Delving into life of a woman about town

HERS is a name you often hear around Ipswich - Margaret Catchpole.The Margaret Catchpole pub, in Cliff Lane… the Margaret Catchpole Bowls Club… Margaret Catchpole, who died in 1819, is a woman whose name is still spoken.

James Marston

Nearly 200 years after her death Margaret Catchpole continues to fire the imagination.

Today JAMES MARSTON meets two women with a special reason to want to know more about this

enigmatic and fascinating woman

HERS is a name you often hear around Ipswich - Margaret Catchpole.

The Margaret Catchpole pub, in Cliff Lane… the Margaret Catchpole Bowls Club… Margaret Catchpole, who died in 1819, is a woman whose name is still spoken.

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But who was this woman who has inspired novelists, biographers and playwrights?

What makes her story such an enduring one? What is it about her that would make a 50-year-old woman travel from the other side of the country to our town to find out more?

A criminal, a convict, a heroine, a pioneer and an adventuress, Margaret Catchpole was born in Nacton in March 1762.

Described at the time as “a tall and dark person” of “intelligent countenance”, she was a headstrong and wilful woman.

In June 1797, about a year after leaving the Cobbold family, Margaret stole a horse from them to take her to her lover William Laud, a member of the smuggling underworld.

She rode 70 miles in ten hours but was quickly arrested in London. She was sentenced to death at the Bury St Edmunds assizes in August 1797. This was commuted to seven years imprisonment after an appeal by the Cobbold family - the victims of her crime.

In 1800, she escaped from Ipswich prison by disguising herself as a sailor and scaling a 22ft wall. She was caught and once again sentenced to death. Her sentence was commuted to transportation and she was shipped to the then new colonies of Australia.

There she became a midwife and a farmer and was eventually pardoned - her letters home provide a valuable insight into the life of the early colony.

Margaret Catchpole's intriguing story is researched Jane Currall, of Modbury, in Devon, who is studying an English degree at Plymouth University.

She said: “I'm what they call a mature student. I went into nursing after I left school and didn't really get the chance to go to university.

“I've always wanted to get a degree though and English seemed to be something a bit different and far removed from the nursing world. I've always loved books and literature.”

Jane, who visited Ipswich with a string of appointments lined up starting with The Evening Star, said she was visiting the town in the name of research.

She said: “I'm going to the Suffolk Records Office in Gatacre Road and I'm going to go to Nacton to have a look at where Margaret came from.”

But why Margaret Catchpole? She's a character Jane has known since childhood.

Jane said: “I've come to Ipswich to do some research. The reason is my grandfather had a copy of “A History of Margaret Catchpole” by the Reverend Richard Cobbold.

“It is a definitive book of her life and she was nursemaid to the Cobbold family.”

Jane said her mother - Phyllis Scott - had grown up being told her family were related to Margaret.

Phyllis, who lives in Fulbourn, near Cambridge joined her daughter for the day.

She said: “My great, great grandmother was a Sarah Catchpole and she married a James Andrews in 1806. We are not sure where she fits in with Margaret but we believe she was a relation of some sort.”

Jane added: “The research is part of a 5,000 word biography I have to write for a course module.

“Margaret Catchpole is a fascinating lady.

“Hers is a great love story and it's all true.”

Are you related to Margaret Catchpole? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or send an e-mail to

IN PROFILE: Margaret Catchpole

Margaret Catchpole was born at Nacton, the daughter of Elizabeth Catchpole and Jonathan Catchpole, a head ploughman.

She had little education and worked as a servant for different families until being employed by Mrs John Cobbold, wife of a wealthy Ipswich brewer, as under-nurse and under-cook in May 1793.

She learned to read and write while employed by the Cobbold family.

After being imprisoned for horse stealing she discovered her lover William Laud was in the same prison in Ipswich. They hatched a plan to escape to Holland.

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 away. Laud fired on the authorities and was killed, and Margaret was taken back to prison.

She was sentenced to death a second time, a sentence that was commuted to transportation.

Her ship arrived in Sydney on December 15 1801.

She never married but had a fulfilling and happy life in Australia.

She was pardoned in 1814

Margaret Catchpole died in 1819 from flu. She was buried in the graveyard of St Peter's church at Richmond, New South Wales.

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