William Cotton III

MA FSA
1794-1863

The portrait above by Stephen Poyntz Denning was painted only a few years after William’s move to Devon.

Aged 22, he inherited an art collection belonging to relatives. The Cottonian Collection includes 300 watercolours, 6,500 – 7000 prints and 2000 books

William’s brother

John Cotton

(1801-1849)

naturalist, ornithologist, and artist

In 2020 we received an enquiry from relatives of the Cotton family querying whether the portrait of William Cotton III by Denning was in fact him since family members had always believed it to be his brother John. This led to further research which confirmed the painting was William, but for us it revealed that John, an extremely interesting man in his own right, frequently sent letters to William at Ivybridge following his emigration to Australia. In them, he provided an insight of life in Victoria before the gold rush. The letters described his new experiences, colonial affairs, the customs of the indigenous Aborigines and often, the flora and fauna of the region, illustrated with drawings and watercolours. The meticulous William retained all of John’s letters having them all bound together with his sketches of the local scenery. In the 1950’s these letters, which had been preserved by family members in Australia, were published under the title ‘The Correspondence of John Cotton, Victorian Pioneer, 1842-1849’, edited by the historian Dr. George Mackaness of Sydney
John was born in 1801 and as a part of his education after leaving school, shared the same privileges of his elder brother William of being escorted by a tutor around Britain and later Europe. During these trips, the observant John documented many subjects which interested him in a series of illustrated notebooks.
For a short time John studied law at Oxford University and became articled to a firm of solicitors but interestingly no mention of this is found in his records, only references to world and local events, music, art and later ornithology.  His real passion was indeed birds and by the age of 33 he had published ‘The Resident Song Birds of Great Britain’ (1835) which included hand-coloured plates of his own drawings.
In 1843, John Cotton, along with his wife Susannah and their four sons and five daughters sailed to Port Phillip on the central coastline of southern Victoria, Australia. There, he was to join his brother Edward who had made the voyage from Plymouth in 1841. Edward had purchased a sheep station on the Goulburn River about 70 miles from Melbourne naming his house Balham Hill after his father’s home and his own birthplace at Clapham. John also settled in the Goulburn River valley where he leased the first of several sheep stations, Doogallook. He quickly began to sketch, paint and document the local bird life. Within six years he had documented 158 species publishing a list in the Tasmanian Journal of Natural Science and he was made a fellow of the Royal Zoological Society in London. However, John had bigger plans and wrote to his brother William explaining he intended to publish a book of Victoria’s birds.
Apart from being an artist, John was also an amateur poet. He published anonymously a narrative poem called ‘A Journal of a Voyage in the Barque Parkfield…from Plymouth to Port Philip, Australia, in the year 1843.’ It contained 22 sonnets including ‘Australia Felix, 1843’ and ‘Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere.’
John died unexpectedly on 15 December 1849 after a short illness, aged just 47. He left a widow and ten children, four boys and six girls. Edward, his brother died in somewhat tragic circumstances just 11 years later. The last entry in William Cotton’s journal, dated November 13, 1860 reads “Received the melancholy intelligence of my brother Edward’s death by drowning, while bathing in the sea at Brighton, in the Colony of Victoria.” Edward left no children.
John’s book of Victoria’s birds at the time of his death was still unpublished. His notes and illustrations were fortunately passed down through the generations of his family until his great-granddaughter got them published in 1974 with the assistance of the Curator of Birds at the National Museum of Victoria in Melbourne. The book was published under the title ‘John Cotton’s Birds of Port Phillip District of New South Wales, 1843-1849’. His original illustrations were donated to the State Library of Victoria, whilst the National Museum and family members hold many of his other diaries, manuscripts, sketches, and research notes.
William’s manuscript ‘Reminiscences’ contains a host of sketches, water-colours and silhouettes by both himself and his brother John.

