(Alfred) John Cooper (1930-1998) was born in Sydney and educated at Christian Brothers College, Manly, and the University of New England. His career was spent in the field of arts administration. He served as state administrator and director of the Arts Council of New South Wales, as chairman of the New South Wales Opera Council, and secretary of the Professional Drama Council. He was associated with the Australia Council as director of its Entrepreneurial Program, the International Program and the Special Services Program.

John Cooper had a lifelong interest in religions and taught courses in Hinduism, Buddhism, the Gnostic tradition and Indian thought. In 1987 he gained a Master of Arts degree at the University of Sydney with a thesis entitled ‘The Theosophical crisis in Australia: the story of the break-up of the Theosophical Society in Sydney from 1913-1923’. Shortly before his death, he completed his doctoral thesis on the letters of H.P. Blavatsky.

After his retirement Cooper and his wife bought a farm near Bega. It was here that he developed his great library and archives. He had travelled widely as a lecturer on Theosophy and invariably returned with books and documents. He was also helped by fellow-scholars throughout the world.


Shirley Cooper, the wife of John Cooper, donated the collection to the Library under the Cultural Gifts Program in 2004.


Printed materials

The collection contains 3874 books and pamphlets and 251 serials. The books fall into the following categories:

  1. Theosophy, 1851-1997
  2. Indian philosophy and religion, 1794-1996/li>
  3. Comparative religion, 1792-1997
  4. Esoteric, 1878-1997
  5. Buddhism, 1908-1997
  6. Krishnamurti, 1910-1996
  7. Helena Blavatsky, 1823-1997
  8. Zen, 1874-1991
  9. Tibet, 1879-1996
  10. Yoga, 1930-90
  11. Liberal Catholic Church, 1904-90
  12. Reference, 1949-97

The Theosophical books, about 1500 in total, include works of Annie Besant, C.W. Leadbetter, G.S. Arundale, Krishnamurti, Helena Blavatsky, William Judge, C. Jinarajadasa and Katherine Tingley. Other writers represented in the collection are Marie Byles, C.J. Jinarajadasa, Alice Bailey, Mircea Elaide, Geoffrey Hodson, A.P. Sinnett, Rudolf Steiner, Aleister Crowley, Dervla Murphy, Kathleen Raine, Colin Wilson and W.B. Yeats.

The serials, dating from 1979-1998, were mostly published in Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and India, but there are also publications from many other countries.

Manuscripts and personal papers

These include correspondence, manuscripts, notebooks, photographs, photocopies of articles, reference files, circulars, newsletters and other publications. The principal subjects are the history of Theosophy in Australia, the lives of Helena Blavatsky and Krishnamurti, the Liberal Catholic Church in Sydney, and Theosophical history generally. There is a small amount of material relating to the Australia Council and arts festivals.


The books in the Cooper Collection have been kept together as a collection, while the serials have been integrated into the general serials collection. The books have been individually catalogued; the call numbers have the prefix COOP. A 399-page listing of the books and serials is available via the catalogue.

The manuscripts and papers in the Cooper Collection are housed in the Manuscripts Collection at MS Acc02/113


Gosling, Andrew, Connecting Asia and Australia, National Library of Australia News, vol. 16 (4), January 2006, pp. 14-17

Jackson, Philip, Historian’s Theosophy collection acquired, Gateways, no. 57, June 2002, p. 1

Tillett, Gregory, John Cooper: obituary, Theosophical History, vol. 7 (4), Oct. 1998, pp 120-26

First posted 2008 (revised 2019)