Dr Thomas Young Cotter Obituary

Dr Thomas Young Cotter

Part 2


Dr TY Cotter 1880, SLSA B11210

The Port Augusta Dispatch of 13 January 1882 published this much more interesting story about the doctor.

In our last issue it was our painful duty to refer to the demise of our old friend and townsman, Dr Thomas Young Cotter, which occurred at the residence of his son-in-law, Mr Thomas Burgoyne, Mayor of Port Augusta. The funeral service was numerously attended by leading citizens. A large number of Masons met at the lodge-room, and forming in procession proceeded to the Mayor's residence.

The following brief account of the life of the late Dr Cotter has been handed to us by a friend, who has known him during the last 30 years and has seen the documents relating to events in the somewhat chequered career of this member of the now rapidly diminishing company of pioneers of South Australia.

Thomas Young Cotter was a native of Ireland and was born at Bantry, near Cork, in the year 1805. He was descended from a Danish family which had settled in that neighbourhood several centuries before and were probably a part of the invading force which had for a long time kept that once peaceful and happy island in a state of hostile preparation or actual warfare.

The Danish Cotters intermarried with the natives of the soil, and speedily became as good Irishmen as the original inhabitants. The grandfather of the late Dr Cotter, who was also named Thomas, had some considerable property in the neighbourhood of Bantry and, being of a speculative and energetic disposition, he invested a good deal of his property in the establishment of a large fishery on the coast.

By this means he succeeded in bringing comfort and plenty into the houses of hundreds who had formerly only eked out a miserable existence from the spoils of the sea. Thomas Cotter had his miles of nets and his hundreds of men employed in catching and curing fish for export to other countries. Vessels of his own traded to Portugal and other countries, taking out dried fish, returning to Bristow with cargoes of wines, and returning from thence to Ireland with salt and other requirements for his gradually increasing trade.

The loss of some of his vessels and other misfortunes, together with advancing age however, at length compelled him to retire with but sufficient means to support his declining years, his only consolation being that, although he had not benefited himself, he had conferred immense benefits upon his countrymen and neighbours. Richard Cotter, the father of our recently deceased friend, had to seek for employment in consequence of these reverses, and found it in the service of his country, as purser in the squadron commanded by Lord Exmouth.

Richard Cotter served in this capacity for many years and at his death his widow was allowed a pension, which placed her in a comfortable position. Doctor Cotter when he left school, at about the age of 14 also left his native country and went to his father, who was then with the squadron on the West Indian Station. He served some time as a naval cadet, and was then placed in charge of Government stores at the Depot, Bermuda but having decided to relinquish his first idea of entering the naval service; he proceeded to London and entered upon a course of medical studies.

After having served his time as a medical student and assistant to a surgeon in a large practice and having attended the lectures of some of the most eminent men of that age in the profession, he obtained his certificate and commenced the practice of his profession in London in 1832. In 1833 he was married to the late Mrs Jane Cotter a native of London, who died in Port Augusta about six years ago. (5 March 1876)

In 1835 his first connection with the affairs of South Australia began, as in December he was appointed by the Colonization Commissioners for South Australia as surgeon to the infant colony which was then about to be born and which has now reached its 45th year of existence and is rapidly advancing towards a foremost place among the not least important of the civilized communities of the world.

After having assisted the Commissioner with his advice in the selection of the officers and first colonists in London, he was, in August 1836, placed in charge of the health and good conduct of the batch of old colonists who came out in the Coromandel, instructions being signed by Rowland Hill, as Secretary to the Commissioners and counter signed by John Hutt, as Superintendent of Emigration. Having arrived with his charge safe in South Australia he took his position here as Colonial Surgeon, which office he held for several years.

At this period of the history of South Australia the colonists had to rough it in the most literal sense of the term, and many amusing scenes have been described by the late Doctor Cotter which want of space will not allow the writer to enter upon. The little colony, however, seems to have gone to work with a considerable amount of energy and temporary dwellings were erected with surprising despatch, first at Glenelg and afterwards on the present site of the City of Adelaide.

It seems, however, that the first settlers brought with them the germs of that mania for speculation which has occasionally broken out among us since that period. People began to speculate inland—not for the sake of what it would produce, but in hope of selling at advanced prices—so that, for the first year or two, very little real and substantial progress was made.

Something however was done, and after several failures the colonists found out that in order to obtain bread the wheat had to be sown about the month of May. A temporary church was erected, the woodwork being brought out from England; and here a notable example of good management was exhibited. The church was to have a prominent feature in the shape of a wooden steeple, which was made in England. With some difficulty it was lowered into the hold of the ship and with still greater difficulty lifted, when it arrived at its destined port, where it was found necessary, in order to its removal to Adelaide, that it should be taken apart, as it could not be carted away in one load.

The shipowners, however, benefited by this piece of wisdom, as the thing measured about 50 tons, for which freight was charged, although its bowels were filled during the passage out with a quantity of good things which are not generally to be found in a church. This edifice was the Old Trinity Church which has since been superseded by the quaint old building now standing at the comer of Morphett Street and North Terrace.

