He was baptised on 20 January 1565 at St Chad's, Seighford, Staffordshire, the fifth of the seven children of Robert Cocks of Stallbrook, yeoman, and his wife, Helen. He was apprenticed in London and became a member of the Clothworkers' Company.
During his time in Japan, he wrote a very detailed diary, relating the history of the trading post, the situation of Japan at the time, and the activities of English merchants in Japan, among whom was also the English pilot and samurai, retainer to Tokugawa Ieyasu, William Adams, with whom he wrote he had visited the residence of the Imperial Fleet Admiral, under orders from the Shogun, to discuss the possibility, required logistics, and outcome of an invasion of the Philippines in 1616. The surviving documents of the trading post (letters, accounts and journals) are a unique source of first-hand accounts of Early Modern Japan through secular Western eyes.
After the trading post was closed in 1623, Cocks sailed for England on the Anne Royal but died and was buried at sea on 27 March 1624 in the southern Indian Ocean.
- "Cocks, Richard (bap. 1565, d. 1624)", by Anthony Farrington, "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", Oxford University Press, 2004. <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/47038>.
- A World Elsewhere. Europe’s Encounter with Japan in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, by Derek Massarella, Yale University Press, 1990.
- Diary of Richard Cocks, with preface by N. Murakami (1899, reprinted from the Hakluyt Society ed. 1883)
- The English Factory in Japan 1613-1623, ed. by Anthony Farrington, British Library, 1991.