Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Catchpole, Margaret

CATCHPOLE, MARGARET (1773–1841), adventuress, the youngest of six children, was born in 1773 at the Seven Hills, near the Orwell, in Suffolk. Her father was a labourer employed on the fields of a celebrated breeder of Suffolk cart-horses. The farmer's wife being suddenly seized with illness, Margaret, when thirteen years of age, mounted a Suffolk punch, and galloped with only a halter round its neck to Ipswich in order to fetch a doctor. After this she became a servant in the household of Mr. Cobbold of Ipswich, and saved one of his children from drowning. Falling in love with the son of a boatman at Landguard Fort, she clung to him, although wholly unworthy of her, in spite of the persuasions both of her mistress and her own family. At length, in order to meet her lover, she stole her master's horse, and, dressed as a sailor, rode it from Ipswich to London, seventy miles, in eight hours and a half. For the theft she was tried and sentenced to death on 9 Aug. 1797. In consequence of her bearing at the trial, and the interest which John Cobbold, an Ipswich brewer, brought to bear upon her case, this sentence was commuted to seven years' transportation. Wishing to join her lover, she broke out of Ipswich gaol in a very bold manner on 25 March 1800, and let herself down uninjured from the spikes on the top of its wall. She was soon recaptured, and a second time sentenced to death by the same judge, Chief Baron Macdonald. She had pleaded guilty at both trials, and her undaunted speech and demeanour a second time gained her many friends. The sentence was again commuted, but this time to transportation for life, and (27 May 1801) she was sent to Australia. She landed on 20 Dec. 1801, and by good conduct soon obtained a remission of much of her sentence, and married a respectable settler at Windsor, near Hawkesberry, in that country. He was greatly attached to her, and she repaid his love to the full. After fifteen years of an affectionate and devoted married life, she lost her husband on 29 Sept. 1827. He left her the bulk of his property, and with a son and two daughters she removed to Sydney in 1828. There she led a quiet, charitable life, and died much respected on 10 Sept. 1841, aged 68.

In the Ipswich Museum is a skin of that rare bird, the lyre bird or mountain pheasant (Mænura superba), sent home by Margaret Catchpole. In one of her letters after marriage she gave the Rev. Richard Cobbold [q. v.], son of her former benefactor, free permission to relate the incidents of her life; ‘but,’ she added, ‘let my husband's name be concealed for mine and for my children's sake.’ That wish is here respected. Accordingly Mr. Cobbold published her life with many fictitious adornments as a novel in 3 vols., 1845, and it has been several times reprinted. ‘The heroine of this romantic but perfectly true narrative,’ as he calls Margaret Catchpole, seems to have been possessed of an indomitable will, which in her earlier years was unfortunately warped by misplaced affections. Her courage and command of expedients to gain her own ends were conspicuous. When, later in life, trouble had subdued her previously undisciplined temper, genuine religious impressions, and an unaffected desire to atone for the past, became the dominant features of her character

[Rev. R. Cobbold's Margaret Catchpole; information from Mrs. D. Hanbury and others.]

M. G. W.