Cox, Sir Richard (1702–66), 2nd baronet, improving landlord, and politician, was born 23 November 1702, probably on his father's estate at Dunmanway, Co. Cork, eldest son among three sons and a daughter of Richard Cox and his first wife, Susannah, daughter of James French of Cork; his grandfather was Sir Richard Cox (qv) (d. 1733) and his uncle was Michael Cox (qv). His father, who had had a military career and was MP for Tallow (1703–17) and Clonakilty (1717–25), died on 15 April 1725. Thus, at his grandfather's death (3 May 1733) Richard Cox succeeded as 2nd baronet and as the senior member of a prominent family which may have included Nicholas Cox (1724–94), an army officer, lieutenant governor of the district of Gaspé in Canada, and one of several prominent Cork men in America at the time. Richard Cox entered St John's College, Oxford, on 4 May 1720. On 13 September 1725 he married Catherine, daughter of George Evans of Bulgaden Hall, Co. Limerick, a former MP.
After early and somewhat limited efforts to improve his estate, from about 1745 he worked with an entrepreneur from the north of Ireland, and together they developed a successful strategy. The landlord granted long leases to encourage the development of agriculture and of the linen industry, and offered slated houses and an elaborate and costly system of premiums on settlement and production to encourage protestants – even from as far away as the north of Ireland – to move to Dunmanway. He imported flaxseed to sell at cost to tenants, so that local flax production would provide raw material; he established a controlled market for yarn and cloth at Dunmanway, and a spinning school, both of which improved the supply of linen thread for the weaving industry. Dunmanway increased in size and was practically rebuilt during Cox's lifetime; between 1747 and 1749 the number of occupied houses rose from eighty-seven to 117, and seventeen houses were being built in 1749. His methods were copied by other local landlords – for example, in the industrial villages established at Inishannon, Co. Cork, and Villierstown, Co. Waterford, and on estates at Doneraile and Clonakilty, Co. Cork – and his ideas had still wider currency when he published a letter addressed to Thomas Prior (qv) as a pamphlet in 1749. Cox was a cogent and persuasive writer, and even after thirty years, a Scottish landlord acknowledged in the 1780s that his efforts to improve Laurencekirk in Kincardineshire had been inspired by Cox's work in Cork. Cox's 1749 pamphlet, together with another letter published as a pamphlet in 1759 (A letter . . . to the high-sheriff of Cork. Relative to the present state of the linen manufacture) and detailed newspaper advertisements, provide important information for economic historians, one of whom estimates that there was in the late 1740s and 1750s an annual output of cloth on the Dunmanway estate worth over £1,300 to the local economy. Cox was a founder member of the Dublin Society in 1731 and received the freedom of Kinsale in 1735.
A prominent figure in Cork politics, Cox represented his grandfather's former constituency, Clonakilty, in parliament (1727–60, 1761–6). He served on no fewer than 332 committees during his forty years in parliament, and was commended by his constituents and neighbours for his attention to their local interests. Although he was generally not a supporter of government policy, his clearly argued 1750 pamphlet opposing the views of Charles Lucas (qv) – who had criticised Cox's grandfather, the first baronet – found favour with Dublin Castle, and he was appointed collector of the revenue and of customs for the port of Cork in April 1750. In 1753 he voted against the money bill, and was so openly antagonistic to the government that he was dismissed from his posts in the revenue in January 1754. However, he afterwards supported government initiatives, and was a commissioner of revenue 1758–63; contemporaries noted that he was ‘very able and efficient’ and a very useful parliamentarian (HIP, iii, 527).
Cox had three sons and three daughters; the eldest son died before him. He died 2 February 1766 in Dunmanway, and was succeeded as 3rd baronet by his second son. Sir Richard's improvements in Dunmanway did not long survive him; the linen industry had disappeared by 1776, there were serious family disputes over the inheritance, and the estate was encumbered by debts possibly incurred during the legal settlement. The lands somehow came into the possession of Cox's son-in-law, Joshua Hamilton, brother of the influential Sackville Hamilton (qv). Hamilton's son Henry Hamilton (d. 1821) took the surname Cox, was MP for Castlemartyr, and as a magistrate energetically pursued Rightboys and other miscreants from the 1780s. In 1799, to live more cheaply, Henry Cox moved to America, where he became a farmer, pretending to be a quaker, and published a volume of verse, The Pennsylvania georgics. When the estate was cleared of debt in 1817, he immediately returned to Ireland, apparently throwing his quaker garb over the side of the ship. His story was somewhat notorious in Pennsylvania, and formed the subject of ‘The strange Friend’, published in an American magazine in 1867. Henry Hamilton Cox deposited in the library in Philadelphia several volumes of manuscript letters from his great-grandfather's records. It was later realised that these were important state papers from the Irish archives, and they were returned in 1866.