Born 1821 in Staffordshire, England, Captain Cooper joined the Hudson's Bay Company in 1844. Prior to being appointed Commander of the Mary Dare in 1846, he served on the Vancouver and the Cowlitz, and later served as Master of the Columbia and Supercargo of the Tory respectively. He had been personally recommended by Governor James Douglas for his familiarity with the waters around the West Coast.
According to HBC records, he is believed to have gone to California after 1876, an escape which may have been precipitated by a turn towards discontment with the Hudson's Bay Company. After unsuccessfully attempting to establish a saw mill on Vancouver Island, Cooper tried his hand as a settler, building an iron schooner and going into business trading. Douglas, who was not pleased with this new competition, started a price war after Cooper was elected to be a council member for Vancouver Island. Decidedly distressed but not discouraged, Cooper moved to Sooke and established a 300-acre farm. Unfortunately, financial troubles forced him back to England in 1857. Armed with his growing hatred for the HBC and Governor Douglas, Cooper happily testified against his former employer before a committee from the British House of Commons.
Though the enquiry did not amount to much due to lack of evidence, disdain between Cooper and Douglas was firmly established. At the suggestion that Cooper become Harbour Master of Esquimalt, Douglas protested but was not successful in his campaign. In 1860, Cooper was elected to the Legislative Assembly as a Reformer, so Douglas transferred him to New Westminster. Cooper resigned his seat with displeasure, collected eighteen months’ salary, and returned to Victoria to purchase the Beehive Hotel. In time, Cooper gained meaningful employment again as the marine agent for British Columbia but, by 1876, his success in this position was viewed with suspicion and he was charged on allegations of illegitimate sources of income.