Thomas Thornville Cooper

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Thomas Thornville Cooper

Thomas Thornville Cooper (1839–1878) was an English traveller in China, and later a political agent in Burma.


Early life

The eighth son of John Ibbetson Cooper, a coalfitter and shipowner, he was born on 13 September 1839, at Bishopwearmouth, County Durham. He was educated at the Grange School there, under James Cowan. He was then sent to a tutor in Sussex, where his health failed. [1] [2]

Bishopwearmouth human settlement in United Kingdom

Bishopwearmouth is an area in Sunderland, North East England.

County Durham County of England

County Durham is a county in North East England. The county town is Durham, a cathedral city. The largest settlement is Darlington, closely followed by Hartlepool, Billingham and Stockton-on-Tees. It borders Tyne and Wear to the north east, Northumberland to the north, Cumbria to the west and North Yorkshire to the south. The county's historic boundaries stretch between the rivers Tyne and Tees, thus including places such as Gateshead, Jarrow, South Shields and Sunderland.

Sussex historic county in South East England

Sussex, from the Old English Sūþsēaxe, is a historic county in South East England corresponding roughly in area to the ancient Kingdom of Sussex. It is bounded to the west by Hampshire, north by Surrey, northeast by Kent, south by the English Channel, and divided for many purposes into the ceremonial counties of West Sussex and East Sussex. Brighton and Hove, though part of East Sussex, was made a unitary authority in 1997, and as such, is administered independently of the rest of East Sussex. Brighton and Hove was granted City status in 2000. Until then, Chichester was Sussex's only city.

Cooper was advised to take a voyage to Australia. There he made journeys into the outback. In 1859 he went to India, and worked in Madras, in the house of Arbuthnot & Co. In 1861 he left his appointment, and went to Sindh on a visit to a brother who was living there. The following year, he visited Bombay, and moved in by way of Beypore and Madras to Burma. At Rangoon he studied the Burmese language. [2]

Outback Area in Australia

The Outback is the vast, remote interior of Australia. "The Outback" is more remote than those areas named "the bush", which include any location outside the main urban areas.

Sindh Province in Pakistan

Sindh is one of the four provinces of Pakistan, in the southeast of the country, and the historical home of the Sindhi people. Sindh is the third largest province of Pakistan by area, and second largest province by population after Punjab. Sindh is bordered by Balochistan province to the west, and Punjab province to the north. Sindh also borders the Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan to the east, and Arabian Sea to the south. Sindh's landscape consists mostly of alluvial plains flanking the Indus River, the Thar desert in the eastern portion of the province closest to the border with India, and the Kirthar Mountains in the western part of Sindh.

Beypore city in Kerala, India

Beypore or Beypur is an ancient port town and a locality town in Kozhikode district in the state of Kerala, India. The place was formerly known as Vaypura / Vadaparappanad. Tippu Sultan, ruler of Mysore, named the town "Sultan Pattanam". There is a marina and a beach while Beypore port is one of the oldest ports in Kerala, which historically traded with the Middle East. Beypore is noted for building wooden ships, known as dhows or urus in the Malayalam language. These ships were usually bought by Arab merchants for trading and fishing but are now used as tourist ships. According to Captain Iwata, founder member of the Association of Sumerian ships in Japan, Sumerian ships might have been built in Beypore. There is evidence to prove that Beypore had direct trade links with Mesopotamia and was a prominent link on the maritime silk route.

In China

In 1863 Cooper took ship to rejoin his brother, who was now at Shanghai. He became involved with the Shanghai volunteers of the Taiping Rebellion. When it ended, the opening up of China to foreign commerce proceeded. In 1868 Cooper, at the invitation of the Shanghai chamber of commerce, tried to travel through Tibet to India. On 4 January he left Hankou and travelled by way of Chengdu, Kangding, and Litang to Batang. From this point he had hoped to reach Rima on the Lohit River, over the Hengduan Mountains watershed, in eight days. [2]

Shanghai Municipality in Peoples Republic of China

Shanghai is one of the four municipalities of the People's Republic of China. Located on the southern estuary of the Yangtze with a population of 24.2 million as of 2018, it is the most populous urban area in China, and the second most populous city proper in the world. Shanghai is a global financial, innovation and technology, and transportation hub, with the world's busiest container port.

Taiping Rebellion Rebellion in Qing dynasty China

The Taiping Rebellion, which is also known as the Taiping Civil War or the Taiping Revolution, was a massive rebellion or civil war that was waged in China from 1850 to 1864 between the established Manchu-led Qing dynasty and the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom.

