Kentish’s Cryptic Grave:
Who was ‘Coope’?

In the older section of the Sheffield General Cemetery, a weather-beaten double grave has a one-word inscription engraved into its concrete edging. It is the word ‘Coope’.  No dates, no details. What mysterious story lurks behind this short cryptic inscription?  Well, it turns out that James Coope was oldest resident of Paradise when he died at his home on 9 October 1907, aged 87 years. His death was not unexpected because he had been ailing for some time. Two days later, Rev. R Williamson buried him in the Sheffield cemetery, and on the following Sunday afternoon conducted his well-attended memorial service in the Paradise Baptist Church. This short summary of Coope’s life could well have ended here, but digging a little deeper, the following remarkable love story, and subsequent sad circumstances, emerges about this forgotten Paradise pioneer.

James Coope was born at New Mills, Derbyshire (30 miles directly west of Sheffield, England) on 12 September 1820. He served his apprenticeship to become a nursery and seedsman at Hyde, Cheshire. Moving to Balford he met a young lady named Diana Whiteacre, who would later become his wife, but the course of true love did not run smoothly. Diana had a brother serving with a British foot regiment in Nova Scotia, Canada, where their company sergeant was a cruel tyrant. On two separate occasions several soldiers deserted, but both times were re-captured and severely punished. Upon returning to England, these soldiers, including Diana’s brother, were ‘tried for desertion’ and sentenced to transportation to VDL. When the Diana heard this news, she determined to follow her brother and set sail on a ship bound for Sydney. Not to be deprived of his lady’s love, young James Coope (21) followed her on the next available boat. On 9 September 9, 1841 he sailed aboard the 503-ton barque Nabob, arriving in Sydney on 22 February 1842. This small vessel had a very rough and protracted voyage of six months, being dis-masted several times. She carried 500 emigrants, and upon reaching Sydney, reported 8 births and 16 deaths.

Searching for His Lost Love

After searching Sydney for his ladylove for a whole month without success, Coope concluded that Diana must have left the colony. During his voyage out to Australia, a fellow passenger Felton Matthews enroute to New Zealand to take up a position of first Surveyor General, had offered Coope the job of nurseryman to landscape his personal property and care for his gardens. A disappointed Coope now agreed to take this job and joined Mr Matthews as they sailed from Sydney aboard the 121-ton schooner Deborah on 26 March 1842. While walking the deck, Coope noticed three young women seated on a hatchway, and on passing them, one sprang up and cried, ‘James, is that you?’ He stared at her and to his astonishment discovered it was Diana, his lost ladylove. Upon arriving in Sydney, Diana had become ill, developed a fever and spent the time in hospital, where the prevailing custom was to, cut off all her hair. Of course, there was much to talk about. To his further amazement, James discovered Diana was contracted to be housekeeper to Mrs Sarah Matthews, the wife of the same gentleman who hired him as gardener. They arrived in Auckland on 5 April 1842.

Nuptials in New Zealand

It was barely two years since the first white settlers arrived in Auckland. It was just a small settlement with the first permanent buildings only now beginning to be erected. Governor Hobson had just arrived, bringing with him his first prefabricated Government House. It had been constructed in England and shipped in sections, ready to be re-erected. The new arrivals found food was scarce in the colony. There was no yeast, so people lived on unleavened bread. There were no sheep or cattle in the colony, only pigs, which rummaged around the settlement. There were only two horses, both belonging to Felton Matthews. They were too light for bush clearing, so were only used for riding. However, when he obtained a plough, James Coope became the first man to use a plough in Auckland. Likewise, after a visiting sea captain gave Matthews a few potatoes, Coope planted the first crop of potatoes grown in New Zealand. James had many exciting experiences working with the local Maoris; on one occasion narrowly escaping being tattooed by them. He was only saved through the kindness of a chief’s daughter, who showed him a path that led back to Auckland. James, having picked up a good deal of the Maori language, was used as an interpreter whenever a native was put on trial.

