He was born on 21 October 1859, the son of weaver Allen Copley of Park Gate, Berry Brow, and his wife Lucy Ann (née Shaw), and was baptised on 27 May 1860 at St. Paul, Armitage Bridge, at the same time as his older sister Mary Jane.
By 1881, his father had become a barber and the census of that year lists Samuel William as an assistant barber.
He immigrated to Australia in 1885 and worked as a barber in Victoria and Melbourne, before settling in Fremantle in 1888 where he worked for two years. He then travelled to Perth where he established a finance business and speculatively purchased land which later became the Highgate suburb of the city. Further land purchases included 730 acres on the outskirts of the city (now the suburb of Mount Lawley), 40,000 acres of grazing land and 300 acres of "first-class vineyard". Another notable purchase was 60,000 acres of land at Baker's Hill which Copley named the "Berry Brow Estate".
On a return visit to London, he married Henrietta Maude Marguerite Sands, daughter of Richard Sands of Brighton, on 13 August 1897 at St. Andrew, Holburn. The couple had four children, including twin boys:
He returned to England for health reasons in 1914 and settled in London, where he formed the Western Australia Insurance Company (now Domestic & General) and the Atlas Insurance Company, as well as a silk factory on the Thames and a birdseed factory at Camberwell.
By now a multi-millionaire, he acted as the middleman in the purchase of the Ramsden Estate for £1,300,000 in October 1919. Huddersfield Corporation were keen to buy the estate from Sir John Frecheville Ramsden, but required an Act of Parliament to do so. Not wishing to delay and risk someone else buying the land, Copley readily agreed to make the purchase and to then sell the estate to the Corporation as soon as their finances were in place. Initially it had been agreed to cover Copley's costs, but in the end he waived that in favour of requesting that the Corporation make use his insurance company for a period of 21 years.
Samuel William Copley died on 4 November 1937 at Deacons Hill, Elstree, Hertfordshore, leaving an estate valued at £39,089 3s. 6d., having previously transferred most of his assets to Copley's Bank Limited.
In obituary articles, it was noted:
Early in his career he made rigid rules for himself in business, and kept them. He lived on six shillings a week and worked 16 hours a day. He would not smoke in business hours.
His widow died on 11 June 1947 at Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire, and was buried with her husband at Elstree Parish Church on 14 June.
A blue plaque on his birthplace reads: