Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Francis Cotton (1801–1883)

by Mary Bartram Trott

This article was published:

Francis Cotton, by Charles Alfred Woolley, n.d.

Francis Cotton, by Charles Alfred Woolley, n.d.

University of Tasmania Library

Francis Cotton (1801-1883), Quaker and settler, was born on 6 October 1801 in London, where he had some early education before attending Ackworth School. After an apprenticeship to a builder, he set up his own business. When 19 he was disowned for marrying outside the Society of Friends, Anna Maria Tilney, a former Friend from Kelvedon, Essex. Rheumatic fever, London fogs and visions of brighter prospects for a growing family induced him to sail in 1828 for New South Wales in the Mary with an old friend, Dr George Story. The voyage was prolonged by the loss of a mast, and when the ship put in to Hobart Town the party decided to remain. 

Cotton set up as a builder, but his ambition was to become a landowner. His exploration of the midlands in 1829 revealed no attractive unsettled land, so he went with his family to the east coast. Shipwreck, destruction of their belongings by fire, Aboriginal raids and attacks by bushrangers, as well as poor land, isolation and weak links with Hobart were handicaps he met and overcame by persistent industry, initiative and energy, and he prospered. With firm uprightness he gave full measure and could always be trusted, but he expected full measure in return. Beginning as a temporary cottage without foundations his home, Kelvedon, expanded with his family to become a landmark on the east coast. A pioneer in developing fine fleeces for export to London, he also sent wheat to Hobart, meat to the Maria Island Probation Station and Waterloo Point, and wattle bark to England. As his land grants and capital increased, he took more interest in the development of local commerce and communications. He was one of the first members of the Road Trust and an early agent of the East Coast Steam Navigation Co. (1854-57), managed in Hobart by his son-in-law, Joseph Benson Mather. In 1860 he became the first treasurer of the Glamorgan municipality, and next year was appointed auditor of the adjoining Spring Bay municipality. He was an energetic advocate of tariff and tax policies helpful to farmers, and in 1854 stood for the Legislative Council but was defeated by Charles Meredith. His refusal to bribe voters with drink lost him votes.

During the visit of James Backhouse and George Washington Walker, he and his family were reinstated as Friends and resumed the discipline of plain speech and Quaker testimonies. The rule against oath-taking kept him from accepting office as a justice of the peace. With Dr Story his large family formed the nucleus of a small Meeting; although isolated, they maintained close ties with Hobart Friends and the short-lived Launceston Meeting (1844-51) by means of correspondence, intermarriage and long three-day walks to the monthly business meeting. The towering pastoral patriarch also took a leading part in the Tasmanian Yearly Meeting and travelled 'in the ministry' around the island and to South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. At his death on 12 April 1883 he left a bequest of £500 to promote travelling 'in the ministry'. He was buried next to his wife, who predeceased him by six months; ten children survived him. Not one to suffer fools gladly, he demanded the same high standard of industry and integrity from others as from himself, and won a place of esteem as a pioneer farmer and citizen.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Backhouse, A Narrative of a Visit to the Australian Colonies (Lond, 1843)
  • J. Backhouse and C. Tylor, The Life and Labours of George Washington Walker (Lond, 1862)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 14, 23 Apr 1883
  • Cotton papers (University of Tasmania)
  • Monthly Meeting minute books, 1883 (Society of Friends, Hobart)
  • CSO, 1 & 5 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Mary Bartram Trott, 'Cotton, Francis (1801–1883)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 18 July 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

Francis Cotton, by Charles Alfred Woolley, n.d.

Francis Cotton, by Charles Alfred Woolley, n.d.

University of Tasmania Library

Life Summary [details]


6 October, 1801
London, Middlesex, England


12 April, 1883 (aged 81)
Spring Bay, Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death

stomach complaint

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