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Cooper Henley (c. 1753–1788)

Cooper Henley (c.1753-1788), a weaver, was found guilty on 8 March 1783 at Salisbury, England, of a highway robbery that netted £1. His death sentence was commuted to 7 years transportation to America. He was among the prisoners who mutinied on the convict transport Mercury in April 1784. Recaptured, he was sent to the Dunkirk hulk in June 1784. He was discharged to the Friendship in March 1787 and arrived in Sydney in January 1788 as part of the First Fleet.

Henley was sent with a party of marines to gather wild vegetables and sweet tea at Botany Bay on 21 August 1788. He was killed by Aboriginal people when he strayed away from the marines. David Collins wrote that Henley had been:

'looked upon as a good man, (no complaint having been made of him since his landing, either for dishonesty or idleness,) having gone out with an armed party to procure vegetables at Botany Bay, straggled from them, though repeatedly cautioned against it, and was killed by the natives. On the return of the soldiers from the bay, he was found lying dead in the path, his head beat to a jelly, a spear driven through it, another through his body, and one arm broken. Some people were immediately sent out to bury him; and in the course of the month the parties who went by the spot for vegetables three times reported that his body was above ground, having been, it was supposed, torn up by the natives' dogs. This poor wretch furnished another instance of the consequences that attended a disobedience of orders which had been purposely given to prevent these accidents; and as nothing of the kind was known to happen, but where a neglect and contempt of all order was first shewn, every misfortune of the kind might be attributed, not to the manners and disposition of the natives, but to the obstinacy and ignorance of our people.'.

* information from Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet (1989), p 171

Citation details

'Henley, Cooper (c. 1753–1788)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 June 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Handy, Cooper
  • Hendly, Cooper
  • Hanbey, Cooper

c. 1753
Yorkshire, England


21 October, 1788 (aged ~ 35)
Botany, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

spear wounds

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Passenger Ship
Key Events
Key Places
Convict Record

Crime: highway robbery
Sentence: 7 years