Sergeant Major Edward COTTON

at the

Battle of Waterloo

Sergeant Major Edward Cotton was born on the Isle of Wight in 1792 and served at the Battle of Waterloo in the ranks of the 7th Hussars which was part of General Grant’s Brigade. Fortunately, he survived the carnage of the battle on that fateful day of 18th June 1815, in which there were over 50,000 casualties of the some 150,000 troops engaged, and became a local notable figure.

During the Battle, the 7th Hussars were stationed on the right of Wellington’s line; a position which ensured they were heavily involved in the counter-charges against the massed French cavalry attacks in the late afternoon of the conflict. In an act of heroism, Cotton saved the life of a fellow Hussar Edward Gilmore as he lay trapped under his wounded horse in front of the main battle line. Cotton could see the French cuirassiers advancing and, knowing that they spared none who fell into their hands, he sprang from his horse and rushed to extricate Gilmore and bring him back to safety. This was not Cotton’s only life-saving act. On two other occasions he rescued boys from drowning; a lad named David Bale at Clapham, Surrey, and a boy named Tannis in Mont St Jean.

Nothing is known of Cotton’s early life until he enlisted as a Private in the 7th Hussars in London on the 13th January 1813. The military records state he was then aged 20 and had been born in Northwood. A baptism on 20th January 1793 has been found for an Edward Cotton; the son of Robert & Jane of Northwood (this being the only Edward found of the right place and time-frame). It is believed his parents were Robert Cotton and Jane Bull who were married in 1777 at Godshill.

Prior to Waterloo, Cotton had served in the Peninsular Wars at Orthez (Feb 1814) and Toulouse (Dec 1814), both for which he received campaign medals. During his military career, Cotton steadily progressed through the ranks to become a Troop Sergeant Major in 1825. He was discharged with a good service record on 12th February 1828, being unfit for further service, and later became a Chelsea Pensioner.

After leaving the army, Cotton lived at Mont St Jean village (where the battle was centred) and he soon gained a reputation as a fine battlefield guide. He built up a formidable knowledge of the Battle from the many fellow Waterloo veterans who visited the battlefield and he published a book called 'A Voice from Waterloo'. His extensive collection of relics and memorabilia occupied a building at the base of the Lion Mound (built on the battlefield to commemorate the victory) and among the prized exhibits was a pair of Napoleon’s silver spurs. The museum continued to be run after Cotton’s death until c1875 by his great-niece Mrs Brown, but has since been dispersed.

“I sincerely hope”, wrote veteran Lieutenant-General Sir Hussey Vivian to Cotton in 1839, “that from the occupation which you have undertaken, you will derive the means of passing the remainder of your days in competence and comfort; and thus reap the rewards of your intelligence, on a field where you had previously proved your courage”.

Edward Cotton married a very young Sarah Bean from Bethersden, Kent. Sarah, born in 1815 (after the Battle!), was the daughter of William and Elisabeth, and it is thought she was possibly a niece of Major George Bean(e) who had been killed at Waterloo. Record of the marriage has not been found, but their first child, Sara Emile, was born in Ixelles, Brussels, in 1835. Four further children were born at Mont St Jean; Elisabeth (1838), Marie-Anne (1842-55), Edouard (1844) and Louise (1846-47). Sadly, Edward’s wife Sarah died on 21 October 1846 age 30 at Braine-l’Alleud (a village close to the battlefield), just a week after Louise was born.

After the death of his wife, Edward Cotton moved to a small house on the battlefield where he died on 24th June 1849, aged 57. He had been ill for some time, but had continued with his work, only two days before his death showing an English family around the battlefield.

At his special request, Edward Cotton was buried in the meadow of Hougoumont Château (* which had been one of Wellington’s fortified positions on the battlefield) next to the grave of Captain John Lucie Blackman whose death he had witnessed during the Battle. However, with the erection of the Waterloo Memorial at Evere, the remains of both Cotton and Blackman were disinterred on the 18th August 1890 and transferred to the memorial crypt at Evere. Cotton has the privilege of being the only NCO to be interred in the crypt not having been killed or mortally wounded in the Battle.

The ceremony was reported in the Belgian News (Galignani Messenger) on 23rd August 1890. The article records that Cotton’s daughter, Elisabeth, who had followed her father’s coffin in 1849 as a girl of eleven and was now Assistant Superior of the Sisters of Mary Convent at Braine l’Alleud, had witnessed the disinterment. It also stated that Cotton’s niece’s husband, George Veraleweck, had made the coffin and was also present. Elisabeth died on 8th September1903 at Braine l’Alleud, but it is not yet known what became of son Edouard Cotton.


(*) Hougoumont is a chateau (complex of farm buildings really) that sits on the battlefield. Hougoumont was on the right flank of Wellington's position during the battle of Waterloo and was hotly contested during that fateful day, with many French casualties being incurred in attempts to take it. The chateau was held by contingents of the British Foot Guards together with small numbers of other allied troops including Brunswick, Hanoverian and Nassau soldiers.

In my opinion, the gardens at Hougoumont would be a far more fitting resting place for Edward COTTON than the Evere Cemetery in Brussels, some 12 miles north of Waterloo. I am also sure that Edward would sooner have laid alongside so many of colleagues who fell during the battle and whose corpses were never recovered.

The above article was adapted and published with kind permission of my cousin Keith Bryant who is a keen researcher of this and other battles. As an Islander, Keith would like to learn more about Edward COTTON's early life, in particular, his date and place of birth.

If Edward COTTON features in your tree, or you have further details which might be of interest to Keith, please e-mail me at and I will pass the message to him.

Addendum 1
Many thanks to Val Sprack who has found Edward's baptism of 20th Jan 1793, the son of Robert & Jane of Northwood. Furthermore, Val suggests Edward's likely parents were Robert COTTON and Jane BULL who were married in 1777 at Godshill.

Addendum 2
I am indebted to Trevor Rutter of Waterloo Battlefield Tours who has since contacted me with further information about Edward Cotton and kindly supplied the photographs below for display.

CottonGrave.jpg (23143 bytes)

A recent photo of two tombstones in the meadow of Hougoumont. The larger one in the foreground is that of Captain John Lucie Blackman and the one behind is that of Cotton. The wall behind is the original garden wall of Hougoumont that was defended so effectively on 18 June 1815. Not one single Frenchman got over it.

CottonHouse1.jpg (19356 bytes)

A recent photo of the hotel built in 1854 near the battlefield for tourists (opposite the modern Visitors' Centre).

CottonHouse2.jpg (16066 bytes)

This picture shows some battlefield tourists, probably Victorian, in front of the hotel - compare the first and second floor window lines in the two pictures.

For further information about the Battle of Waterloo, or to arrange a guided tour, please visit Trevor's excellent website - Waterloo Battlefield Tours at


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