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G.S. Cooper and Cooper Street

This is an article by Beryl Hughes from The Stockade, Volume 34, 2001, p30-32.

Cooper Street lies in the heart of Karori at the edge of Section 36, the first part of Karori to be settled by Europeans. The street was formed from land owned by George Sisson Cooper and sold after his death. The sections cut from his land were auctioned by Harcourt and Company on 27 January 1903. Readers of Karori Streets will recall the plan of the new subdivision with the nearby shops in what is now Marsden Village. The family residence and grounds are shown in the plan in the northwest corner adjoining the main road. House and grounds were advertised for sale but were not sold at this time. Not surprisingly, the new street was named after the former owner of the land.

But who was George Sisson Cooper? He was born in Northern Ireland in 1825, son of another George Cooper who emigrated to New South Wales and worked in the Controller’s Office there. George Cooper senior moved with his son George Sisson Cooper to New Zealand in 1840, arriving on the Herald with William Hobson. He was a signatory to the Treaty of Waitangi and was appointed Collector and then Treasurer and Receiver-General but later returned to New South Wales. His young son G.S. Cooper remained here.

George Sisson Cooper was obviously a young man of talent. His career began in the Colonial Secretary’s office in 1841. Three years later, at the age of 19, he became secretary to Governor Fitzroy and in 1846 was appointed secretary to Governor Grey. In 1852 his career took a new turn when he was appointed Inspector of Police and Native Officer in New Plymouth. Two years later he was made sub-commissioner for the purchase of native lands in Taranaki and district commissioner for Wairarapa and Hawke’s Bay. He lived in Hawke’s Bay for some years and for a short time was magistrate in Waipukurau. In 1868 he was appointed under-secretary of the native department in 1869 he became, in addition, under-secretary of defence. The variety of positions he held is surely testimony to his talents.

Cooper’s appointment in 1870 to the very high position of colonial under-secretary was the pinnacle of his career. The obituary in the Evening Post for 16 August 1898, the day of his death, spoke very warmly of his qualities: his integrity, his brilliant work in the varied branches of the public service and his unfailing courtesy. It was said of him that "few men have better understood the native character" while "in fewer still had there so continuously been reposed the unwavering trust of the Maori race".

In 1858 at St James’ Church, Lower Hutt, Cooper married a daughter of Daniel Riddiford. She had been born at sea in November 1839 on the family’s voyage to New Zealand. They were have five sons and four daughters.

Cooper acquired a five acre block of land in Karori, adjoining land owned by his wife’s family, and on a date that is hard to establish, built a house numbered 185 Karori Road and named ‘Markree’. No building permit for the house has survived; possibly it was among the many official records lost when Karori ceased to be a borough and merged with the city. The house was a substantial one and since G.S. Cooper was an important and influential man and his wife was well-connected it is likely that they entertained members of leading families there.

Long after Cooper’s death, Marsden School was established in Karori in 1926, when the Anglican diocese of Wellington accepted a generous offer from members of the Riddiford family to give five acres of land on condition that the diocese establish a school for girls on the land. The offer was accepted and the Fitzherbert School for Girls in Thorndon was relocated to Karori and renamed the Samuel Marsden Collegiate School. The Cooper house was only yards away from the school and seemed to the school board to satisfy the need for more accommodation. The board tried to persuade Mrs Cooper to lease the house but she was not interested in leasing. Finally she agreed to sell the house for £5000 but it was not until after her death in 1928 that the school took possession of the house the following year. It was renamed Innes House after E.S. Innes, a member of the school board. It has been used for a variety of purposes, including accommodation, as an art department, a hostel for teaching staff and tutorial rooms for senior students.

So Innes House and Cooper Street remain as memorials to a distinguished member of the New Zealand public service.

I am indebted to John Cooper of The Terrace, Wellington, for lending me materials relating to his grandfather, G.S. Cooper. My thanks are also due to Rosalba Finnerty, Marsden School archivist, for material on Innes House.


Chapman, William C.; Wood, Katherine M.1991. Karori Streets 1841 to 1991. Wellington, The Karori Historical Society. p. 18-19.