This man's crime and ingratitude, as far as respects the robbery, is precisely the case of George Barnwell. Cooper, like him, unhappily became the dupe of a second Milwood, and through her instigation he was worked up to rob his benefactor. Surely no servant who has even seen the representation of Lillo's fine tragedy, founded on a fact, would ever dare to venture upon the commission of so foul a crime.
Joseph Cooper was the son of very poor, but honest, parents: his father died when he was but seven years of age, and his mother, thus deprived of a protector, was reduced to take in washing for the maintenance of herself and three helpless children, of whom Joseph was the eldest. Through some friends, who pitied her distress, this boy was admitted into a charity school, where he continued till he was fourteen years of age, when Mr. Beaumont, a cutler in Redcross Street, took him as an apprentice, in mere compassion to his destitute situation of life. Mr. Beaumont was a man in a very extensive way of business; so that the youth had an opportunity of becoming a complete master of his profession; and such was his diligence and good behaviour for a considerable time, that perhaps no lad in such a situation as he was ever acquired a better character, or was more esteemed by the neighbours and others who had connections with his master. Mr. Beaumont, observing this excellent disposition, treated him with the utmost kindness, with a view to inspire him with a resolution of continuing in the practice of that duty which was so likely to be productive of his present and future happiness. Unhappily, however, for Cooper, this gentle treatment had not its desired effect; yet he served out his apprenticeship with fidelity, and afterwards lived some time with his master as a journeyman. Mr. Beaumont still continued to treat him with his usual kindness; and so generous was his behaviour towards him, that the least attention to his own interest would most probably have preserved him from ruin, and enabled him to have made a very creditable figure in life.
Unfortunately for himself, Cooper got acquainted with a number of young fellows of dissolute character, who frequented a public house in Golden Lane, where they spent their time in scenes of riot and dissipation, equally calculated to destroy their health of body and peace of mind. Cooper's former principles of virtue were all unhinged by an association with such obnoxious companions, and his mind was soon contaminated with ideas that led with rapid and certain progress to his destruction. At length, through the instigation of his companions, he frequented houses of ill-fame, which introduced him to the company of women of abandoned character; one of whom he became intimately acquainted with, and cohabited with her at a house of an infamous description in Denmark Court, in the Strand
In the conversation between Cooper and his girl, the latter advised him to rob his late master, as the readiest way to raise a supply to support their present extravagance; and this scheme was thought the more practicable as Cooper, having lived several years in the house, knew all the avenues to it, and every part of which he was well acquainted with. Cooper at first appeared to be shocked at the simple idea of so basely injuring a man who had protected him in the early part of life, and had, on all occasions, proved himself a disinterested friend; and he actually, for some time, refused to have any concern in such an ungenerous transaction: at length the arguments of the girl prevailed, and he resolved on the commission of the crime which terminated in his destruction. It was Mr. Beaumont's custom to spend his evening at a public house in Old Street; and on his return home he carefully locked his doors, and observed that every other place of possible entrance was made fast, in order to prevent the admission of robbers: yet his vigilance proved fruitless, for Cooper, whom of all men he would have least suspected, became the ungenerous infringer on the property of his benefactor. Mr. Beaumont, having seen his house secure at night, retired to rest; but about two o'clock the next morning he was awakened by a noise that seemed to be in his room. Terrified in a high degree by this unexpected visit, he was for some time afraid of venturing out of his bed; but at length, hearing that some person had gone out of his chamber, and shut the door, he got up, and discovered that his bureau had been broken open, and a hundred guineas stolen from it. He likewise observed that the lock of the chamber door, and the chain which confined it, had been forced open by means of a chisel.
As it was presumed that the person who had committed the robbery could not be at any great distance, Mr. Beaumont alarmed the watchmen, who made an immediate pursuit; and, though they did not overtake the robber, they presumed that they were near him, from hearing the trampling of feet hastily moving in the street, as those of a person flying from a pursuer. The circumstances attending this robbery made it almost evident that the person who committed it must have been intimately acquainted with the avenues of the house; and Mr. Beaumont was induced to suspect that Cooper was the thief, from what he had then lately heard of his abandoned course of life. Mr. Beaumont therefore sent for a constable, and at seven o'clock the following morning Cooper was taken into custody at the house where he resided in, Denmark Court in the Strand. He at first denied having had any concern in the robbery; but, being conveyed to his master's house, the precise money lost, except one guinea, was found on him. Mr. Beaumont sent for a neighbour, named Dyson, to advise him how to act, and expressed, with tears, his aversion to the thought of prosecuting him. Mr. Dyson told him it would be unsafe to discharge him; on which he was conveyed to the Compter, and, on his examination before the sitting alderman, such strong evidence of his guilt appeared, that he was committed to Newgate, to take his trial at the next Old Bailey sessions.
After a fair and candid trial the jury brought in a verdict of guilty, but joined in recommending him as an object of the royal clemency; and Mr. Beaumont, his master, signed a petition in behalf of the wretched convict; but, after the report was made to the king, he was included among those who were ordered for execution. He behaved in the most contrite manner at the fatal tree, where he confessed that he had merited that public and ignominious death which the law had justly awarded for his crimes. He suffered at Tyburn on June the 30th, 1772.