Executed for murder, August 26th, 1750
THIS man was the son of a butcher at Lexton, in Essex; and his father, who had wholly neglected his education, employed him in his own business when he was only ten years of age. Having lived with his father till he was twenty-two, he then married, and opened a shop at Colchester, where he dealt largely as a butcher, and likewise became a cattle-jobber.
At the end of thirteen years, Cooper, through neglect, found his losses so considerable that he could no longer carry on business; and, one of his creditors arresting him, he was thrown into the King's-Bench prison; but, as his wife still carried on trade, he was enabled to purchase the rules. Soon after this, the marshal of the King's Bench dying, he was obliged to pay for the rules a second time.
He now sued for an allowance of the groats; and they were paid him for about a year, when, through neglect of payment, he got out of prison, and took a shop in the Mint, Southwark, where he carried on his business with some success, his wife maintaining the family in. the country.
[The groats: By 23d George II. debtors, after being a certain time in prison, might claim the benefit therein imposed upon the plaintiff in the suit on which they were confined; being fourpence (a groat) per day; and in default of any one weekly instalment they were entitled to their discharge; but the expense of moving the Court to this end was generally too great for the prisoner to bear.]
At length he was arrested by another creditor, and waited two years for the benefit of an act of insolvency. On his going to Guildford, to take the benefit of the act, he found that the marshal had not inserted his name in the list with those of the other prisoners; and, having informed his creditor of this circumstance, the marshal was obliged to pay debt and costs, the debtor was discharged, and the marshal fined one hundred pounds for his neglect.
Cooper having now obtained his liberty, and his wife dying about the same time, and leaving four children, he sent for them to London; and, not long afterwards, married a widow, who had an equal number of children.
He now, unfortunately, got acquainted with Duncalf and Burrell, the former a notorious thief, and the latter a soldier in the guards; and these men advising him to commence robber, he fatally complied with their solicitations; and the following is an account of a number of robberies which they committed.
Between Stockwell and Clapham they overtook two men, one of whom, speaking of the probability of being attacked by footpads, drew a knife, and swore he would kill any man who should presume to molest them. The parties all drank together on the road, and then proceeded towards London, when Cooper threw down the man who was armed with the knife, and took it from him, and then robbed him and his acquaintance of a watch, about twenty shillings, and their handkerchiefs.
Their next robbery was on Mr. James, a tailor, whom they stopped on the road to Dulwich, and took from him his watch and money. He gave an immediate alarm, which occasioned a pursuit; but the thieves effected their escape. Two of the three robbers wearing soldiers' clothes, Mr. James presumed that they were of the guards; and, going to the Parade in St. James's park, he fixed on two soldiers as the parties who had robbed him.
As it happened that these men had been to Dulwich about the time that the robbery had been committed, they were sent to prison, and brought to trial; but were acquitted.
The accomplices in iniquity being in waiting for prey near Bromley, Duncalf saw a gentleman riding along the road; and, kneeling down, he seized the bridle, and obliged him to quit his horse, when the others robbed him of his watch and two guineas and a half.
Meeting soon afterwards with a man and woman on one horse, near Farnborough, in Kent, they ordered them to quit the horse, robbed them of near forty shillings, and then permitted them to pursue their journey. Soon after the commission of this robbery they heard the voices of a number of people who were in pursuit of them: on which Cooper turned about, and they passed him, but seized on Burrell, one of them exclaiming 'This is one of the rogues that just robbed my brother and sister!'
On this Burrell fired a pistol into the air, to intimidate the pursuers, among whom were two soldiers, whom Duncalf and Cooper encountering at this instant, one of them was so dangerously wounded by his own sword, which Duncalf wrested from his hand, that be was sent as an invalid to Chelsea, where he finished his life.
The brother of the parties robbed, and a countryman, contested the matter with the thieves, till the former was thrown on the ground, where Burrell beat him so violently that he died on tile spot. The robbers now took their way to London , where they arrived without being pursued.
Cooper and Duncalf, the latter being provided with a bag, went once to a farm-house, and stole all the fowls that were at roost; and Duncalf saying, 'The first man we meet must buy my chickens,' they had not travelled far before they met with a man whom they asked to buy the fowls. He said he did not want any; but they seized his horse's bridle, knocked him down, and robbed him of above twelve pounds, with his hat and wig, watch and great coat.
On one of their walks towards Camberwell they met a man of fortune, named Ellish, whose servant was lighting him home from a club. Putting pistols to the gentleman's breast, his servant attempted to defend him; on which they knocked him down with a bludgeon; and the master still hesitating to deliver, they threw him to the ground, and robbed him of his money, watch, and other articles; and, tying him and his servant back to back, threw them into a ditch, where they lay in a helpless manner till a casual passenger released them from their disagreeable situation.
The villains now returned towards London. In their way, meeting a man with a sack of stolen venison, they robbed him of his great coat and thirty-six shillings; and, a few nights afterwards, they robbed a man of a few shillings on the Hammersmith road, and destroyed a lantern which he carried, that be should not be able to make any pursuit after them.
On their return home they met a man on horseback, whom they would have robbed; but, turning his horse suddenly, he rode to Kensington turnpike, and gave an alarm, while the thieves got through a hedge, and concealed themselves in a field. In the interim, the man they had robbed of a few shillings brought a number of people to take the thieves; but, not finding them, though within their hearing, the man went towards his home alone; but the rogues, pursuing him, took a stick from him, and beat him severely for attempting to raise the country on them.
