Sir Henry John Stedman Cotton, KCSI (13 September 1845 – 22 October 1915) had a long career in the Indian Civil Service, during which he was sympathetic to Indian nationalism. After returning to England, he served as a Liberal Party Member of Parliament (MP) for Nottingham East from 1906 to January 1910.
He entered Magdalen College School in 1856, Brighton College in 1859, and King’s College London in 1861. He visited Switzerland in 1863. He married his wife Mary on August 1, 1867.
Cotton joined the Indian Civil Service, arriving in India in 1867. His first posting was at Midnapore, where his immediate superior was William James Herschel, then the local magistrate. His eldest son H. E. A. Cotton was born in that city in 1868.
He later served in Chuadanga, where he witnessed the great flood of 1871. In 1872 he was posted to Calcutta, and in 1873 he was appointed Assistant Secretary to the Bengal Government by Sir George Campbell, and later worked under Sir Richard Temple. In 1878 he became magistrate and collector at Chittagong; in 1880 he became Senior Secretary to the Board of Revenue in Bengal. He later became Revenue Secretary to Government, Financial and Municipal Secretary, and then a member of the Bengal Legislative Council.
Cotton eventually rose to be Chief Commissioner of Assam (1896 to 1902), during which time he experienced the 1897 Assam earthquake. Cotton College, Guwahati was established by him in 1901.
Cotton supported Indian Home Rule and served as President of Indian National Congress in 1904, being one of the few Englishmen to do so. As such, he led the opposition to Curzon’s invasion of Tibet and partition of Bengal.
He was the father of H. E. A. Cotton.
Through his great-grandfather Joseph Cotton (1746–1825), Henry John Stedman Cotton was a first cousin once removed of both the judge Henry Cotton (his godfather, who he was named after) and of the African explorer William Cotton Oswell.