Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Thomas Young Cotter (1805–1882)

This article was published:

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).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Cotter, Thomas Young (1805–1882)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Thomas Cotter, c.1880

Thomas Cotter, c.1880

State Library of South Australia, B 11210

Life Summary [details]


Bantry, Cork, Ireland


9 January, 1882 (aged ~ 77)
Port Augusta, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Passenger Ship
Key Organisations