COOPER, Robert Bransby (1762-1845), of Furney Hill, Dursley, Glos. and 60 Jermyn Street, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 21 Feb. 1762, 1st s. of Rev. Samuel Cooper, rect. of Morley and Yelverton, Norf., and Maria Susanna, da. and h. of James Bransby of Shottisham, Norf. educ. at home;1 Trinity Coll. Camb. 1778; L. Inn 1780. m. 6 May 1784, Anne, da. and h. of William Purnell of Dursley, 2s. 2da. suc. fa. 1800. d. 10 May 1845.
Capt. Dursley vol. cav. 1800, 1803.
Cooper, one of an old Norfolk family who combined staunch Anglican affiliations with literary pretensions, was granted administration of his father’s estate, which was sworn under £10,000.2 Long settled in Gloucestershire through marriage, he had unsuccessfully contested Gloucester at a by-election in 1816 backed by the 6th duke of Beaufort and the local True Blue Club against the Whig corporation, and in 1818 had been returned in second place between two Whigs.3 At the 1820 general election he was returned unopposed with his colleague Webb, after declaring his ‘inviolable attachment to the church of England ... [and] loyalty to the crown’, his ‘inclination to support the measures of ministers’ and his desire to promote the ‘moral improvement’ of the people.4
He was a fairly regular attender who gave general support to Lord Liverpool’s government and occasionally spoke in debate. He divided against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820. He voted in defence of ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb., and against Catholic claims, 28 Feb. 1821. He divided with government on the state of the revenue, 9 Mar., and against repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., and army economies, 11 Apr., but was in the minority for omitting arrears from the duke of Clarence’s grant, 18 June. He voted against the disfranchisement of ordnance officials, 12 Apr., and Russell’s reform resolutions, 9 May. He divided for the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 23 May. He was credited with stating that he would oppose the poor relief bill, 2 July 1821.5 He voted against more extensive tax reductions, 11, 21 Feb., and repeal of the salt duties, 28 June, but was in the opposition majority for abolishing one of the joint-postmasterships, 2 May 1822. He divided against removing Catholic peers’ disabilities, 30 Apr. He objected to the poor removal bill unless it was ‘remodelled’, 31 May. He read a document in defence of the magistrates responsible for Ilchester gaol, but was inaudible, 5 June.6 He voted against inquiries into Irish tithes, 19 June, and the lord advocate’s conduct towards the Scottish press, 25 June, and for the aliens bill, 19 July 1822. He supported a Gloucester petition for an insolvent debtors bill, contending that ‘the present law required very considerable alterations’, 17 Feb. 1823.7 He divided against tax reductions, 3 Mar., and inquiry into the currency, 12 June. He voted against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., Scottish parliamentary reform, 2 June, and inquiry into delays in chancery, 5 June. He was in the minority for recommitting the silk bill, 9 June, and supported the beer duties bill, 17 June 1823.8 He seconded the motion against the second reading of the usury laws repeal bill, 16 Feb. 1824, arguing that it was ‘much better that the interest of money should be regulated by the present laws, than that all those salutary provisions should be swept away’; he was a minority teller. He voted against the bill, 27 Feb., and said on 8 Apr. that none of the arguments put forward had changed his opinion and hoped ‘the House was not so firmly attached to the principles of unrestricted freedom in trade as ... to be ready to bow down before their favourite idol’; he was a minority teller against going into committee. He divided against the motion for information on Catholic office-holders, 19 Feb. He presented a Gloucester petition for a small debts recovery bill, 2 Mar., and one from the boot and shoemakers against the combination laws, 11 Mar.9 He voted against the abolition of flogging in the army, 5 Mar. He presented anti-slavery petitions from Gloucester and a Gloucestershire parish, 11, 15 Mar.,10 but voted against the motion condemning the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June. He ‘said a few words in support’ of a London wool-dealers’ petition for relief, 22 Mar.11 He defended the new churches bill as ‘the best means of assisting the national church’ by remedying the ‘want of accommodation which tended to wean so many from the established church and fill the congregations of the Dissenters’, 4 June. He divided for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June 1824. He again voted against the usury laws repeal bill, 17 Feb. 1825. He divided for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb., and against Catholic claims, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, remarking that he could not see how a Catholic could conscientiously take an oath ‘which went to the abjuration of some of the main doctrines of his religion’, 6 May. He voted against the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. He spoke in favour of the Severn Valley railway bill, 28 Apr.12 He voted for the financial provision for the duke of Cumberland, 30 May, 2, 6, 10 June. He supported the grant for repairing the cobb and harbour at Lyme Regis, 3 June, explaining that ‘his life had been preserved by the shelter which this port afforded him and his family in a severe storm’.13 He divided for the spring guns bill, 21 June 1825. At the general election of 1826 a threatened contest at Gloucester did not materialize and Cooper was returned unopposed with Webb, declaring that he considered it his ‘duty to uphold the existing government except in such measures as appear to me evidently detrimental to the public good’, and defending the corn laws and ‘the Protestant Ascendancy in church and state’.14
