Agnes Cowper (1874-1963) Politics and Protest

Although there is no mention in her autobiography, A Backward Glance on Merseyside, of any political action taken by Agnes Cowper herself, her brother John S. Cowper became a somewhat political figure. After John had married, he and his wife emigrated to Toronto in 1901 when he was aged of twenty five. He had many talents including the ability to speak several languages like his father, he worked as a carpenter when out of a job and he was also a keen and successful writer.


In Canada, John worked at the Toronto Globe from 1905 to 1910 and then became editor for the Prince Rupert Daily News in 1911. During his time as editor John met a lawyer called Alex Manson and was encouraged by Alex to join the Liberal Party. John went on to run for the provincial legislature seat in 1916 but John was not renominated in 1920 due to his ‘maverick behaviour’. However, whilst a member of the Liberal Party, John became a member of the 14th Parliament of British Columbia, as an elected representative for Vancouver.  It is believed that John blamed his friend Alex for his rejection by party members and their friendship was never the same again.

John was a charismatic yet outspoken and opinionated man. When he began working for Vancouver’s Saturday Tribune in 1924 this was reflected in his work as he enjoyed writing big headlines. His work was humorous and bold and contributed to the success of the magazine. Although, at this stage in his life John was no longer actively involved in politics he remained interested in the Liberal Party and was a sort after guest to many social gatherings.

A relatively famous event in John’s life was his involvement in The Janet Smith Case. John believed strongly in justice and during 1924-25 he became enthralled in The Janet Smith Case. John believed that the murder of Janet Smith had been a cover up to protect members of the establishment. Many of his articles in the Saturday Tribune were dedicated to this case in which he spoke against his old friend, defence attorney Alex Mason and his firm.

John had developed a keen interest in the occult and had researched how clairvoyants had previously helped to solve crimes. This led to him contacting and meeting Barbara Orford, a clairvoyant who claimed to have had visions of the death of Janet Smith. John helped Barbara to write articles for the Glasgow Sunday Mail but her stories soon became extreme and eventually John needed to accept that she had lied to him on several occasions. Through his interest in The Janet Smith Case, John had been driven by his enthusiasm for the occult, his drive to discredit his old friend Alex Mason and an eagerness to be acknowledged as a credible research journalist. 

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