Immediately afterwards they hastened towards Brompton, and stopped a gentleman, whom they robbed of his watch and money. The gentleman had a dog, which flew at the thieves; but Cooper, coaxing the animal into good humour, immediately killed him.
Their next expedition was to Paddington, where they concealed themselves behind a hedge, till, observing two persons on horseback, they robbed them of their watches, great coats, and twelve guineas; and though an immediate alarm was given, and many persons pursued them, they escaped over the fields as far as Hampstead Heath, and came from thence to London.
Soon afterwards they stopped a gentleman between Kingsland and Stoke Newington, who whipped Duncalf so that he must have yielded, but that Cooper at the instant struck the gentleman to the ground. They then robbed him of above seventeen pounds, and, tying his hands behind him, threw him over a hedge, in which situation he remained till some milkmen relieved him on the following morning.
Meeting a man between Knightsbridge and Brompton, who had a shoulder of veal with him, they demanded his money; instead of delivering which, the man knocked Cooper down three times with his veal, but the villains, getting the advantage, robbed the man of his hat and meat, but could find no money in his possession.
Cooper being incensed against the person who had first arrested him, who was Mrs. Pearson, of Hill Farm, in Essex, determined to rob her; on which he and his accomplices went to the place, and, learning that she was on a visit, waited till her return at night; when they stopped her and her servant, and robbed them of eight guineas.
On the following day Mrs. Pearson went to a magistrate, and charged a person named Loader with having committed the robbery; but it appearing that this man was a prisoner for debt at the time, the charge necessarily fell to the ground.
Cooper and his associates meeting a farmer, named Jackson, in a lane near Croydon, he violently opposed them: on which they knocked him down, and, dragging him into a field, robbed him of his watch and money, tied him to a tree, and turned his horse loose on a common.
For this robbery two farriers, named Shelton and Kellet, were apprehended; and, being tried at the next assizes for Surrey, the latter was acquitted, but the former was convicted on the positive oath of the person robbed, and suffered death.
The three accomplices, being out on the road near Dulwich, met two gentlemen on horseback, one of whom got from them by the goodness of his horse; and the other attempted to do so, but was knocked down, and robbed of his watch and money. In the interim, the party who had rode off, whose name was Saxby, fastened his horse to a gate, and came back to relieve his friend: but the robbers first knocked him down, and then shot him.
Having stripped him of what money he had, they hastened towards London: but a suspicion arising that Duncalf was concerned in this robbery and murder, he was taken into custody on the following day; and, Cooper being taken up on his information, Burrell surrendered, and was admitted an evidence for the crown.
William Duncalf was a native of Ireland, and had received a decent education. Ho was apprenticed to a miller, who would not keep him on account of his knavish disposition; and, being unable to procure employment in Ireland, he came to London, where he officiated as a porter on the quays.
Extravagant in his expenses, and abandoned in principle, he commenced smuggler: but, being taken into custody by the custom-house officers, be gave information against some other smugglers; by which he procured his discharge, and was himself made a custom-house officer.
A variety of complaints respecting the neglect of his duty having been preferred to the commissioners of the customs, he was dismissed, and once more commenced smuggler. Among his other offences, he alleged a crime against a custom-house officer, who was transported in consequence of Duncalf's perjured testimony.
We have already recounted many of his notorious crimes, in conjunction with his accomplices above mentioned: but he did not live to suffer the punishment that he merited; for he had not been long in prison before the flesh rotted from his bones, and he died a dreadful monument of the Divine vengeance, though not before he had acknowledged the number and enormity of his crimes.
Cooper frequently expressed himself in terms of regret that a villain so abandoned as Burrell should escape the hands of justice. In other respects his behaviour was very resigned, and becoming his unhappy situation. He acknowledged that he had frequently deliberated with Burrell on the intended murder of Duncalf, lest he should become an evidence against them: but he now professed his happiness that this murder had not been added to the black catalogue of his crimes.
When brought to trial he pleaded guilty, and confessed all the circumstances of the murder; and, after sentence was passed against him, appeared to be a sincere penitent for the errors of his past life.
Being visited by a clergyman and his son, who had known him in his better days, he was questioned respecting the robbery of Mrs. Pearson, which he denied; but he had no sooner done so than he was seized with the utmost remorse of mind, which the gaoler attributed to the dread of being hung in chains; and, questioning him on this subject, he said that he was indifferent about the disposal of his body, but wished to communicate something to the clergyman who attended him; and, when he had an opportunity, confessed that his uneasiness arose from the consciousness of having denied the robbery of Mrs. Pearson, of which he was really guilty.
Cooper suffered on Kennington Common, August 26, 1750.
Few offenders commit such a number of crimes as this man did before they are called to answer for them at the most awful tribunal. From his fate we may learn that a continuance in villainy is so far from affording security, that it effectually leads to ruin.
Habits of vice are not easily shaken off; and those of virtue are equally apt to remain with us. What a lesson does this afford for the practice of early piety, which will essentially influence all our future lives!
Parents should remember that an education strictly religious is the best foundation for their children's future conduct in life.
What bless'd examples do we find Writ in the word of truth, Of children that began to mind Religion in their youth!
On the contrary, how many instances do we meet with, in which the want of a religious education is productive of every vice!