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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cooper, Thomas (1832–1900)

by E. J. Semmens

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Thomas Cooper (1832-1900), draper and politician, was born at Stone, Staffordshire, England, son of Thomas Cooper, draper, and his wife Sabia, née Kinnersly. He migrated to Victoria in 1856. He opened Stafford House, a draper's shop at 165 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. In 1859 he moved to Kingston and after a year to nearby Creswick, where he opened a new Stafford House on the corner of Albert and Cambridge Streets. At first his brother and then Charles Walton were his partners; both partnerships were soon dissolved and Cooper took complete control. He later also undertook work as an auctioneer, mining and general agent and arbitrator. As an active and forceful leader in church work, he was an original trustee of the Creswick Wesleyan Church, circuit steward, teacher and lay preacher. He was a strong advocate for and leader of the total abstinence societies prominent in Creswick's earlier years.

After settling in business Cooper turned to civic affairs. He headed the poll for a seat in the Municipal Council, established in 1858. In 1862 he was elected its chairman and in 1863 became the first mayor of the new Borough of Creswick. He filled this position eleven times, still a local record. He worked with vigour to improve the town. He persuaded the government to hand over a reservoir at Dean, with £3000 as a grant to give Creswick a water supply. Later he was prominent in providing the town with its imposing hall and council offices. He did much to set standards and formulate procedures in the council; he resigned in 1884 but was again a member in 1890-93. In the 1864 Legislative Assembly elections many influential Creswick citizens persuaded him to nominate, but he was not successful then or at later polls until 1877. He represented Creswick until 1889, when the Creswick electorate was divided. Cooper decided to stand for the new electorate of Allendale but was defeated by (Sir) Alexander Peacock. In debates he had spoken on many and varied subjects, but more particularly on forests, education and the conditions of teachers, mining and prospecting, railways, water supply and municipal affairs; he was chairman of committees in 1880-89.

At Melbourne in 1857 Cooper married Emma Solloway; of their six children only the younger son survived childhood. In 1869 on medical advice they visited England after the death of their elder son. Cooper retired at 68 and soon afterwards died at Creswick on 20 October 1900. His wife died at Hawthorn, Melbourne, on 16 February 1916, aged 84. She was noted for her kindness and her interest in charitable work.

Cooper was without question the outstanding citizen of Creswick in its formative years. His tall, erect figure with flowing beard and confident walk was well known to all. His courtesy, gentlemanly manners and kindness made him notable. As a public speaker his humour and eloquence carried his audiences with him. He had a wide experience of men and great capacity for public affairs. He never cherished enmity or showed bitterness to those who opposed him.

His name is perpetuated in Cooper's Reserve, Cooper Street and Cooper's Corner, the site of his business in Creswick for many years.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • J. Smith (ed), The Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 3 (Melb, 1905)
  • Age (Melbourne), 22 Oct 1900
  • Argus (Melbourne), 19 Feb 1916.

Citation details

E. J. Semmens, 'Cooper, Thomas (1832–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 10 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

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