Margaret Catchpole was a horse thief
who went on to become a legend in both Suffolk and
Australia. It was the Rev. Richard Cobbold a past
employer of Margaret Catchpole (1762-1819) who wrote
"The History of Margaret Catchpole". His novel of
1847 was based upon the true story and intended to offer
a moralistic tale about how a fallen woman could make
good after transportation to Australia.
Margaret fell in love with William Laud a local man who was entangled in the world of smuggling which was rife during this period. According to his tale, the girl, on impulse stole a horse - a strawberry roan - from the Cobbolds so that she could meet Laud in London. The Ipswich Journal reported how she rode 70 miles in 10 hours dressed as a young man but that the unusual colour of the horse and her awkwardness in riding raised suspicions and she was apprehended in London.
Horse stealing was a capital offence in those days and she was sentenced at Bury St Edmunds assizes to be hanged but this was commuted to transportation it is said after pleas where made by the Cobbolds. She was placed in Ipswich jail to await the sentence.
From here she managed to escape, this time disguised as a sailor after scaling a 22ft wall topped with spikes, using a gardening frame, linen line and prop. But once again Margaret was caught
The following report appeared in the Bury and Norwich Post on April 2nd 1800 Margaret Catchpole who was convicted in 1799 was sentenced for transportation for 7 years but who escaped from the new gaol at Ipswich on the evening of the 25th has been retaken by Mr Ripshaw of Sudbourn near Orford, she was dressed in a sailors habit and safely conducted back to her old compartment.
August 6th 1800: At Bury Assizes,
Margaret Catchpole was convicted of breaking out of
Ipswich gaol on the 25th of March where she had been
confined for horse stealing and sentenced to death but
reprieved on condition she was transported for 7 years,
she again received the death sentence but reprieved
before the Judge left the town.
Letters home in 1806 and 1809
documented her eye-witness accounts of the Hawkesbury
floods, during which she herself saved several
children's lives. Margaret continued to act as a midwife
and her dedication to the job resulted in the maternity
ward of Hawkesbury Hospital Windsor bearing her name.
Similarly if you take a drive through Hobartville you
will find Catchpole Avenue. Not bad for a convicted
Suffolk horse thief!