The Cottonian Collection

The origins of the collection can be traced back to an art collector called Charles Rogers (1711-1784) who was Head of the Certificate Office of the Customs House in London, although a proportion of it can be traced back further to its true beginnings under the Townson family.
Robert Townson (1640-1707) whose father was a successful London merchant, secured a prestigious post for him as Chief Clerk at the Customs House, introducing him to importers of art. Robert’s son William (1682-1740) inherited his father’s collection along with his position at the Customs House. Charles Rogers later joined Townson at the Customs House and their shared passion for art and literature led to William bequeathing the collection to Charles upon his death. Many of Rogers’ friends were artists and collectors themselves and this led to the further enhancement of the collection. When Charles Rogers died unmarried in 1784, the collection passed to William Cotton who had married Rogers’ sister Charlotte. The collection however soon passed to William Cotton’s son (William Cotton II) following his father’s death in 1791.
William Cotton II lived in Clapham and had obtained the post of Chief Clerk at the Customs House after Charles Rogers’ retirement. He married Catherine Savery, daughter of the Rev. William Savery of South Devon in 1792. The collection he had inherited was now vast and included thousands of drawings, prints, books and other works of art. William was unable to accommodate the entire collection at his home, so he decided to sell a substantial proportion, reducing the collection by around two-thirds. When William died in 1816 the collection was left to his son William Cotton III.

William Cotton

William Cotton was born in London in 1794, the eldest of six siblings to William Cotton and Catherine Savery. As a young man William read Classics and Theology at Oxford, graduating in 1814 (M.A., 1818). In the summer of 1816, he embarked upon his ‘Grand Tour’ but had to return to England upon news of his father’s ill health. 
At the age of 22, William inherited a substantial collection of paintings, prints and other works of art following the death of his father in October 1816, a collection which became known as the Cottonian Collection and which now resides at Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery, now renamed The Box.
As a result of his substantial inheritance, William was able to live a life of leisure and re-embarked upon his Grand Tour taking in Florence, Rome and Naples, acquiring a passion for art.
He married Mary Collins in 1823 and lived at The Priory in Leatherhead. However, after visiting his younger sister at Churstow, near Kingsbridge, he immediately fell in love with rural Devon. In 1839 he purchased the lease of Highland House and moved to Ivybridge, describing it as” a village much famed for its beauty of situation and surrounding scenery on the River Erme”.
William’s new home in Ivybridge, Highland House, was built in 1792 and occupied a 14-acre site. He personally described it as “…delightfully situated as its name implies, on land above the level of the countryside … sheltered by a fringe of trees, gently sloping grounds and a well-planned garden boasting fine and well-established shrubberies.” He immediately embarked upon an extensive rebuilding programme, largely driven by the necessity to accommodate the collection which he had brought with him. The cost of these alterations amounted to the not insignificant sum of £500, (the entire house and extensive grounds had been sold for £600 in 1823). Apart from the house, William Cotton was also instrumental in planting many of the specimen trees which still appear today in the grounds of Highlands, as well as other large shrubs. “Nothing can exceed the brilliancy of the Azaleas and Rhododendrons” he once wrote when describing his garden. Although William and Mary never had children, they were very much family orientated and Highland House became a regular visiting destination for the wider family offering a quiet environment for relaxation and recuperation from illness.

Highland House

The House, which is near the village, stands in a lawn of about eight acres, and commands an extensive view of the picturesque vale of Ermington and the river Erme,
Consists of drawing room and dining room, 18ft by 16 each; four best bed rooms with drawing room and two servants’ rooms; store room; two kitchens, with a constant supply of spring water in each; dairy, pantry, laundry, cellar and every requisite domestic office. Also a good four-stall stable, coach house, cow houses, piggery, poultry houses and court, rabbit house.
The above Premises … form a most desirable Residence for a Sportsman … the river Erme affords excellent fishing.