He was a majority teller against adjourning the debate on private bills, 15 Feb. 1827. He proposed an additional resolution to prevent the ‘manifestly unjust and mischievous’ practice of Members voting on committees to which they had not been appointed, 20 Feb.; this was agreed. He divided against Catholic claims, 6 Mar. He voted for the Clarence annuity bill, 16 Mar., and the spring guns bill, 23 Mar., and with Canning’s ministry for the grant to improve water communications in Canada, 12 June 1827. He divided against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and presented a hostile petition from the dean and chapter of Gloucester, 14 Mar. 1828, when he expressed the hope that if repeal was enacted some substitute for the sacramental test might be found to protect the established church. He questioned a witness in the committee on the East Retford disfranchisement bill, 7 Mar. He opposed an amendment to the lunatics regulation bill to prevent professional persons from acting as commissioners of inquiry into institutions with which they were connected, 17 Mar. He voted with the Wellington ministry against the motion condemning delays in chancery, 24 Apr., and ordnance reductions, 4 July. On the offences against the person bill, 5 May, he argued that juries in rape trials should be allowed to consider both rape and attempted rape charges in each case. He divided against Catholic claims, 12 May 1828. In February 1829 Planta, the patronage secretary, listed him as being ‘opposed to the principle’ of Catholic emancipation. He was indeed ‘overwhelmed with astonishment’ at ministers’ volte face on this issue, 13 Feb. He acknowledged the sincerity of Peel’s motives but maintained that no sufficient cause had been established for conceding emancipation, when Ireland was still governable ‘by the exertion of legal authority’, that if the principle of Protestant exclusivity was abandoned ‘the constitution may be considered as at an end’ and that the notion of securities was ‘completely vain and illusory’. He presented numerous anti-Catholic petitions in February and March and voted accordingly, 6, 18, 23, 27, 30 Mar. He divided against the Maynooth grant, 22 May. He presented a Royal College of Surgeons’ petition for modification of the anatomy bill, 8 May, and a week later moved an instruction to the select committee to consider repealing the law allowing the bodies of murderers to be given over for dissection; he was defeated by 40-8, acting as a minority teller. That day he expressed approval of friendly societies, ‘because they combine the selfish with the social principles and enable men to take care of their friends and neighbours, as well as of themselves’, but thought the bill to regulate them could be improved. He voted to reduce the additional grant for the sculpture of Marble Arch, 25 May 1829. Addressing the Gloucester True Blue Club, 4 Feb. 1830, he reaffirmed his ‘unabated determination to uphold the Protestant institutions of the country’ and declared that while he was ‘still disposed to vote with ... ministers on all occasions which were consistent with the dictates of his conscience’, he would do so ‘in the character of virtuous independence’.15 He moved to allow the appointment of additional members to private bill committees on special application to the House, which was agreed, 8 Feb. He voted against the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., Lord Blandford’s reform scheme, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. However, he stated on 5 Mar. that he favoured enlarging East Retford’s boundaries and urged ministers to take the reform question into their own hands and ‘extend the franchise to our large and mercantile towns, getting rid of our depopulated boroughs without waiting until the subject is forced upon them’; ‘some improvement in the representation’ was ‘now becoming obviously necessary’. He welcomed the ministerial statement on tax reductions, which offered ‘some degree of relief’, 16 Mar. He divided against Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May. He favoured the ‘principle ... of competition’ embodied in the sale of beer bill, 4 May, but was opposed to allowing unrestricted consumption on the premises, which was ‘opening a door to immorality’, and voted accordingly, 21 June, 1 July. He divided for the grant for South American missions and against abolishing the death penalty for forgery, 7 June 1830. At the general election that summer he offered again for Gloucester, apparently after some hesitation, but explained in his address that ‘a paramount sense of duty to myself and family must preclude my engaging in any personal expense’ and that he therefore rested his hopes solely upon the electors’ ‘disinterested exertions’. He duly came bottom of the poll by a wide margin, but indicated in his parting address that if an early vacancy occurred he was still willing to champion the True Blue cause. At a subsequent dinner given by his supporters, he said he was proud to ‘proclaim myself a Tory, but the charge of ultra Toryism I disclaim’.16
In February 1831 Cooper told the True Blue Club that he wished Lord Grey’s ministry success, but trusted that any ‘practical reform’ would ‘preserve inviolate the ancient rights of the aristocracy and the throne’.17 He did not attempt to regain his seat but was instrumental with Lord Ellenborough and others in founding a True Blue Club for Gloucestershire early in 1832.18 In keeping with family tradition, he published several pamphlets on theological subjects in the 1820s and 1830s, and he was ‘distinguished for his extensive Christian benevolence’.19 He applied to Peel in 1842 for ‘a place under government’, explaining that his brother’s death had deprived him of two-thirds of his income and that ‘having long ago rendered my sons independent’ by depleting his own fortune, he was now ‘reduced to considerable difficulties’; the reply was discouraging.20 He died in May 1845 and administration of his estate was granted to his eldest son, Purnell Bransby Purnell (1791-1866), who had changed his name by royal licence in 1805 after inheriting the Purnell estates through his mother.21
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Terry Jenkins
- 1. B. Cooper, Sir Astley Cooper, i. 23.
- 2. PROB 6/176.
- 3. G. Goodman, ‘Pre-Reform Elections in Gloucester City, 1789-1831’, Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. Trans. lxxxiv. (1965), 148-51.
- 4. Gloucester Jnl. 28 Feb., 13 Mar. 1820.
- 5. The Times, 3 July 1821.
- 6. Ibid. 1, 6 June 1822.
- 7. Ibid. 18 Feb. 1823.
- 8. Ibid. 18 June 1823.
- 9. Ibid. 3, 12 Mar. 1824.
- 10. Ibid. 12, 16 Mar. 1824.
- 11. Ibid. 23 Mar. 1824.
- 12. Ibid. 29 Apr. 1825.
- 13. Ibid. 4 June 1825.
- 14. Gloucester Jnl. 5, 12 June 1826.
- 15. Ibid. 6 Feb. 1830.
- 16. Ibid. 3, 10, 24, 31 July, 7, 21 Aug. 1830.
- 17. Ibid. 12 Feb. 1831.
- 18. Ibid. 28 Apr. 1832; Three Diaries, 172-3.
- 19. W.R. Williams, Parl. Hist. Glos. 213.
- 20. Add. 40501, ff. 125-7.
- 21. PROB 6/221.