Hankou part of Wuhan

Hankou, formerly romanized as Hankow (Hangkow), was one of the three towns whose merging formed modern-day Wuhan city, the capital of the Hubei province, China. It stands north of the Han and Yangtze Rivers where the Han flows into the Yangtze. Hankou is connected by bridges to its triplet sister towns Hanyang and Wuchang.

The Chinese authorities then intervened, forbidding Cooper to continue westwards. He therefore decided to take the Dali City route to Bhamo. [2] It involved at that time traversing the Panthay kingdom, the site of a Muslim insurgency, with its capital at Dali. [1] [3]

Dali City County-level city in Yunnan, Peoples Republic of China

Dali City, formerly known as Tali, is the county-level seat of the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture in northwestern Yunnan. Dali City is administered through 12 township-level districts, two of which are also commonly referred to as Dali.

Bhamo Place in Kachin State, Myanmar

Not to be confused with Banmauk

Cooper therefore struck southwards, following the valley of the Lancang Jiang and reached Zegu on its western bank. This was the most westerly point that had been explored by Westerners starting from China, in the region of the major rivers north of Bhamo. Here he was within a hundred miles of Manchi (Mangkyi), then in Hkamti Long, a Shan state. It is on the N'Mai River, and had been visited by the military surveyor Richard Wilcox, from India, in 1826. [2]

Mangkyi Place in Kachin State, Burma

Mangkyi is a village in Hsawlaw Township in Myitkyina District in the Kachin State of north-eastern Burma.

Hkamti Long one of the outlying Shan states

Hkamti Long was a Shan state in what is today Burma. It was an outlying territory, located by the Mali River, north of Myitkyina District, away from the main Shan State area in present-day Kachin State. The main town was Putao.

Shan people ethnic group

The Shan are a Tai ethnic group of Southeast Asia. The Shan live primarily in the Shan State of Burma (Myanmar), but also inhabit parts of Mandalay Region, Kachin State, and Kayin State, and in adjacent regions of China, Laos, Assam and Thailand. Though no reliable census has been taken in Burma since 1935, the Shan are estimated to number 4–6 million, with CIA Factbook giving an estimate of five million spread throughout Myanmar.

Still continuing his journey southwards, Cooper arrived at Weixi City, nearly due west of Lijiang, where he obtained passports for Dali City. At a distance of three days' journey from Weixi, however, he was stopped by a local chief, who refused to allow him to proceed. He was compelled, therefore, to return to Weixi, where he was imprisoned and threatened with death by the civil authorities: he was suspected of being in touch with the Panthay rebels. For five weeks he was kept prisoner, and was then (6 August) allowed to depart. [2]

Lijiang Prefecture-level city in Yunnan, Peoples Republic of China

Lijiang is a prefecture-level city in the northwest of Yunnan province, China. It has an area of 21,219 square kilometres (8,193 sq mi) and had a population of 1,244,769 at the 2010 census whom 211,151 lived in the built-up area (metro) made up of Gucheng District. Lijiang is famous for its UNESCO Heritage Site, the Old Town of Lijiang. A Light Rail project is underway to link the different touristic parts of the city.

Cooper then returned to Ya'an, and travelled down the Min River to Yibin, on the Yangzi River. He descended the Yangzi to Hankou, where he arrived on 11 November 1868. He shortly returned to England. [2]

1869 expedition

Having failed to reach India from China, Cooper attempted in 1869 to reverse the process, and to enter China from Assam. On this journey he left Sadiya in October of that year, and passing up the line of the Brahmaputra, through the Mishmi country, reached Prun, a village about twenty miles from Rima. Here he again met with such determined opposition from the authorities, that he was obliged to turn back. [2]

Later career and death

Shortly after his return to England, Cooper was appointed by the India Office to accompany the Panthay mission which had visited London to the frontier of Yunnan. On arriving at Rangoon, however, he learned that the rebellion had been crushed, and his mission was therefore at an end. Lord Northbrook appointed him political agent at Bhamo. Ill-health then obliged him to return almost immediately to England, where he was attached to the political department of the India Office. [2]

In 1876 Cooper was sent to India with despatches and presents to the viceroy in connection with the imperial durbar of Delhi, and was subsequently reappointed political agent at Bhamo. While there (1877) he welcomed William Gill, author of River of Golden Sand, after his journey through China. [2]

Cooper was murdered on 24 April 1878 at Bamo by a sepoy of his guard, over a grudge. [2]



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Bickers, Robert. "Cooper, Thomas Thornville". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/6234.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1887). "Cooper, Thomas Thornville"  . Dictionary of National Biography . 12. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  3. The Annual Register of World Events: A Review of the Year. Longmans, Green. 1874. p. 256.

Wikisource-logo.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain :  Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1887). "Cooper, Thomas Thornville". Dictionary of National Biography . 12. London: Smith, Elder & Co.

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