Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Cope (1852–1933)

by Peter Burness

This article was published:

William Cope (1852-1933), solicitor, soldier and pastoralist, was born on 26 June 1852 at Windsor, New South Wales, eldest son of London-born Joseph Cope, pastoralist, and his native-born wife Mary Ann, née Parnell. He was educated privately and at Sydney Grammar School. In October 1869 he was articled to H. B. Bradley and was admitted as a solicitor on 19 December 1874. He was briefly in partnership with William Smith in 1878, and in 1883-99 practised with Frederic Hart King at 14 Castlereagh Street as Cope & King.

A notable horseman and sportsman, Cope was captain of the Sydney Rowing Club for many years and was master of the Sydney Hunt Club in 1890-94. In 1893 riding Criterion he won the Intercolonial Hunt Club Steeplechase at the club's meeting at Randwick. In 1885 Cope had enlisted as a private in the New South Wales contingent to the Sudan. Soon after landing at Suakin on 29 March, he was commissioned temporary lieutenant and appointed transport officer. He took part in the advance on Tamai Wells and returned with the contingent in June.

On 12 February 1900 Cope was commissioned lieutenant in the New South Wales Citizen's Bushmen's Contingent and on the 28th left with 'A' Squadron for the South African War; before sailing, at a special Randwick race meeting he won the Commandeer Welter Plate on Uproar, wearing full uniform. Disembarking at Beira, Portuguese East Africa, he took part in operations in the Mafeking area and later at the relief of Rustenberg, entering the town on 7 July. In August he was present at the Eland's River post when it was besieged for thirteen days until relieved by Lord Kitchener on 15 August. Early in the action Cope was responsible for siting some of the main defensive positions. However, 'he was never very regimental in his orders. Usually one would hear, “Get mounted, boys”'. He later suffered an eye injury and on 27 September was invalided to Australia. In 1901 he transferred to the reserve of officers with the rank of honorary captain, and to the retired list in 1907.

On his return to Sydney, Cope founded and became senior partner of Cope & Co. at his old premises until the firm moved to Bligh Street in 1924. In 1914 he was in London as solicitor for the appellants, (Sir) Arthur Cocks and others, in the 'Government House case'. When World War I broke out he was rejected for active service. Until December 1914 he was attached to the French Red Cross, when he joined the Australian Voluntary Hospital at Wimereux, near Boulogne, France, as transport officer and censor. From August 1916 until September 1917 as assistant commissioner for the Australian Comforts Fund he was attached to the 1st Australian Division in France and Flanders. Until he was demobilized in June 1918 he worked with the French Red Cross, was attached to the French 43rd Chasseur Regiment and was awarded the Croix de Guerre for helping wounded near Ingelmunster, Belgium.

Although Cope returned to his practice in Sydney, he also extended his long-held pastoral interests: in New South Wales he grew wheat at Calala, and bred Percherons, sheep and cattle at Cana and Allendale, near Werris Creek, and in Queensland owned Dagworth and Banchory stations and with Donald Macintyre controlled the management of others. A bachelor, he lived at the Union Club when in Sydney.

Cope died in Quirindi District Hospital on 24 September 1933 and was buried in St Thomas's Church of England cemetery, North Sydney. His estate was valued for probate at £199,564; included in the bequests were flora and fauna, war service and charitable organizations.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Defence Department, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1912)
  • S. H. Bowden (ed), The History of the Australian Comforts Fund (Syd, 1922)
  • S. Brogden, The Sudan Contingent (Melb, 1943)
  • R. L. Wallace, The Australians at the Boer War (Canb, 1976)
  • New South Wales State Reports, 13 (1913), 295
  • Commonwealth Law Reports, 16 (1914), 404
  • Reveille (Sydney), 1 Nov 1933
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Sept 1933, 21 Feb 1934.

Citation details

Peter Burness, 'Cope, William (1852–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 25 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


26 June, 1852
Windsor, New South Wales, Australia


24 September, 1933 (aged 81)
Quirindi, New South Wales, Australia

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