Before the end of 1842, James Coope married Diana Whiteacre, both aged 22. Their license had to be obtained from Sydney at a cost of £25. There was no church building in Auckland and the first Anglican clergyman Rev. John Churton lived five miles away, along a very rough road. Starting for his house in good time, James & Diana found the road so bad that James had to remove his boots and socks three times to carry his bride through long, slushy bogs. The bridle couple arrived five minutes to Noon. In those days people had to marry before mid-day, so the minister’s wife took pity on them and stopped the clock, allowing the ceremony to conclude before the clock struck twelve. At the end of one year, Felton & Sarah Matthews wanted James & Diana Coope to stay on, and offered them 500 acres, but the Coopes declined, wanting to find Diana’s brother. The newly-weds sailed back aboard the schooner Thomas Lord to Sydney.

Coope’s Destiny in VDL

Learning that Diana’s brother was living in Launceston, the Coopes then boarded the 149-ton brig William bound for the Tamar River. There they discovered him working as a ticket-of-leave convict for Dr William Pugh, who was about to become the first doctor in Australia to use an anaesthetic to perform a medical operation. Dr Pugh owned a small hospital in Balfour Street where James and Diana’s first child Esther Elizabeth Coope was born on 9 August 1843.

After a short time working as an overseer on a farming estate at Evandale, James Coope   purchased his own farm at Upper Nile. Here James & Diana had three additional children: Arthur b1848, Ellen b1850, and Grace b1852. Because of the Victorian Gold Rush, Tasmanian farm produce was selling at such good prices that in April 1856, Coope was able to buy a much better farm at a place called The Cocked Hat (now Breadalbane), near the Launceston Airport. For the first 12 months, James became licensee of the famous Woolpack Inn, then settled down to breed Merino sheep. In May 1861 James and Diana visited Melbourne for two weeks. This was obviously connected to Diana’s health, for seven months later, on 26 December 1861, ‘after a long and painful illness’ Diana passed away from heart disease aged 41. At their Cocked Hat property, James Coope was now left with their four children: Esther (18), Arthur (13), Ellen (11) and Grace (9).

Only eleven months after Diana died, the Coope family bravely moved on. On 1 November 1862, eldest daughter Esther Coope (19) married Thomas Stancombe (28) of Glendessery estate, Evandale, and on 29 November 1862 James Coope (41) himself married Matilda Millington (22) in the Baptist Chapel, York St, Launceston. Sadly, James’ second marriage only brought added grief. Their baby daughter Harriet only lived 10 months, and two years later Matilda died of consumption.

New Start on the West Tamar

On 24 December 1869, when James Coope (48) married his third wife Hannah Wimble (39) at Stancombe’s Glendessery estate, Evandale, he was determined to make a fresh start. They purchased a large apple orchard at Rowella, West Tamar, where their only child of his third marriage, Florence Marion Coope, was born in 1871. From James’s first family, two more children, Arthur Coope and Grace Coope, both married in 1873.  Esther, whose marriage was mentioned earlier, now had five children, but sadly on Christmas Eve 1875, she died aged 32, like her mother, of heart disease. Ellen became Post Mistress at Deloraine where aged 38 she married local widower, James Bennett (70).

In the early 1880s, James & Hannah Coope moved to Sidmouth, West Tamar, where James became chairman of the local School Board. In October 1887 James’ only child from this third marriage, Florence Coope (16), married Lewis Newman (26) – eldest son of Thomas Newman, Bay View, East Tamar. The newly wed Newmans also settled at Sidmouth, where their first 3 sons were born: Lewis Thomas Newman b1889, Henry Wimble Newman b1892, and Ernest Walter Newman b1894.