Advertisement 1831

William Cotton was an empathetic member of the community, heavily involved with the cholera epidemic which started in Plymouth and Devonport and eventually reached Ivybridge in 1849. He personally chaired a local meeting to form a Local Board of Health to tackle the problem. Measures included the cleaning of drains, gutters and ponds and protecting the impoverished within the community. Also, in the absence of a resident clergyman he volunteered himself to read prayers to the sick and dying. William was a strong supporter of the church and working with Lady Rogers and her son Sir Frederick, he helped fund the building of a parsonage in Ivybridge. This was located on a piece of land between the old Bicton Wood (Victoria Park) and the meadows called Beacons. He also provided coloured glazing for the north window of the church.
During his time in Ivybridge, William Cotton continued to add to his collection. He developed a keen interest in the specialist portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds and acquired several of his works. Reynolds had been a friend of Charles Rogers and the art collection included a portrait of him by Sir Joshua. It was known that William gave lectures on Reynolds and later published two major books on the life and work of this artist, ‘Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ in 1856 and ‘A catalogue of the Portraits of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ in 1857. William Cotton had access to the pocketbooks in which Reynolds recorded the names of his subjects and the times of sitting which helped to list the works in chronological order.
By 1849, living at Highland House was placing a financial strain upon William, “I am living here to the full extent of my income, or rather beyond it” and he began looking for somewhere more economical. However, there was the small matter of his art collection to consider. He approached the Borough Town of Plympton with a plan to donate his collection to an Institute, dedicated to the memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds (who was born in Plympton St Maurice). However, to enable this to happen, a suitable building would be required to house the collection and sufficient funds secured to adequately maintain it. Sadly, the Borough was unable to raise the money to meet the special needs and the project was abandoned.
Fortunately for Cotton the Plymouth Proprietary Library agreed to the terms just a year later and the collection opened in June 1853 within the Library’s purpose-built room (described as a handsome apartment and costing £1500) located in Cornwall Street.
Upon the death of his wife Mary in 1861, William left Highland House moving to Plymouth and living at No.8 West Hoe Terrace until his death in 1863. Both William and Mary are buried in Ivybridge cemetery. The elaborate tombstone can be found under a large yew tree and nearby, the grave of Lila Yonge, the youngest child of Mary’s sister Eliza Yonge who died from measles. This girl had lived with William and Mary in Ivybridge after becoming orphaned in 1858.
Following William’s death, the portion of the collection which he had retained, was added to the main collection, making it whole once more. One of the conditions of the original gift required amongst others, that the collection should be kept together. The ‘Cottonian Collection’ in 1916 came into the care of Plymouth Corporation and was housed in the Museum and Art Gallery where it has remained ever since.
William Cotton’s obituary described him as a quiet man and ‘of somewhat nervously shy manners’ but he nevertheless made a lasting contribution to the village of Ivybridge and to Plymouth.

References:

Florence A. Stanbury, 1992, The Story of the Cottonian Collection, Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery

Gerald Hamilton-Edwards, 1954, Leisured Connoisseur: William Cotton of Ivybridge

Trevor L. Lucas, 1982, Highlands House, Ivybridge & District Amenity Society

Maurice Exwood, 1993, William Cotton and his family in Leatherhead 1823-39, Leatherhead and District Local History Society

Plymouth Museum Galleries Archives

William Cotton III

MA FSA
1794-1863

The portrait above by Stephen Poyntz Denning was painted only a few years after William’s move to Devon.

