Cotter, Patrick (DNB00)

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COTTER, PATRICK (1761?–1806), Irish giant, was born at Kinsale, co. Cork, in or about 1761, of poor parents of ordinary stature. He was brought up as a bricklayer, but at the age of eighteen was hired by a showman for exhibition in England for the sum of 50l. for three years. Soon after his arrival at Bristol, owing to a disagreement with his master, he was thrown into the debtors' prison for a fictitious debt. Upon his release he established himself at the Bristol fair, and earned 30l. in three days. After the manner of Irish giants he changed his name to O'Brien, claiming to be a lineal descendant of Brian, king of Ireland [q. v.], and to have ‘in his person and appearance all the similitude of that great and grand potentate.’ Until the last two years of his life he continued to travel throughout the country exhibiting himself. In 1804, having realised an independence, he retired into private life, and died at his lodgings in the Hotwell Road, Clifton, on 8 Sept. 1806, in the forty-sixth year of his age. He was buried in the jesuit chapel in Trenchard Street, Bristol, where a tablet to his memory states that he was eight feet three inches in height. The inscription on his coffin-plate, however, was ‘Patrick Cotter O'Brien of Kinsale, Ireland, whose stature was 8 feet 1 inch. Died 8 Sept. 1806, aged 46 years.’ It is impossible to reconcile the numerous discrepancies with regard to his height. According to Mr. Blair's account, written in 1804, Cotter ‘could not have been more, on the whole, than 7 feet 10 inches’ (Gent. Mag. vol. lxxiv. pt. i. pp. 420–1); while the catalogue of the contents of the Royal College of Surgeons (pt. v. 1831, p. 51), in the description of a plaster cast of one of his hands, states that his ‘height in the year 1802 was 8 feet 7 inches and a half.’ An engraving by T. Smith of the giant was published in 1785, and another by A. Van Assen, dated 1804, is given in the second volume of Kirby (opp. p. 332). There is also a curious etching by Kay done in 1803, when Cotter was in Edinburgh (vol. ii. No. 210). The giant is here portrayed in the act of being measured for a great coat by a little tailor standing on tiptoe on a chair, while one of Cotter's arms rests carelessly on the top of the roomdoor. Cotter has often been confused with Charles Byrne [q. v.], another Irish giant, who died in London in 1783.

[Wood's Giants and Dwarfs, 1868, pp. 166–187, 375, 385, 457–8; Kirby's Wonderful and Scientific Museum, 1804, ii. 332–7; Gent. Mag. 1806, vol. lxxvi. pt. ii. p. 983; Wilson's Wonderful Characters, 1821, i. 415–22; Kay's Original Portraits and Caricature Etchings, 1877, ii. 115–17; Chambers's Book of Days, 1864, ii. 326–7; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. iii. 436, xi. 369, 396.]

G. F. R. B.