Soon after this the nucleus of a public library was formed, although its benefits were restricted to but a comparatively small number. Meetings were occasionally held for the purpose of mutual information and entertainment and in all these matters of public interest Dr Cotter took a prominent part. After his resignation of the office of Colonial Surgeon he practiced his profession in Adelaide, Mount Barker, Queenstown, Robe, Angaston and several other places.

In 1864 he first came to the North, having been appointed surgeon to the Great Northern Mining Company, whose chief operations were carried on at Nuccaleena. Many of your readers will remember the failure of this mine, and the drought. These events occurred together and compelled Dr Cotter again to seek for a new home about the beginning of 1867.

He then came down to Port Augusta, where he remained for a short time, but eventually left, and commenced practice near the old spot where he had first pitched his tent at Glenelg. Early in 1870 he returned to Port Augusta, having been appointed Government Medical Officer here and this office he has held, and performed the duties there of almost up to the day of his death.

In 1876 the Government offered him the charge of the Blinman Hospital at a considerably higher salary than he was receiving at Port Augusta. Having made many friends and become attached to the place he declined to leave it and expressed his intention of remaining here for the rest of his days. Up to the very day of his death he gave useful advice to a young friend who had been suffering for some time from inflammation of the eyes.

Dr Cotter, in addition to his recognised merits as a medical man, has been well known in connection with all movements which had for their object the improvement and benefit of his fellow colonists in a physical, moral, or political sense and he has always taken his full share in public matters, whether general or local. When the corporation of the City of Adelaide was reconstituted in 1852, Dr Cotter was one of the candidates for the office of Councillor, and was supposed by his friends to be certain of election.

In the meantime some of the wags of the city thought it would be a good joke to induce a certain very illiterate cobbler to oppose the doctor and, to the astonishment of the perpetrators themselves, the joke turned out to be a very serious matter. Isaac Breaker was elected, and the first meeting of the council was chiefly occupied with the question of how to take his declaration, as this particular councillor had never learned to sign his name.

It is probable that this worthy councillor, if he done no good did no harm, but the ratepayers did not repeat the experiment and in the next year Doctor Cotter was elected to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of another Councillor. He only remained in office up to the term of his predecessor, a change of residence having made it inconvenient for him to attend the Council; but in connection with all public movements he was as active as ever in the discharge of what he considered was his duty as a citizen.

In 1857, when the Act was passed which gave Constitutional Government to this colony, a fierce struggle took place between the Conservatives and Church party on the one side, and the Liberals and Non-conformists on the other, on the question of State aid to religion. The doctor, as a good Church man, was on the Conservatives and consequently the losing side. This, your readers must remember, was in the days of open voting.

At that time Dr Cotter made himself very useful in connection with the Adelaide Institute, of which he was really one of the founders and he delivered some very interesting lectures at that institution on animal and vegetable physiology. One of these was long afterwards given at a meeting of the Port Augusta Literary Society and will be remembered with pleasure by all those who heard it.

Doctor Cotter was not only a useful member, but during a considerable period was the Rupert of debate, and. generally succeeded in making the dreariest subject interesting. In addition to literary matters, he was one of the founders of the Masonic Lodge here, was an honorary life member of the Oddfellows Society and a member of the Foresters' Society. He was President of the local Chess Club, and for many years he was a very fair player. But, in addition to all this and better than all, he was a true and firm friend, a genial companion, and to the poor and distressed a kind and considerate benefactor.

In common with all who are mortal, he had his faults, but they were more than balanced by his many virtues. Now, after his death, he has the most valuable if not the most enduring of monuments in the hearts of the many whom he succoured and assisted in the hour of their necessity, without hope of fee or reward. His last words were dictated by his kind impulse of his heart, and in death he was rewarded by the fulfilment of his oft-repeated wish. He left his work and gently fell asleep.

The Southern Argus of 19 January also reported his death and included a letter of one of his old neighbours who said; I was his near neighbour for some years, and circumstances connected with my then position brought me often into contact with him. I once had the pleasure of seeing him snatch from the very jaws of death, and restore to health, a friend who is still living, after a lapse of 30 years, in health and comfort, although he has exceeded in years 'man's allotted span.

The deceased gentleman had his peculiarities and eccentricities, but 'for a this and a that' he was a man. He never was known to ask, when his professional services were required, the selfish and unfeeling question, 'Where is the money to come from?' He was ready at all times to go and do his best to alleviate distress and suffering, whether there was a prospect of his being paid at not.


Mount Deception 1876

This last point is also mentioned in the Register of 6 August 1863, which states that; A very painful case occurred the other day on this station. (Mount Deception) One of the men went quite mad. He had to be fastened up, and a person was put in charge of him. Dr Cotter attended, and accompanied him as far as the Blinman, being obliged to take nearly a pint of blood from him by the way.

I believe the doctor received no remuneration for his trouble, though he had to ride five and tweuty miles through the heavy rain. This leads me to remark that Dr Cotter is likely to leave the district in consequence of the stoppage of the Nuccaleena Mine. His private practice is not large enough to support his family, especially as too much of it is of the kind just mentioned. He has always been willing to attend gratuitously upon those who were unable to pay, and upon the natives and I think there ought to be some small allowance made for a medical man, either by the Destitute Board, or whatever other government department has charge of such matters.

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