Aged 22, he inherited an art collection belonging to relatives. The Cottonian Collection includes 300 watercolours, 6,500 – 7000 prints and 2000 books

William’s brother

John Cotton

naturalist, ornithologist, and artist (1801-1849)

In 2020 we received an enquiry from relatives of the Cotton family querying whether the portrait of William Cotton III by Denning was in fact him since family members had always believed it to be his brother John. This led to further research which confirmed the painting was William, but for us it revealed that John, an extremely interesting man in his own right, frequently sent letters to William at Ivybridge following his emigration to Australia. In them, he provided an insight of life in Victoria before the gold rush. The letters described his new experiences, colonial affairs, the customs of the indigenous Aborigines and often, the flora and fauna of the region, illustrated with drawings and watercolours. The meticulous William retained all of John’s letters having them all bound together with his sketches of the local scenery. In the 1950’s these letters, which had been preserved by family members in Australia, were published under the title ‘The Correspondence of John Cotton, Victorian Pioneer, 1842-1849’, edited by the historian Dr. George Mackaness of Sydney
John was born in 1801 and as a part of his education after leaving school, shared the same privileges of his elder brother William of being escorted by a tutor around Britain and later Europe. During these trips, the observant John documented many subjects which interested him in a series of illustrated notebooks.
For a short time John studied law at Oxford University and became articled to a firm of solicitors but interestingly no mention of this is found in his records, only references to world and local events, music, art and later ornithology.  His real passion was indeed birds and by the age of 33 he had published ‘The Resident Song Birds of Great Britain’ (1835) which included hand-coloured plates of his own drawings.
In 1843, John Cotton, along with his wife Susannah and their four sons and five daughters sailed to Port Phillip on the central coastline of southern Victoria, Australia. There, he was to join his brother Edward who had made the voyage from Plymouth in 1841. Edward had purchased a sheep station on the Goulburn River about 70 miles from Melbourne naming his house Balham Hill after his father’s home and his own birthplace at Clapham. John also settled in the Goulburn River valley where he leased the first of several sheep stations, Doogallook. He quickly began to sketch, paint and document the local bird life. Within six years he had documented 158 species publishing a list in the Tasmanian Journal of Natural Science and he was made a fellow of the Royal Zoological Society in London. However, John had bigger plans and wrote to his brother William explaining he intended to publish a book of Victoria’s birds.
Apart from being an artist, John was also an amateur poet. He published anonymously a narrative poem called ‘A Journal of a Voyage in the Barque Parkfield…from Plymouth to Port Philip, Australia, in the year 1843.’ It contained 22 sonnets including ‘Australia Felix, 1843’ and ‘Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere.’
John died unexpectedly on 15 December 1849 after a short illness, aged just 47. He left a widow and ten children, four boys and six girls. Edward, his brother died in somewhat tragic circumstances just 11 years later. The last entry in William Cotton’s journal, dated November 13, 1860 reads “Received the melancholy intelligence of my brother Edward’s death by drowning, while bathing in the sea at Brighton, in the Colony of Victoria.” Edward left no children.
John’s book of Victoria’s birds at the time of his death was still unpublished. His notes and illustrations were fortunately passed down through the generations of his family until his great-granddaughter got them published in 1974 with the assistance of the Curator of Birds at the National Museum of Victoria in Melbourne. The book was published under the title ‘John Cotton’s Birds of Port Phillip District of New South Wales, 1843-1849’. His original illustrations were donated to the State Library of Victoria, whilst the National Museum and family members hold many of his other diaries, manuscripts, sketches, and research notes.
William’s manuscript ‘Reminiscences’ contains a host of sketches, water-colours and silhouettes by both himself and his brother John.

The Cottonian Collection

The origins of the collection can be traced back to an art collector called Charles Rogers (1711-1784) who was Head of the Certificate Office of the Customs House in London, although a proportion of it can be traced back further to its true beginnings under the Townson family.
Robert Townson (1640-1707) whose father was a successful London merchant, secured a prestigious post for him as Chief Clerk at the Customs House, introducing him to importers of art. Robert’s son William (1682-1740) inherited his father’s collection along with his position at the Customs House. Charles Rogers later joined Townson at the Customs House and their shared passion for art and literature led to William bequeathing the collection to Charles upon his death. Many of Rogers’ friends were artists and collectors themselves and this led to the further enhancement of the collection. When Charles Rogers died unmarried in 1784, the collection passed to William Cotton who had married Rogers’ sister Charlotte. The collection however soon passed to William Cotton’s son (William Cotton II) following his father’s death in 1791.
William Cotton II lived in Clapham and had obtained the post of Chief Clerk at the Customs House after Charles Rogers’ retirement. He married Catherine Savery, daughter of the Rev. William Savery of South Devon in 1792. The collection he had inherited was now vast and included thousands of drawings, prints, books and other works of art. William was unable to accommodate the entire collection at his home, so he decided to sell a substantial proportion, reducing the collection by around two-thirds. When William died in 1816 the collection was left to his son William Cotton III.

