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Cooper, Charles (c. 1786–1866)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

This entry is from People Australia

Charles Cooper, by A. Wivell, 1820

Charles Cooper, by A. Wivell, 1820

British Museum

Charles Cooper (c.1786-1866) bootmaker, radical conspirator, convict

Birth: about 1786 in Durham, England. Marriage: apparently unmarried. Death: 30 November 1866 in Liverpool Asylum, Sydney, New South Wales, aged 84. Religion: Anglican.

  • By 1820 was a boot maker in a debtors prison in London, and a participant in radical, republican circles loosely associated with the ideas of Thomas Spence (1750-1814), a writer, land reformer and campaigner for political and social reform. Cooper joined the Society of Spencean Philanthropists.
  • On 23 February 1820 he was one of Spenceans, known as the Cato Street conspirators, who were arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate the British prime minister and his cabinet as part of a general uprising uprising ‘in the cause of liberty’, their leader Arthur Thistlewood claimed. Five of the ringleaders, Thistlewood, James Ings, Richard Tidd, William Davidson and Thomas Brunt, were executed and beheaded on 1 May 1820.
  • Changing his plea to guilty at a late stage of his trial, Cooper escaped execution and with four other conspirators — Richard Bradburn, John Harrison, John Shaw Strange and James Wilson — was convicted of high treason and sentenced to transportation for life. In Mark Dunn’s words all four “were in trades threatened by the increasing industrialisation in Britain”.
  • With the other conspirators Cooper was sent to Portsmouth and boarded the Guildford in the Solent on 2 May to await permission to sail. The following day Cooper wrote to his uncle, John Irving, in London, suggesting that his “Natural History” be sold and requesting, among many other items, his “working kit tools, and fife . . . a silk hat, black handkerchief, and two white ones, also he 2d volume of Mirabeau.” The letter is reproduced in the excellent account of these men by Kieran Hannon: “I do not much regret leaving England, and if the others had their wives and children with them, they would rejoice to leave the land of taxes, the country in which acts were passed to make provisions dear, and where many mechanics are starving for want of work”.
  • The Guildford sailed from Portsmouth on 14 May and arrived in Port Jackson on 30 September 1820. The ship’s indent described Cooper as a bootmaker born in Durham, aged 30, 5 ft 9 inches (175 cm) in height, with dark eyes, brown hair and a pale sallow complexion. In October the conspirators were sent in the Elizabeth Henrietta to Newcastle, where he probably worked in the boot making shop.
  • When the penal settlement at Newcastle was disbanded, Commandant Morisset was transferred to Bathurst in 1824 and at his specific request Cooper and three other Cato Street conspirators joined him in January to work as constables. After Morisset’s departure, in January 1825 Cooper was assigned as convict servant to a bootmaker, George Ross, in Bathurst, before shifting to Sydney to work for another boot maker Robert Bogg.
  • On 11 March 1834 he obtained his ticket of leave for the Liverpool district but in 1837 was arrested in Sydney and imprisoned for leaving his assigned district. Over the next ten years he spent time in prison and on road gangs for offences of drunkenness or being outside his assigned district. In March 1847 his TOL was renewed for the Gosford district. Thereafter his whereabouts are unknown. He probably obtained a conditional pardon but no record of it has been found to date.
  • During Cooper’s trial his “portrait from life” had been drawn by Abraham Wivell, and was included in The trials of Arthur Thistlewood and others (1820).
  • His death certificate records his occupation as “boot closer” and his cause of death “age”.

Sources
NSW Government Gazette
, 12 March 1834, p 139: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/23068637; NSW Government Gazette, 30 July 1841, p 1023: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/230394619; NSW Government Gazette, 1 October 1841, p 1339: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/230395477; Mark Dunn, The convict valley: the bloody struggle on Australia’s early frontier (Sydney, 2020), p 91; Kieran Hannon, Designing and dangerous men: the story of the transported Cato Street conspirators, (Calwell, Australian Capital Territory, 2021), passim, especially pp 114-115, 118-119, 201-207 and 275-276; Cato Street Conspiracy website: https://www.catostreetconspiracy.org.uk/the-conspirators/the-fate-of-the-transported-five

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Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Cooper, Charles (c. 1786–1866)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/cooper-charles-33017/text41152, accessed 29 January 2023.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Charles Cooper, by A. Wivell, 1820

Charles Cooper, by A. Wivell, 1820

British Museum