Servant, horse stealer, prison breaker and romantic heroine…
Margaret Catchpole was born in 1762 near Woodbridge and became a servant at the Ipswich home of the Cobbold family. Elizabeth Cobbold, the mistress of the house, taught Margaret to read and write and it is said that she became a valued member of the household. In 1797 she stole a horse from the Cobbolds and rode the 70 miles to London, mistakenly thinking she was meeting her lover, a local sailor and smuggler called William Laud. On her arrival in London she was captured and condemned to death. Her execution was reduced to seven years transportation. While in Ipswich prison she escaped and fled to the coast to take a ship to Holland along with William. Unfortunately they were recognised and in the ensuing fight Laud was killed and Margaret returned to prison. Once again she faced the death sentence but as before, it was reduced to transportation and she was sent to Australia in 1801. Her letters home reveal much about the life of early settlers.
- A collection of Ipswich Museum documents (ref HD1) at Ipswich Record Office contains correspondence between members of the Cobbold family relating to Margaret Catchpole and the novel by the Reverend Richard Cobbold.
- Information about Margaret Catchpole’s life following her arrival in Australia http://www2.sl.nsw.gov.au/archive/discover_collections/history_nation/justice/convict/MargaretCatchpole/catchpole.html