Political Biographies of the Mayors of Portsmouth (1836-1900)

MAYORALTY: November 9th 1836-1837.
PREVIOUSLY MAYOR: September 29th. 1827-1828. January 10th 1833. On death of mayor Shugar.
FIRST ELECTED TO COUNCIL: December 26th 1835
WARD: St Paul
FIRST ELECTED ALDERMAN: December 31st 1835
OTHER CIVIC POSITIONS HELD: Magistrate. Coroner March 8th 1843.
RESIDENCE: No 4 Landport Terrace.
DECEASED: 22nd June 1846.
BURIED: Unitarian Chapel, High Street
Another member of the ancien regime Cooper served twice as mayor prior to 1836 and was made a burgess in September 1828. He was also an alderman being elected in 1826. As a surgeon he shared a practice with future mayor George J. Scale from premises in Union Road, Portsea. He is described by W.G. Gates as a noted 'Reformer' in an age when such a policy was not universally popular.
William Cooper would be the first full term mayor to be elected under the 1835 Act but still the new borough council seemed reluctant to throw off the mantle of the old. At the electoral meeting of November 1836 Cllr Law stood proposing Alderman Cooper be elected mayor adding that it was just that a representative of the out-wards be chosen. On this basis Alderman Cooper was elected unopposed. (1)
The new borough was scarcely a year old than it was in financial trouble. The borough's major expenditure was on Law and Order (prisons and policing etc.) The borough's main form of income came from the rates, supplemented by wharfage dues and town rents. At the February council meeting the mayor had to report a short fall in the budget. The reason being that 200.00 in rates had not yet been collected - all of it from Portsea - and the borough had nothing in reserve. The Overseers were responsible for collection of the rates and the mayor had to remind them that distraint action could be taken against them personally if the tax was not remitted. (2)
It had previously been decided that a new Market House and Guildhall was required by the borough. The date set for the laying of the foundation stone was May 24th - the 18th birthday of the young Princess Victoria. At the council meeting of the 22nd May it was decided that the mayor and Corporation should attend fully robed. The ceremony was a grand affair. Councillors walked in procession led by the band of the Royal Marines followed by the local Police who carried long ornamented staves. (3) The building was erected by Voller, Wells and Chalkey costing 4,500. and was officially opened in 1838.
On the 20th June King William IVth died. There would have to be a General Election - the first for the new borough under the Reform Act of 1832. Electoral fever gripped Portsmouth, voting registers had to be checked, and the mayor would have to appear on the Hustings to declare the result. The election was held in July and in the event two Liberals - John Bonham Carter and Francis T. Baring were returned in a four way contest.
Development of the Camber Docks appeared to be a promising financial enterprise. Royal Navy apart Portsmouth, as a commercial port, had considerable trade with the continent. It also had problems. Firstly, lack of space, docks, wharves and quays, for ships to unload etc. This meant that in many instances cargoes had to be put into lighters and rowed ashore - with all the inconveniences this entails. But the council realised the potential. It was argued that the Camber, with just the simple removal of mud, would be an ideal spot to build just such a docks. It could be seen that Southampton, and Gosport to a degree, were sucking the trade away from Portsmouth and at the same time reaping the benefits of landing tolls. However, the council, lacked the financial resources for such an enterprise. A commercial firm stepped in and initially Langstone Harbour was considered. Nothing immediately came of this but mayor Cooper was by no means the last to be involved with the Camber Dock project. At the end of his term Cooper was accorded a vote of thanks for the able manner in which he had handled council business - this became traditional for all subsequent mayors.
On the 3rd March 1843 Cooper was elected Coroner for the Borough. He nevertheless retained his Aldermanic status on the council until his death c22nd June 1846.
1. Hampshire Telegraph, 14th November 1836.
2. Hampshire Telegraph, 13th February 1837.
3. Hampshire Telegraph, 29th May 1837 and 'City of Portsmouth Corporation Records 1835-1927.' W.G. Gates.
Norman Gordon