The mayor who might have murdered people

Scandal haunted this city mayor who might have been a murderer and more. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.

Before his political career began, the mayor was a prolific publican who flaunted the licensing laws. In fact, he ignored the law altogether.

He was strangely on the spot to drag a body out of the Brisbane River.

His father-in-law suffered a traumatic head injury.

His brother-in-law also suffered a shocking head injury.

He accidentally jumped off the Bremer Bridge.

He was declared insolvent.

And serious allegations made against him were never really addressed.

His name is James Cooper, he was mayor of Ipswich in 1909, and scandal always seemed just a moment away.

James Cooper

Cooper’s pubs included the Unity Hotel, National Hotel, and Imperial Hotel. He was fined in all of them for breaching the licensing laws, and at the National for selling grog when he didn’t have a license at all. His Imperial Hotel is now the Cecil Hotel in North Ipswich which you can go visit today.

The original Imperial Hotel

In 1880, Cooper was a farmer at Kholo, Ipswich, when he was ‘Jonny on the spot’ to drag the body of a neighbouring farmer Eion Davidson from the Brisbane River. Highly decorated constable James Geraghty arrived but the only finding was that the farmer had drowned while trying to swim his horse across the river. All of the farm stock and produce was auctioned at presumably knock-down prices.

Constable James Geraghty

In 1881, Cooper and his father-in-law William Clegg were out riding near Fernvale when Clegg fell off his horse. Cooper inexplicably waited two-and-a-half hours a before going for help. In the meantime, the father-in-law was too far gone and died.

Despite Cooper’s wife being one of at least four siblings, she then inherited her father’s entire estate.

Maybe it’s not significant, but just three months before he was killed, Clegg was on the jury which convicted two men of perjury. This was a conspiracy which had bolstered the police prosecutor’s case in a North Ipswich sly grog selling case.

Four years after the father-in-law’s death, in 1885 Cooper’s 23-year-old brother-in-law William Clegg Jnr was also killed with a traumatic blow to the head. The brother-in-law had only been married a few days when a log fell on his head and crushed him at Hancock’s mill in North Ipswich.

Hancock’s mill

In 1886, Cooper was elected as an alderman on the Ipswich council for the first time. Shortly afterwards he ‘accidentally’ jumped off the Bremmer Bridge (see top picture) from a moving train. There were rumours that his foot had to be amputated. The rumours proved untrue, but how anyone could accidentally jump off a bridge was never properly explained.

In 1890, Cooper was declared insolvent. Maybe his mounting debts had something to do with the bridge accident, suggested that he was either jumped or was pushed.

Despite all this trouble and all sorts of allegations, Cooper was elected as an Ipswich alderman for a second time in 1903. His crowning glory came in 1909 when he was unanimously elected the mayor of Ipswich.

Cooper’s legal troubles then came to an end, but one can’t help wondering about the 1881 death of his father-in-law and how his wife inherited the lot.


Photo credits:
Bremer River Rail Bridge, Ipswich, Queensland c1908 – State Library of Queensland.
James Cooper, Mayor of Ipswich 1909 – Ipswich City Council.
Hotel Cecil 2022 – Google Maps.
Sub-Inspector James Geraghty 1903 – Queensland Police Museum.
Hancock’s sawmill, North Ipswich 1895 – Queensland Times, 24th January 1895, Pictorial Supplement.


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