Mar­garet Catch­pole: The Rebel be­low Stairs

Hills to Hawkesbury Living Magazine - - History - By Carmel Lid­dell

Mar­garet Catch­pole, horse thief, prison es­capee and con­vict, made her mark in Aus­tralia as surely as any ‘wild colo­nial boy’. Born in Suf­folk, Eng­land in 1762, the skilled horse­woman was em­ployed as un­der-cook and un­der-nurse by the wife of Ip­swich brewer, John Cob­bold. There she learned to read and write, and thrice saved the lives of chil­dren in her care. She was highly re­garded in the house­hold but in 1797 when the Cob­bolds dis­ap­proved of her love for sailor- turned- smug­gler Wil­liam Laud, Mar­garet re­signed. Fol­low­ing months of ill­ness, Mar­garet stole the Cob­bold’s geld­ing and rode it seventy miles to Lon­don. Her aim was to sell the horse to help Laud but in­stead she was ar­rested. Mar­garet was given a death sen­tence, com­muted to trans­porta­tion for seven years.

Lan­guish­ing in Ip­swich gaol await­ing trans­porta­tion did not sit well with Mar­garet. In 1800 she es­caped by us­ing a clothes­line to scale the gaol’s twenty two foot high wall. Un­for­tu­nately, her scheme to meet and marry Laud was foiled. He was shot dead on a Suf­folk beach and she, was re-cap­tured. Mar­garet in­curred a sec­ond death sen­tence, com­muted to trans­porta­tion for life. The un­ruly es­capee was bundled aboard the Nile and ar­rived in Syd­ney in 1801.

Mar­garet worked as a con­vict ser­vant be­fore be­ing par­doned in 1814. Again she de­fied con­ven­tion by liv­ing the rest of her life alone, nei­ther mar­ry­ing nor bear­ing chil­dren.

De­spite the theft of their horse, The Cob­bolds re­mained fond of Mar­garet. Their col­lec­tion of her let­ters (do­nated by a Cob­bold de­scen­dant in 1922) is held in the N.S.W. State Li­brary. As a Rich­mond store keeper, nurse and mid­wife, she was well placed to ob­serve and de­scribe the coun­try­side, wildlife, the Abo­rig­i­nals and the Hawkes­bury River floods. Her let­ters also tell of sav­agery and im­moral­ity amongst the colony’s in­hab­i­tants.

Both be­low stairs and as mis­tress of her own home, Mar­garet was a rebel who stayed true to her cause. She cared for oth­ers. Whilst nurs­ing a shep­herd dy­ing of in­fluenza, she suc­cumbed to the dis­ease and died in Rich­mond in 1819. Al­most two hun­dred years later, she is not for­got­ten. A ward in the Hawkes­bury Pri­vate Hos­pi­tal proudly bears her name: The Mar­garet Catch­pole Ma­ter­nity Ward.

Ref­er­ences: The Australian Dic­tio­nary of Bi­og­ra­phy, Wikipedia & State Li­brary of N.S.W. W 390

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.