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Saturday, 24 March 2012


It’s been a while since I wrote about anyone called Austin Cooper – there are dozens of them in my Cooper tree, all taking their name from the celebrated 17th century founder of the Irish family dynasty.

Austin Cooper (1759-1830), father of Rev Austin Cooper (1804-1871), grandfather of Austin Damer Cooper (1831-1900) and great grandfather of Austin Nathaniel Cooper (1853-1898)

Austin Nathaniel Cooper’s father, grandfather and great grandfather all bore the name, although sadly ANC was the last of his particular Cooper line – his only child, a daughter, died in infancy. Austin died at the early age of 44, outlived by his father, and to be honest I don’t know much about his life. But I have been able to find more than the one widely recorded professional position which he held.

Austin Nathaniel Cooper, born 9th December 1853,married late in life. On 6th October 1893, just ahead of his 40th birthday he wed Mary Thom of Tamworth. Their only daughter died two years later on 20th November 1895, and Austin himself passed away less than three years after that on 11th July 1898.

The Royal College of Surgeons, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin

The British Medical Journal of 12th August 1882 reports that Austin was one of 30 gentlemen who, “at the Court of Examiners, held on Monday July 24th and following days, … having passed their final examinations for the letters testimonial, and having made the declaration and signed the roll, were admitted licentiates” of the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin.

He was 28. He went into medical practice, we know, because on 29th March 1890 he is recorded as a doctor, arriving in Southampton on board the RMS Don from Buenos Ayres. The Don, formerly the SS Corcouado, was a 2400 ton ship built for the Royal Mail in 1875. It plied between Britain and South America, the West Indies and the Portuguese coast for 30 years. (Her 1890 trip from the River Plate back home was her last under Captain P. Rowsell. Was he the same Captain Rowsell who lost his life a year later when he was the last man making for shore from the Royal Mail Steamer Moselle, wrecked off Panama, from which he had heroically and safely evacuated all its passengers and crew?)

Austin Nathan Cooper on the passenger list of the RMS Don, 1890
Age 40 an exaggeration! Single, and a Doctor in Medicine

I don't know whether or not he was the ship’s doctor. (I notice that James Leeson, next on the list, is “ditto.”) But it would make sense, if he was, of his later position – Surgeon to the Great Southern and Western Railway Company of Ireland.

The GSWR ran the Dublin-Cork and Dublin-Waterford lines and operated a chain of railway hotels too. The name was preserved when, with the emergence of the Irish Free State, all the railway companies operating south of the border with Northern Ireland were amalgamated in 1924 under the banner Great Southern Railways. Much of the GSWR’s network survives as part of Iarnród Eirann’s Intercity network today.

The arms of the Great Southern and Western Railways Company

It may seem strange for a railway company to employ a surgeon, but in the days before a National Health Service it made sense for employers to take an active interest in the health of their staff. Although I can find no references to GSWR’s need for Austin’s skills (thank goodness!), there was a landmark case during his lifetime involving the GSWR which set a precedent for health in law. In Byrne v The Great Southern and Western Railway (1884), courts took their first tentative steps towards the recognition, and the evaluation, of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which had previously been regarded as too intangible for law or the medical profession to assess and value.

As usual an ancestral story raises as many questions as it answers. I’m afraid I don’t know the details of poor Byrne’s suffering. I don’t know what caused Austin’s early death. Who was his travelling companion and fellow doctor James Leeson? And what became of his wife Mary? What became of Captain Rowsell? Sometimes the interconnectedness of all things drives me mad!


  1. Mary Kate THOM married Austin Nathaniel Cooper 1892 Tamworth(b1872 Tamworth, d 1905 Sydney).
    Their Daughter Mary C Cooper was born 1895 Sydney, died 1895 Tamworth
    Nathaniel died on 10/07/1898 from a cerebral haemorrhage at Cleveland St,REFERN in SYDNEY NSW.

  2. Hi, Unknown, and thanks for your information. (I have been meaning to correct Thorn to THOM for some time! Done it at last thanks to you.) If you want to get in touch privately to compare notes, you can do so via my website -


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