William Cotton

William Cotton was born in London in 1794, the eldest of six siblings to William Cotton and Catherine Savery. As a young man William read Classics and Theology at Oxford, graduating in 1814 (M.A., 1818). In the summer of 1816, he embarked upon his ‘Grand Tour’ but had to return to England upon news of his father’s ill health. 
At the age of 22, William inherited a substantial collection of paintings, prints and other works of art following the death of his father in October 1816, a collection which became known as the Cottonian Collection and which now resides at Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery, now renamed The Box.
As a result of his substantial inheritance, William was able to live a life of leisure and re-embarked upon his Grand Tour taking in Florence, Rome and Naples, acquiring a passion for art.
He married Mary Collins in 1823 and lived at The Priory in Leatherhead. However, after visiting his younger sister at Churstow, near Kingsbridge, he immediately fell in love with rural Devon. In 1839 he purchased the lease of Highland House and moved to Ivybridge, describing it as” a village much famed for its beauty of situation and surrounding scenery on the River Erme”.
William’s new home in Ivybridge, Highland House, was built in 1792 and occupied a 14-acre site. He personally described it as “…delightfully situated as its name implies, on land above the level of the countryside … sheltered by a fringe of trees, gently sloping grounds and a well-planned garden boasting fine and well-established shrubberies.” He immediately embarked upon an extensive rebuilding programme, largely driven by the necessity to accommodate the collection which he had brought with him. The cost of these alterations amounted to the not insignificant sum of £500, (the entire house and extensive grounds had been sold for £600 in 1823). Apart from the house, William Cotton was also instrumental in planting many of the specimen trees which still appear today in the grounds of Highlands, as well as other large shrubs. “Nothing can exceed the brilliancy of the Azaleas and Rhododendrons” he once wrote when describing his garden. Although William and Mary never had children, they were very much family orientated and Highland House became a regular visiting destination for the wider family offering a quiet environment for relaxation and recuperation from illness.

Highland House

The House, which is near the village, stands in a lawn of about eight acres, and commands an extensive view of the picturesque vale of Ermington and the river Erme,
Consists of drawing room and dining room, 18ft by 16 each; four best bed rooms with drawing room and two servants’ rooms; store room; two kitchens, with a constant supply of spring water in each; dairy, pantry, laundry, cellar and every requisite domestic office. Also a good four-stall stable, coach house, cow houses, piggery, poultry houses and court, rabbit house.
The above Premises … form a most desirable Residence for a Sportsman … the river Erme affords excellent fishing.

