George Ashley Cooper (c1805-1867)

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George Ashley Cooper
Sex: M
Birth: 23 June 1793, Kildare, County Kildare, Ireland
Death: 1867-04-07, Melbourne, Victoria
Father: George Sisson Cooper
Mother: Caroline -
Spouse/Partner: Emily Buck

The biography below is taken from the page of George Ashley Cooper at

George Cooper was New Zealand's first Colonial Treasurer and played a role in collecting signatures for the Treaty of Waitangi. The book "Treasury, The New Zealand Treasury, 1840-2000" gives us an idea of how his life as a government employee started. References made inside the text I have marked as [sub ref. n.] and are listed at the end.

" 'He says', wrote the diarist of his travelling companion, that 'it is the tide in our affairs, which is sure to lead to fortune, and has embraced his present situation with precisely the same feeling as myself - namely, to hold no faith with the scoundrel government which has used us so vilely, but to make use of them for our own purposes and throw them off as soon as it suits our convenience.' [sub ref. 1] [...] George Cooper [...] as quoted by fellow official Felton Matthew at the time of their shipping from Port Jackson to the Bay of Islands in northern New Zealand to set up an administration for the new colony under Captain (soon to be Lieutenant-Governor) Hobson. Colonies were organised on the cheap in 1840, and they sometimes got officials to match. Hobson was not allowed to recruit in England, where 'high emoluments' would be demanded, so he hired in Sydney, presumably with Governor George Gibbs helping by pointing out - or hiding from view - the able amongst his own officials. Cooper was an Irishman, 'a middle aged man of reputable and serious countenance and deportment', according to at least one informant. [...] He had spent his life in the United Kingdom's Customs, apart from three years in the same employ in New South Wales, although at the time of his appointment to New Zealand his official position was given as 'Superintendent of Distilleries' [sub ref. 2]. Being appointed to the offices of both Treasurer, who looked after the money, and Collector of Customs, who collected it, made sense, not least to Cooper himself. At £600 per annum for the two jobs, he wasn't badly off, earning more than any other officer of the government aside from the Chief Commissioner of Land Claims - and, of course, the Lieutenant-Governor himself [sub ref. 3]. [...] But as customs or land revenue could hardly be expected to flow in from day one - there was the small matter of a treaty to be signed with the New Zealanders themselves, then the establishment of the apparatus of revenue collecting — Cooper's first task was to bring money into New Zealand. [...] One of the first documents germane to the history of the New Zealand Treasury was a memorandum from Cooper to Hobson, informing him that 'the money is to be taken out of the Treasury Chest at Six o Clock tomorrow morning and ... taken on board immediately after in strong boxes provided for it. Can we take the Iron Chest in the Herald?' [sub ref. 5]" [9.]

William Hobson (who later became governor and commander in chief of New Zealand) arrived at the Bay of Islands on January 29, 1840 with a small group of officials, including an Executive Council comprising Colonial Secretary Willoughby Shortland, Colonial Treasurer George Cooper and Attorney-General Francis Fisher. The Legislative Council comprised the above officials and three Justices of the Peace. [6.]

Colonial Treasurer George Cooper "was among those who travelled with the 'Primary Waitangi sheet'. Signing of this sheet began on the 6th of February 1840. By 4th March 1840 the sheet was so cluttered that Cooper as colonial treasurer and Captain Nias of the Herald had an extra sheet of parchment added at the bottom." [5.] This treaty established the British presence in New Zealand and led to many subsequent arguments about how the text was understood by each side and how it should be interpreted in modern times. He was himself a witness and signatory on the 6th of March 1840 on board HMS Herald moored in the Waitemata Harbour, the harbour of what is now the city of Auckland [2.].

"Cooper did not stay long in the job. In March he went back to Sydney on 'personal business', and it was only Gibbs' inability to find a competent replacement for New Zealand that led him returning there in the middle of the year, with the desire to assure himself of a pension probably an incentive.[ref. 6]” [9.].

He moved to the new capital, Auckland, in February [probably 1841 -ed] (a fortnight after the 13th) on the government brig Victoria [4.]. There he purchased, or already owned, land in what is now St George's Bay in Auckland, which still bears his name. "This was originally known as Cooper’s Bay, ... then George’s Bay, and finally St George’s Bay. St George’s Bay Road led down to the shoreline where remnants of the early cliff survive. The Maori name for the area is Waiataikehu or waiakehu, ‘waters of Taikehu’. St George’s Bay was cut off from the sea in 1920 and then reclaimed." [3] His ownership of the land brought with it some trouble with local Maori, through no direct fault of his own. "Ngati Paoa sold a large block of land in [nearby -ed] Kohimarama to the crown and were promised in return a piece of land on the left bank of the Tamaki river. This they wanted in order to have a base from which to trade with the township of Auckland. Presumably impatient, Ngati Paoa squated on unoccupied land in St George's Bay which George Cooper had bought at a Crown auction. He then pressed the colonial secretary to award the tribe a vacant allotment (Lot 89) in the same bay to bring this 'trespass' on his land to an end.” [4.]

After returning from Sydney “He stayed another two years, long enough to participate in the move to Auckland and the establishment of the government offices on the high ground above the waterfront, where Emily Place to this day memorialises his wife. He was accused of embezzlement but became insolvent - presumably the latter precluded the former.[ref. 7.]" [9.].

Once Hobson became governor and commander in chief on 3 May 1841, he had direct control of the governance of New Zealand, now a separate colony. Among Hobson's obstacles were the lengthy time it took to communicate with England and “He was further handicapped by the inferior advice of his Executive and Legislative councils. Shortland, the colonial secretary, was brusque, tactless and incompetent. George Cooper, the colonial treasurer, was even more unsatisfactory.” [7.].


Name Birth Death
Children of George and Emily

Charles Cooper

Catherine Emily Cooper

Abbey Cooper

George Sisson Cooper (1825-1898) 1825
Wellington, New Zealand


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