neglect and he was censured by a board of inquiry. Further complaints brought him official disfavour and in August 1839 he was suspended.

In the next decades Cotter practised in various places and continued to protest against his dismissal. In 1845-46 he lived at Macclesfield where he also became a census collector. In Adelaide he served as secretary of the Mechanics' Institute and of the St Patrick's Society. He was active on the vexed question of state aid to churches, taking the conservative side, and served a term as city councillor. In 1855, as medical officer at Robe, he quarrelled with the government resident and next year was dismissed for 'intoxication'. In 1864 he went to Nuccaleena as surgeon for the Great Northern Mining Co., and when it failed he moved to Port Augusta where, after a short stay at Glenelg, he was appointed medical officer in 1870. He refused a higher salary at Blinman in 1876, having become attached to Port Augusta. Here he died on 9 January 1882, predeceased by his wife, Jane Nicholson, whom he had married in London in 1833, and by whom he had six sons and three daughters.

Although thought callous and quarrelsome in his early colonial years, Cotter won high repute at Port Augusta for his devoted services to the widely scattered northern settlers. He was also credited with some literary talent, having edited the South Australian Magazine in 1842 and the South Australian Almanack for the next two years.

Select Bibliography

  • J. B. Cleland, Pioneer Medical Men of South Australia (Adel, 1941)
  • Port Augusta Dispatch, 13 Jan 1882
  • A. A. Lendon, Thomas Young Cotter (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

'Cotter, Thomas Young (1805–1882)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cotter-thomas-young-1923/text2289, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 16 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Thomas Young Cotter (1805-1882), by unknown photographer, c1880

Thomas Young Cotter (1805-1882), by unknown photographer, c1880

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 11210