Cooper, James
b. 1821
James Cooper, was born at Bilston, Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England, and entered the service of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1844, commanding the company's supply ships throughout the Pacific. He decided to emigrate to Vancouver Island, where he arrived with his wife and children on 9 May 1851. He purchased a 385-acre farm at Metchosin, part interest in a tavern in Victoria, and built an iron schooner, the Alice, which he used for commercial purposes. On 27 August 1851, retiring Governor Richard Blanshard appointed him to be one of three members to Vancouver Island's first Council.1
Cooper's relationship with James Douglas, who replaced Blanshard as governor, quickly deteriorated. Douglas refused, for example, to allow him to export cranberries to San Francisco, on the grounds that the cranberries had been illegally obtained from the Aboriginals in violation of the company's exclusive rights to this trade. When Douglas introduced measures in the Council to control the sale of spirits by licensing liquor dealers, Cooper saw this as unfairly aimed at him. Such incidents not only adversely effected Cooper's business opportunities but galvanized him into an outspoken and partisan critic of Douglas in particular and the company in general.2
In 1856 he was forced to auction his possessions and return to England, where he became a merchant at Bilston. In 1857, Cooper testified before the Select Committee of Parliament inquiring into the affairs of the Hudson's Bay Company of the company's repressive actions in Vancouver Island, and the next year was able to use this evidence and experience to win an appointment by Sir Edward Lytton that paid £500 a year as harbour master at Esquimalt for the colony of British Columbia, despite objections to the appointment registered by the company.3
Cooper returned to Victoria on 25 December 1858 and assumed the duties of his office, which Douglas later would pronounce a complete sinecure. On 12 January 1860, Cooper won a seat in the House of Assembly for Esquimalt and Metchosin district on a reform ticket but was obliged to resign when the Colonial Office ordered him to take up residence in New Westminster.4 Following the extension of British Columbia's jurisdiction over Vancouver Island in 1866, Cooper returned to Victoria in 1867 as harbour master of Victoria and Esquimalt, but he resigned this position on 27 January 1869 to become a hotel keeper and wine merchant in Victoria.5
Following British Columbia's entry into Confederation, the dominion government appointed Cooper on 17 October 1872 their agent for British Columbia, as well as inspector of lighthouses,6 and inspector of steamboats. In the course of these duties, he was repeatedly investigated for irregularities and charged with fraud, but nothing was proven. His appointment was nevertheless cancelled 25 June 1879. Then in October of that year, he was charged again and failed to appear in court. He was never heard from again. The speculation was that he had fled to California, but his place and date of death remain unknown.7
  • 1. Margaret A. Ormsby, Cooper, James, Dictionary of Canadian Biography.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Miranda Harvey, Captain Cooper, 1846-1850: Fort Victoria Journal.
  • 6. Ormsby, Cooper, James.
  • 7. Harvey, Captain Cooper.
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