British Consuls in South Formosa

William Marsh Cooper

The Takao Club

William Marsh Cooper


 China Consular Service

Consul Cooper, Ningpo, 1880.

      William Marsh Cooper was Acting Consul at Taiwan from 14 June 1869 to 19 January 1870, and was based at Tainan and Takow. He succeeded John Gibson and was replaced by Archer Rotch Hewlett.

      William Marsh Cooper was born on 7 September 1833 at St. Peter’s Mancroft, Norwich, Norfolk, the eldest son of William Cooper, a Barrister, and Anna Cooper née Marsh. He entered King’s College, London, in 1852 but did not graduate, being recruited into the China Consular Service from the China Class in October 1854 (Thomas Adkins was in the same recruitment). Cooper’s first appointment was on 6 March 1855 as a Supernumerary Student Interpreter at the Amoy [廈門] British Consulate. William Cooper’s abilities were noticed early on for he was next appointed as Assistant to (Sir) Harry Smith Parkes, one of the three commissioners of the Allied Commission Canton, which had veto power over all decisions affecting foreigners following the downfall of the Imperial Commissioner Yeh Ming-ch’en [葉名琛] in 1858. He was promoted quite rapidly, becoming a First Assistant in 1860 and an Interpreter in 1866. From 1860 until his arrival in Taiwan in 1869, Cooper was based at the British Consulate on Double Island [媽嶼], Swatow [汕頭].

      On 18 February 1865 William Marsh Cooper married Mary Louisa Tickell, the daughter of Colonel Samuel Richard Tickell and Maria Georgiana Tickell née Templer, at St John’s Cathedral, Hongkong. Cooper’s first two children were both born at Swatow: Philip Templer Cooper, born 24 March 1866; and Harry Ashley Cooper, born 15 July 1867. The whole Cooper family plus two servants travelled to Taiwan to take up the new posting.

      William Marsh Cooper arrived at Taiwan-fu on 12 June 1869 and took charge of the British Consulates at Taiwan and Takow from Acting Consul John Gibson on 14 June 1869. As well as his wife Mary and two infant sons, Cooper arrived with his butler and the children's’ nurse from Swatow, who had agreed to come only when her salary was raised by a third. Before John Gibson left he briefed Cooper on the happenings under his Acting Consulship: Gibson explained that the old Tao-t’ai [道臺], or Circuit Intendant, Liang Yuen-kuei [梁元桂], was awaiting relief and until he was relieved he was suspended from all dealings with foreign interests. Liang was finally relieved on 22 October 1870 by Li Chao-t'ang [黎兆棠], but problems over the camphor trade persisted. The Formosa camphor monopoly may have been declared illegal under the terms of the Treaty of Tientsin, but the new Camphor Regulations circulated to British firms by Cooper on 17 November 1870 seemed just as contentious. There were two firms interested in the camphor trade, Tait & Company and Elles & Company, and when a boat carrying camphor for Elles & Company was pirated in October 1870, it was to set in place a chain of events that would only be resolved by the arrival of the next Acting Consul, Archer Rotch Hewlett.

      While on Formosa, Cooper was asked by Sir Rutherford Alcock, the British Minister at Peking, about the living costs on the island. Cooper considered that there were many inconveniences at such a small port; however, he praised the abundant fruit that was available year round and the succulent oysters. The Coopers also relied on home-raised fowl as fish was not always available. Vegetables were a problem as they could find no palatable local ones and it was impossible to grow their own on the sea sand which formed their garden at the Takow Consulate on Ch’i-hou [旗後]. The Coopers were thus obliged to eat tinned vegetables at considerable expense. Fresh water also was a problem, being brackish from the well at Ch’i-hou, and had to be brought across from a small stream at the base of Ape’s Hill [猴山]. While sugar and rice, grown abundantly on Formosa and exported, were naturally very cheap; cheese, butter, potatoes and biscuits were expensive luxuries. Cooper described south Formosa as a dreary place with a hot, feverish unhealthy climate, and indeed in his last months Cooper had contracted an intermittent but persistent fever. He found the native people to be friendly, and attributed this to some extent to the actions taken by his predecessor John Gibson, but despaired of the venal and greedy Mandarins who ruled the island. Shortly before his departure, a daughter, Beatrice Alice Cooper, was born to William Marsh Cooper and Mary Louisa Tickell on 5 January 1870 at the British Consulate, Takow. On 19 January 1870 Cooper was relieved by Archer Rotch Hewlett, and he and his family and servants returned to Swatow.

      William Cooper returned to Swatow and was appointed Acting Consul on 15 February 1870; on the following day, 16 February, his six week old baby, Beatrice Alice Cooper, died. Cooper was very sick from the fever he had contracted fever on Taiwan and, after the death of his daughter, took Home Leave on medical grounds. After his return from England, Mary Louisa Cooper gave birth to their youngest child, Alan Leslie Cooper, who was born on 10 August 1875 at Shanghai [上海].

      Cooper was finally promoted to Consul on 9 November 1877, when serving as Acting Consul at Ningpo [寧波], and saw out his days in the China Consular Service as the Ningpo Consul. Though plagued by ill-health, Cooper needed money for his sons’ educations and could not afford to stop working. However, Cooper finally took early retirement on the grounds of ill-health on 1 April 1888. William Marsh Cooper returned to England and died on 16 April 1896 at 35 Waverley Road, Southsea, Hampshire. His wife, Mary Louisa Cooper, despite her health problems in China, lived on until the age of 92 and died on 22 October 1938 at Madeley Road, Ealing, Middlesex.

      His eldest son, Philip Templer Cooper born 24 March 1866, joined the Royal Artillery. On 5 September 1901, Major Philip Templer Cooper married Evelyn Mary Close, the daughter of Douglas Richmond Close and Isabella Melvill, at the Holy Trinity Church, Weymouth, Dorset. Philip Cooper retired as a Lieutenant-Colonel and died on 7 June 1934, aged 68.

      Harry Ashley Cooper, the second son born on 15 July 1867, joined the Indian Army Service Corps. On 1 July 1902 Captain Harry Ashley Cooper married May Somerville Bunny, the 18-year-old daughter of Major Frank William McTier Bunny and Caroline Stanley Todd. Major Harry Ashley Cooper of the 62 Punjabis died aged 37, on 5 January 1905 at Fyzabad, Bengal, India. Interestingly, his widow, May Somerville Cooper, remarried twice and was the mother of the movie actor Peter [Sydney Ernest] Lawford.

      Alan Leslie Cooper, the youngest son born on 10 August 1875, was educated at Haileybury and joined the Imperial Light Horse and later the Royal Engineers. He fought in the Anglo-Boer War from 1900 to 1902, and was a Major in the First World War, where he won a DSO (Distinguished Service Order) in 1915. Alan Leslie Cooper married Elizabeth Sarah Russell on 21 August 1902 at Southsea, Hampshire. A Fellow of the Zoological Society, Alan Leslie Cooper died on 19 November 1956, aged 81.


Sources: Lo Hui-min and Bryant, Helen; British Diplomatic and Consular Establishments in China: 1793-1949, Volume II Consular Establishments 1843-1949; SMC Publishing Inc., Taipei, Taiwan, 1988.

The National Archives, British Foreign Office Files, series FO 228 (China) and series FO 262 (Japan).

Public Records Office, Hong Kong; The Carl Smith Collection.

Oakley, David Charles; The Story of the British Consulate at Takow; Privately published, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, 2007.

Coates, P. D.; The China Consuls: British Consular Officers, 1843-1943; Oxford University Press, 1988.

Haileybury College; Pupil Records prior to 1912 (DSO).