Advertisement 1831

William Cotton was an empathetic member of the community, heavily involved with the cholera epidemic which started in Plymouth and Devonport and eventually reached Ivybridge in 1849. He personally chaired a local meeting to form a Local Board of Health to tackle the problem. Measures included the cleaning of drains, gutters and ponds and protecting the impoverished within the community. Also, in the absence of a resident clergyman he volunteered himself to read prayers to the sick and dying. William was a strong supporter of the church and working with Lady Rogers and her son Sir Frederick, he helped fund the building of a parsonage in Ivybridge. This was located on a piece of land between the old Bicton Wood (Victoria Park) and the meadows called Beacons. He also provided coloured glazing for the north window of the church.
During his time in Ivybridge, William Cotton continued to add to his collection. He developed a keen interest in the specialist portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds and acquired several of his works. Reynolds had been a friend of Charles Rogers and the art collection included a portrait of him by Sir Joshua. It was known that William gave lectures on Reynolds and later published two major books on the life and work of this artist, ‘Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ in 1856 and ‘A catalogue of the Portraits of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ in 1857. William Cotton had access to the pocketbooks in which Reynolds recorded the names of his subjects and the times of sitting which helped to list the works in chronological order.
By 1849, living at Highland House was placing a financial strain upon William, “I am living here to the full extent of my income, or rather beyond it” and he began looking for somewhere more economical. However, there was the small matter of his art collection to consider. He approached the Borough Town of Plympton with a plan to donate his collection to an Institute, dedicated to the memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds (who was born in Plympton St Maurice). However, to enable this to happen, a suitable building would be required to house the collection and sufficient funds secured to adequately maintain it. Sadly, the Borough was unable to raise the money to meet the special needs and the project was abandoned.
Fortunately for Cotton the Plymouth Proprietary Library agreed to the terms just a year later and the collection opened in June 1853 within the Library’s purpose-built room (described as a handsome apartment and costing £1500) located in Cornwall Street.
Upon the death of his wife Mary in 1861, William left Highland House moving to Plymouth and living at No.8 West Hoe Terrace until his death in 1863. Both William and Mary are buried in Ivybridge cemetery. The elaborate tombstone can be found under a large yew tree and nearby, the grave of Lila Yonge, the youngest child of Mary’s sister Eliza Yonge who died from measles. This girl had lived with William and Mary in Ivybridge after becoming orphaned in 1858.
Following William’s death, the portion of the collection which he had retained, was added to the main collection, making it whole once more. One of the conditions of the original gift required amongst others, that the collection should be kept together. The ‘Cottonian Collection’ in 1916 came into the care of Plymouth Corporation and was housed in the Museum and Art Gallery where it has remained ever since.
William Cotton’s obituary described him as a quiet man and ‘of somewhat nervously shy manners’ but he nevertheless made a lasting contribution to the village of Ivybridge and to Plymouth.

References:

Florence A. Stanbury, 1992, The Story of the Cottonian Collection, Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery

Gerald Hamilton-Edwards, 1954, Leisured Connoisseur: William Cotton of Ivybridge

Trevor L. Lucas, 1982, Highlands House, Ivybridge & District Amenity Society

Maurice Exwood, 1993, William Cotton and his family in Leatherhead 1823-39, Leatherhead and District Local History Society

