b. 1825 Plymouth, Devon. d. 15/07/1893 Torpoint, Cornwall.
Henry Cooper (1825-1893) was born in Plymouth, Devon in 1825. Entering the Royal Navy in 1841, aged 16, he would serve as a Boatswain for 23 years, and received at different times, several gallantry awards including the Victoria Cross, Legion of Honour, Black Sea, Turkish and Baltic Medals, with clasps for Sebastopol and the Sea of Azoff.
Prior to the Crimean War, he had been engaged in some exciting adventures in other areas of the world. In 1848, while serving on the “Philomel” under Commander Wood, he was engaged in an action against a pirate slaver on the West Coast of Africa. The boat was riddled with grapeshot and one man was killed and nine others wounded. The result was that the slaver was captured and her crew made prisoners.
Cooper then transferred to the HMS Miranda, and on its embarking for the Crimea from Plymouth, an explosion occurred and a crew member called John Selvey was thrown overboard. Cooper immediately jumped in after him, and succeeded in keeping him afloat until another boat rescued them both. Selvey’s had lost both his hands and was unable to swim. In 1854, Cooper was involved in the destruction of Kola, the capital of Russian Lapland, and also the destruction of Salonika. He was also present in the assault on the fort of Arabat on 28th May 1855. The fort, which had 30 guns, was captured and the magazine was blown up.
Cooper was involved the following day in the mission to destroy corn stores and equipment at Genitchi (an action which led to the award of VC’s to Hugh Burgoyne and John Robarts), but Cooper’s own award of the VC came about for his actions on 3rd June 1855, when he was under the command of Lieutenant Cecil Buckley, when they landed at Taganrog and fired the stores, the Government buildings and the shipping in the town containing 3,000 Russian troops.
Cooper and Buckley were both gazetted for the VC on 24th February 1857. Cooper was also mentioned in despatches for his actions during a night attack on Sebastopol on 6th June 1855, when he carried the mortally wounded Captain Lyons out of the range of the enemy guns. He was also the first man to plant the British colours on the enemy’s ground following the assault. Cooper received his VC from Queen Victoria on 26th June 1857 at Hyde Park.
Following his retirement from the Royal Navy in 1864, he returned to the South West, and lived quiety in Tor Point, Cornwall where he was a well-regarded local resident. He died on Saturday, 15th July 1893, at the age of 68, following a short illness. He was buried in Antony Churchyard, Langdon Cross, Cornwall. On 29th November 1907, at an auction at Sotheby’s, his medals were purchased for £70 by Mr Baldwin, of Concannon Street. Cooper’s medals are now in the Ashcroft Collection, and displayed in the Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM.
BURIAL PLACE: ANTONY CHURCHYARD, LANGDON CROSS, CORNWALL.
Henry Cooper's medals including VC on display at Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London (August 2014).