Coopes & Newmans of Paradise

Now with these three sons, Lewis & Florence (Coope) Newman decided to buy their own farm. Leaving Florence’s parents at Sidmouth, the Newmans purchased a property at the top end of Paradise in 1894. It was the last farm before descending the steep decline to the Minnow River. Despite being hilly country, it was good soil. They called it Wimbleton after Hannah’s mother. Here Lewis & Florence had two more sons: Edward John Newman b1896 and Claude James Newman b1898, and finally a daughter: Florence Hannah Newman b1899. Twice in the big bushfires of 1898 and 1913, the Newmans lost all outbuildings, fences and crops, yet managed to save their homestead. Others were less fortunate.

James & Hannah Coope also moved from Sidmouth, ultimately buying a farm at Lower Beulah for a couple of years, before purchasing a property in Paradise adjacent to the Newmans along Harland Rise Road in 1899. Here our adventurous old colonial pioneer James Coope spent his last seven years of his life, dying on 9 November 1907, aged 87 years. His widow Hannah Coope continued to live there for a further decade, then with her only daughter Florence Newman.     The Newmans were a very musical family, Florence having bought her own piano to Paradise. As the children grew, they dominated local concerts and social events held in both the school and the church. When the Paradise Baptist Church opened in 1905, Mrs Florence Newman became both organist and choir director, while Lewis Newman served on the Kentish Road Trust between 1903-1908.

Newman’s WW1 Casualties

In April 1914, Lewis’ 3rd son Ernest Newman (20) enlisted in World War I and was transported to Egypt. Thirteen months later, on 29 May 1915, his Paradise parents received word that on 23 May, Ernest was killed in action. The letter that followed explained, ‘while manning a trench at Gallipoli, he was shot through the right side of the head. He suffered no pain, nor did he speak after being hit and died half an hour later.’

Their 2nd son Henry Newman (24) enrolled on 7 November 1916. Six months later, his parents were advised that Henry had been wounded in action, having been shot in his left thigh and right leg, and was now in hospital in England. He spent two years recovering but was well enough to return home after the war on 17 February 1919. The Sheffield railmotor made a special trip to Railton to meet ‘the troop train’ and convey five returning service men back to Sheffield. They were Privates Sharman, Charleston, Maxwell, Crawley, and Henry Newman. As these five khaki-clad soldiers stepped off the railmotor at Sheffield, the welcoming crowd erupted with loud cheering and the local band playing Home Sweet Home. After a brief speech, the returned soldiers were driven in a cavalcade of private motor cars up to the Caledonian Hotel, where Mrs Maddox served them a substantial meal. More ‘welcome home’ speeches, then each returned soldier was chauffeured to his home in a new locally owned motor car. Henry Newman was granted a War Service loan to take over his late grandfather James Coope’s farm along Harland Rise Road. He married Maude Strawberry of Vinegar Hill but was not a well man. For years to come Henry spent months at a time receiving special treatment for his leg in the military hospital in Hobart.

Farewell to Paradise:

In June 1921 there was a big farewell in the Paradise Baptist church, when all the Newman family except Henry & Maude Newman sold out and moved to Harold St, Devonport. With them went Florence’s 91-year-old mother. She died in Devonport on 16 Apr 1928 at the great age of 98 and was buried beside her illustrious husband in the Sheffield cemetery. While this seems to close the romantic story and colonial adventures of James & Hannah mysteriously concealed by the one-word Coope on their grave, it didn’t end their amazing musical talents which reappear in their offspring.

Henry & Maud Newman continued farming his grandfather’s Paradise property where their two children Ken and Rennie were born. Later Henry & Maud took over Maud’s father Edwin Strawberry’s farm at Fairview, 39 Vinegar Hill Rd. From an early age, Rennie Newman began to display the musical giftedness of her great grandmother Coope. Born 1925 in Paradise, Rennie has had a stellar career as a music teacher, spanning almost 70 years –  first at Sheffield, then Devonport, where she dominated the music scene for decades. Rennie led her own group, the Renae Singers, for 40 years. In 1996, Mrs Rennie (Newman) Herbert was awarded the OAM, and still lives quietly in Devonport in her 94th year. For many decades she regularly returned to Sheffield each year to play for the Anzac service held in the Town Hall.

Next Time: Treacherous Travelling for Early Settlers