Plymouth Museum Galleries Archives

P1

WILLIAM COTTON III

MA FSA

1794-1863

Aged 22, he inherited an art collection belonging to relatives

William Cotton was born in London in 1794, the eldest of six siblings to William Cotton and Catherine Savery. As a young man William read Classics and Theology at Oxford, graduating in 1814 (M.A., 1818). In the summer of 1816, he embarked upon his ‘Grand Tour’ but had to return to England upon news of his father’s ill health. 
At the age of 22, William inherited a substantial collection of paintings, prints and other works of art following the death of his father in October 1816, a collection which became known as the Cottonian Collection and which now resides at Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery, now renamed The Box.
As a result of his substantial inheritance, William was able to live a life of leisure and re-embarked upon his Grand Tour taking in Florence, Rome and Naples, acquiring a passion for art.
He married Mary Collins in 1823 and lived at The Priory in Leatherhead. However, after visiting his younger sister at Churstow, near Kingsbridge, he immediately fell in love with rural Devon. In 1839 he purchased the lease of Highland House and moved to Ivybridge, describing it as” a village much famed for its beauty of situation and surrounding scenery on the River Erme”.
William’s new home in Ivybridge, Highland House, was built in 1792 and occupied a 14-acre site. He personally described it as “…delightfully situated as its name implies, on land above the level of the countryside … sheltered by a fringe of trees, gently sloping grounds and a well-planned garden boasting fine and well-established shrubberies.” He immediately embarked upon an extensive rebuilding programme, largely driven by the necessity to accommodate the collection which he had brought with him. The cost of these alterations amounted to the not insignificant sum of £500, (the entire house and extensive grounds had been sold for £600 in 1823). Apart from the house, William Cotton was also instrumental in planting many of the specimen trees which still appear today in the grounds of Highlands, as well as other large shrubs. “Nothing can exceed the brilliancy of the Azaleas and Rhododendrons” he once wrote when describing his garden. Although William and Mary never had children, they were very much family orientated and Highland House became a regular visiting destination for the wider family offering a quiet environment for relaxation and recuperation from illness.
Highland House
William Cotton was an empathetic member of the community, heavily involved with the cholera epidemic which started in Plymouth and Devonport and eventually reached Ivybridge in 1849. He personally chaired a local meeting to form a Local Board of Health to tackle the problem. Measures included the cleaning of drains, gutters and ponds and protecting the impoverished within the community. Also, in the absence of a resident clergyman he volunteered himself to read prayers to the sick and dying. William was a strong supporter of the church and working with Lady Rogers and her son Sir Frederick, he helped fund the building of a parsonage in Ivybridge. This was located on a piece of land between the old Bicton Wood (Victoria Park) and the meadows called Beacons. He also provided coloured glazing for the north window of the church.
During his time in Ivybridge, William Cotton continued to add to his collection. He developed a keen interest in the specialist portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds and acquired several of his works. Reynolds had been a friend of Charles Rogers and the art collection included a portrait of him by Sir Joshua. It was known that William gave lectures on Reynolds and later published two major books on the life and work of this artist, ‘Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ in 1856 and ‘A catalogue of the Portraits of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ in 1857. William Cotton had access to the pocketbooks in which Reynolds recorded the names of his subjects and the times of sitting which helped to list the works in chronological order.
By 1849, living at Highland House was placing a financial strain upon William, “I am living here to the full extent of my income, or rather beyond it” and he began looking for somewhere more economical. However, there was the small matter of his art collection to consider. He approached the Borough Town of Plympton with a plan to donate his collection to an Institute, dedicated to the memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds (who was born in Plympton St Maurice). However, to enable this to happen, a suitable building would be required to house the collection and sufficient funds secured to adequately maintain it. Sadly, the Borough was unable to raise the money to meet the special needs and the project was abandoned.
Fortunately for Cotton the Plymouth Proprietary Library agreed to the terms just a year later and the collection opened in June 1853 within the Library’s purpose-built room located in Cornwall Street.
Upon the death of his wife Mary in 1861, William left Highland House moving to Plymouth and living at No.8 West Hoe Terrace until his death in 1863. Both William and Mary are buried in Ivybridge cemetery. The elaborate tombstone can be found under a large yew tree and nearby, the grave of Lila Yonge, the youngest child of Mary’s sister Eliza Yonge who died from measles. This girl had lived with William and Mary in Ivybridge after becoming orphaned in 1858.
Following William’s death, the portion of the collection which he had retained, was added to the main collection, making it whole once more. One of the conditions of the original gift required amongst others, that the collection should be kept together. The ‘Cottonian Collection’ in 1916 came into the care of Plymouth Corporation and was housed in the Museum and Art Gallery where it has remained ever since.
William Cotton’s obituary described him as a quiet man and ‘of somewhat nervously shy manners’ but he nevertheless made a lasting contribution to the village of Ivybridge and to Plymouth.

References:

Florence A. Stanbury, 1992, The Story of the Cottonian Collection, Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery

Gerald Hamilton-Edwards, 1954, Leisured Connoisseur: William Cotton of Ivybridge

Trevor L. Lucas, 1982, Highlands House, Ivybridge & District Amenity Society

Maurice Exwood, 1993, William Cotton and his family in Leatherhead 1823-39, Leatherhead and District Local History Society

Plymouth Museum Galleries Archives