William James Cooper, 2x Great Grandfather & Career Soldier – Part 2: Early Military Service & Dispatch To Canada

So, we now know that William James Cooper was a Londoner. We have his birth & baptism records and we have him in the 1841 census. Later census’s proved very elusive for a time, so I’m going to leave them for now. What we do know, because it’s all written in his son William John Cooper’s Montreal baptism record, was that William James was a soldier in the British Army – a corporal in the 30th Regiment of Foot – and he is married to a lady called Annie, nee Balham (or Ballam).

How I’m writing here wasn’t necessarily the order of how things fell into place. As Dad had already done some research, I had a head start. So, for my own research, I started with what I knew from Dad’s research. We already knew the names of his parents and his birth & baptism details. We knew that he was married to Annie Ballam and we knew he was a soldier and a Londoner. I think my own order of discovery, once I joined Ancestry, was the 1841 census first, followed by birth & baptism records. Military records were found some time later on Find My Past. It was then some time again before the remaining census’s were found. And as you will see if you are following this blog, there are still questions unanswered and census’s missing.

Dad has William James’s bible back in NZ. Inside it is written the names of all of his children. So we have a head start there also. We know that he & Annie had 7 sons:

William John Cooper (b.1867), Charles Wallace Cooper (b.1869), Mervin Edward Cooper (b.1873), Adam Alexander Cooper (b.1875), Thomas George Cooper (b.1877), Richard Ernest Cooper (b.1881) & James Robinson Cooper (b.1884).

It was about this time that I was contacted by 2 ladies, one who is a direct descendant of William James (through Charles Wallace Cooper b.1869) and one who is married to her brother. I am completely taken back when they supply me with a photograph of him. This is the first and so far only photo I know of.

Meet William James Cooper:

3.5)Sargt W.J. Cooper, 30th Regt.

It’s written that he is a sergeant in the photo. There is a date written on the bottom right, which reads 9th Oct 1875. On that date, William was stationed in Burnley, and he was indeed a sergeant then.

Below is a photo I have of some soldiers of the 30th Regiment of Foot on a sleigh in Montreal. I’m presuming they were there when William was there. This photo gives a clearer view of their uniforms and hats – the same hat William is wearing. I don’t think any of them are William. It would be a fluke if one of them was!

Solders of 30th Regt of Foot, Montreal cropped

William’s Military papers provide more information on his enlistment and army life:

The enlistment process appears to have taken several days. First, he has enlisted in the 30th Regiment of Foot on the 1st August 1860, at Westminster (at 4pm). William is a resident of Clerkenwell. His occupation on enlistment is a cleaner he is unmarried. He has initially signed up for 10 years, aged (apparently) 21 at the time. He’s 5 foot 5 and a half inches tall, of fresh complexion with grey eyes & brown hair.  He passes medical inspection on the 2nd in somewhere in London.

It’s not until the 3rd that he takes the oath, at Westminster Police Court, London (at 10 o’clock) and is officially ‘in’ – Private #643, 30th Regiment of Foot. He has enlisted for a bounty of £2 and free kit.

He is re-examined at “Parkhurst, I W”, on the 9th August, and considered fit.

So, William is at Parkhurst Barracks, Isle of Wight. This will help out with the 1861 census search.

This is a photo of Albany Barracks, Isle of Wight. Albany was formally know as Parkhurst.

Albany Barracks, WJC was at Parkhurst

And so to the 1861 census. It took a while to find this one, but eventually it showed itself. Although, I was still missing the 1851 census at this point. In the actual census page, William appears mid page among a long line of soldiers, still at Parkhurst. I’ve moved him to the top for ease of reading.

William James Cooper 1861 Census,1

In 1861, the 30th Regiment of Foot was transferred to Montreal, Canada, increasing Britain’s military presence there following the Trent Affair.

They departed from Liverpool 25th June 1861 on board the SS Great Eastern. This lithograph from the London Illustrated News shows the 30th Regiment boarding. It must have been quite a sight – and quite a ship.

30th foot embark at Liverpool

The below photograph by William Notman, from the Musee McCord (McCord Museum) database, shows the SS Great Eastern at Quebec City in 1861. This may have been on the very journey when William arrived in Canada.

SS Great Eastern docked at Quebec

When I start searching for things like marriages, it’s my usual practice to estimate the marriage year at around about the same time as the earliest known child was born. However, in this case, we already knew when William & Annie were married due to prior research by Dad. But if I hadn’t known that, I would have gone by the date of that first born child, in this case with William John Cooper, born in 1867, using this as the approximate year of marriage, give or take a few.

William James Cooper b.1839, 1866 Marriage,2

Roughly translated, that reads: “On the tenth day of March one thousand eight hundred and sixty six William James Cooper bachelor of the city of Montreal and Annie Ballam, spinster, same place, were married…”

Further searches will reveal that Annie’s father is Mervin Ballam, a Jail Guard in Montreal. I’m not sure which prison Mervin was a guard in, but the only results I find when I search for Montreal Prisons of that time is the Pied-du-Courant Prison, which was be built between 1832 and 1836. I am not sure on the following, but I believe I have read somewhere that the 30th Foot may have been stationed at or nearby to the prison for a time. I can’t remember where I read that, but I’m sure I’ve seen it somewhere. So anyway, that may explain how William & Annie met – if Mervin was a jail guard where William was stationed. Just a theory…

The 30th Foot were later involved in repelling the Fenian raids. The Fenian raids were a series of attacks made on British forts in Canada between 1866 & 1871 by the United States based Fenian Brotherhood. The purpose of the attacks was to apply pressure on Britain to withdraw from Ireland. There were 5 raids of note and they were all repelled by the British Army and various militia units. According to William’s records, he wasn’t involved in any full on wars as such, but he may have seen some action here.

William was promoted to Corporal on the 22 May 1867, in Montreal.

The 30th Foot remained in Montreal until 1st June 1869. We know that second son, Charles Wallace Cooper (not my Grandfather, this is the other CWC) was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia on the 1st May 1869. Just what William and family were there for is unknown. Maybe he was stationed there? Maybe he was on leave?

The 30th Foot was then posted to Ireland in 1869, Jersey in 1871 (this may explain why I can’t find William James in the 1871 census) & England in 1872, which will be the subject of the next post.


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