CATCHPOLE, Margaret (1762-1819)

CATCHPOLE, Margaret (1762-1819)
was born at Nacton, Suffolk, on 14 March 1762. Her father, Jonathan Catchpole, was a head ploughman. When little more than a child she rode bareback into Ipswich to obtain a doctor, guiding the horse with a halter. She went out to service and fell in love with a sailor named William Laud, who joined a band of smugglers. He was endeavouring to persuade her to go off in a boat with him when another admirer of Margaret, John Barry, came to her assistance and in the fight which followed, Barry was shot by Laud. He recovered, but a price was put on his assailant's head. In May 1793 Margaret obtained a place with Mrs John Cobbold, wife of a rich brewer at Ipswich, and while with Mrs Cobbold, Margaret's courage and resource saved three children from death. Laud in the meantime had been pressed into the navy and was away for some years. In 1797, Margaret was told by a man named Cook that Laud was back in London, and he persuaded Margaret to steal a horse and ride it to London to meet her former lover, Cook's intention being to sell the horse for his own benefit. Margaret rode the horse over the 70 miles to London in nine hours, but was promptly arrested for its theft. She pleaded guilty at her trial, and after evidence regarding her previous good character had been given, was asked if she had anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon her. She spoke with firmness, regretting her fault but not praying for mercy. Even when the death sentence was pronounced she did not give way until she saw her old father crying in the court. Her sentence was commuted to transportation for seven years. She was an exemplary prisoner and set such a good example to the other prisoners that there was some hope of her comparatively early release. She discovered, however, that Laud was a fellow prisoner. They succeeded in meeting, and Laud suggested a ay of scaling the wall by way placing a clothes horse against it, standing on it, and attaching a rope to one of the spikes. Margaret had some money hidden, which Laud had given her some years before, and she arranged with a relative that part of this should be used to pay Laud's fine and thus free him. She succeeded in scaling the wall and met Laud, but they were intercepted on the seashore just as a boat was approaching to take them off. Laud fired on the authorities and was killed, and Margaret was taken back to prison. She was tried for gaol-breaking and again condemned to death. This sentence was on the judge's recommendation commuted to transportation for life. She arrived in Sydney on the Nile on 15 December 1801.
Margaret Catchpole's life in Australia was uneventful. She was assigned as a servant to John Palmer who had arrived with the first fleet as purser on the Sirius and was now a prosperous man. After the death of her lover Margaret had resolved never to marry and in Sydney she refused the addresses of George Caley (q.v.). Later she was employed as the overseer of a farm, and while in the country became a midwife, and also kept a small farm of her own. She was on ticket of leave, but there is no record of her having been pardoned. She was happy and respected, and in a letter written to England in about 1807 she says with pardonable pride "all my quantances are my betters"—she had little education and her spelling was always her own. Little is known about the last 10 years of her life, but she continued her nursing, died on 13 May 1819, and was buried in the graveyard of St Peter's church at Richmond, New South Wales. In 1841 the Rev. Richard Cobbold made her the subject of a novel, The History of Margaret Catchpole, which has often been reprinted. In the preface the author said: "The public may depend upon the truth of the main features of this narrative", but some writers, including the Rev. M. G. Watkins, author of the memoir in the Dictionary of National Biography, have taken this too literally. Margaret was quite uneducated, but Cobbold made her speak and write as a well-educated woman throughout the book. Watkins also accepted the story of her marriage in 1812 and that she did not die until 1841. He suggests that he knew the name of her husband but withheld it in accordance with Margaret's wishes. It is clear too from a supplement to a later edition of his book dated 1858 that Cobbold also believed that Margaret Catchpole married and had children. On the other hand the entry in the register of burials at Richmond is quite detailed. "Margaret Catchpole, aged 58 years, came prisoner in the Nile, in the year 1801. Died May 13; was buried May 14, 1819."—Henry Fulton. In a letter dated 2 September 1811 Margaret stated that she would be 50 on 14 March next (1812), the year of her supposed marriage (Barton, True Story, p. 163). If the story of her marriage is to be accepted two unlikely things must be believed, that marrying at 50 she left descendants, and that she was buried in her maiden name. In all probability her story was confused with that of Mary Reiby. No one can write about Margaret Catchpole and be quite confident about the facts of her life. It may be said, however, that at a time when there was much drinking and loose living in Sydney, and women in her position were exposed to many temptations, she preferred a quiet and decent life. Somehow or other there emerges from the fog which covers much of her story, the figure of a simple, courageous, uncomplaining woman, of unalterable faithfulness and fine character.
G. B. Barton, The True Story of Margaret Catchpole; R. Cobbold, The History of Margaret Catchpole; F. J. F. Jackson, Social Life in England 1750-1850. (This writer states definitely that Margaret Catchpole never married.)

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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  • Margaret Catchpole — Born 14 March 1762(1762 03 14) Nacton, Suffolk, England Died 13 May 1819(1819 05 13) (aged 57) New South Wales, Australia Cause …   Wikipedia

  • Catchpole — /ˈkætʃpoʊl/ (say kachpohl) noun 1. Kenneth, born 1939, Australian Rugby Union Test player. 2. Margaret, 1762–1819, Australian convict and pioneer settler, born in England …  

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