Convicted: Margaret Catchpole | State Library of New South Wales

Convicted: Margaret Catchpole

Margaret Catchpole

Margaret Catchpole, undated, unknown artist
Ink and grey DL Pd 708

Margaret Catchpole was born in Suffolk in 1762. She worked as a servant for various families before she was employed by the Cobbold family in Ipswich. As under-nurse and under-cook for Mrs John Cobbold, a brewer's wife, Margaret was a valued member of the household and learnt to read and write. She left the Cobbold household in 1795 and underwent a long period of illness and unemployment. In May 1797, she stole John Cobbold's horse and rode it to London with the intention of selling it. She was arrested and sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to 7 years transportation.

For three years she was kept in the custody of John Ripshaw, Keeper of New Gaol in Ipswich. In March 1800, she made a spectacular midnight escape over the 22-foot gaol wall using a clothes line, but was quickly recaptured. Again, she was sentenced to death but this was commuted to transportation for life. She left England on board the Nile in 1801.

Margaret reached Sydney on 14 December 1801 and initially worked as cook for the commissary, John Palmer. She was determined to keep good company and worked for well-known families such as the Faithfulls, Rouses, Dights, Woods and Skinners. Her good reputation and hard-working way of life led to her pardon on 31 January 1814 by Governor Macquarie. The rest of her life was spent keeping a small store at Richmond, acting as midwife and nurse, and helping others. She died of influenza on 13 May 1819.

Richard Cobbold (1797 - 1877) was the son of John Cobbold, Margaret's employer and victim of the horse theft. He published The history of Margaret Catchpole, a Suffolk girl in 1845. The sensational story inspired a popular play Margaret Catchpole, the female horse-stealer which played to packed houses in England.

 > View an advertising broadside promoting the play at the Victoria Theatre

View an advertising broadside promoting the play at the Victoria Theatre

Margaret's letters are full of good humour and rich detail about colonial life. She kept in contact with her former employers, the Cobbolds and the collection of Catchpole papers now at the State Library of NSW was acquired from a Cobbold descendent in 1922.


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Transcript: Margaret Catchpole - Papers, 1801-1870

Letter to Mrs Cobbold from Sydney, 21 January 1802

Sedney January th 21 st. 1802

honred madam

with grat plesher i take up my penn to a Quaint you, my good Ladday, of my saf a rivel at port Jackson new South Wales sedeny on the 20th Day of Desember 1801.
As i was a Going to be Landed, on the Left hand of me, it put me in mind of the Cleeff - Both the housen and Lik wise the hills so as it put me in very Good spirites seeing a places so much Like my owen nativ home.
It is a Grat deel moor Lik englent then ever i Did expet to a seen for hear is Gardden stuff of all koind.expt gosbres an Currenes and appelles. The Garddenes are very Buttefull in ded all planted with geraniums and thay run up 7 and 8 foot hy.
It is a very woodey Cuntry, for if i goo out, aney a Distences hear is going throw woodes for miles - But thay are very Buttefull - and very prettey Beardes.
I only wish my my Good Laddey i Could send you one of these parrotes, for thay are very Buttefull, But i see so many Dy on Bord it mak me so very unwilling to send you one - But if i should Continner Long in this Countrey i suarteneley will send you sumthing out of this wicked Countrey - FOR I MUST SAY THIS IS THE WICKEDES PLACE I EVER WAS IN ALL MY LIFE.
The weat harvest was all most over just as i Landded. Hear weat is 8 shillenes pear Busshell at this time, hear is 2 Cropes in the summer, one with weat and one with indey Corn. I Cannot give you not much a Count of the Countrey, not in this letter, But i will Giv
you moor in the next for i niver shorll for Git yuir Goodness my Good Laddey you sheow to me Befor i Left englent - i took every thing over with me safe and thay are a Grat sarves to me in Deed.
Not that i am in such Grat trobell at pressent, But God oneley know how it may

[page 2]

Be for hear is maney one that hav Benn hear for maney year and thay hav thar poor head shaved and sent up to the Coole river and thear Carrey Cooles from Day Light in the morning till Dark at Knight, and half starved, but i hear that is a Going to Be put By, and so it had need, for it is very crouell in ded.
Norfolk islent is a Bad places a nof to send aney poor Cratuer, with steel Corler on thear poor neckes, But i will tak Good keear of myself from that.
I am prettey well of at present for i was taken of the stores 2 Days after i Landed so i hav no Govment work to do, nor thay hav nothing to do with me - oneley when hear Be a generel mustter, then i must a peear to Leat them know i am hear - and - if i hav a mind i goo up to Parramatta, 20 miles, or to towen Gabbey, 30 mile, or to Oxberrey, 40 mile I hav to git a pass or elce i should Be taken up and put into prison - for a very Lettell will do that hear.
My Dear Good Laddey i wont to say a grat Deel moor But time will not permit for i expet the ship to saill every Day.
I have Benn very Bad sinces i Com on shor, i thought i shold a Lorst my Life, But Bless Be to the Lord i am a grat Deel Better - i was Charmenley all my passeg Considren we Com over the Beay of Beskey, and wee Crost the Line very well in ded.
I was tossed a Bout very much in Ded But i should not mind it if I was But a Coming to old englent onces moor, for i Cannot say that I Lik this Contrey - no, nor niver shorll.
The Governor hav a good maney Cowes and a notheh gentleman hear is a good maney horses and verry smart wiskes and Leetell shay cartes and passeg Bootes
my Dear madam i must con Clud an send you moor acount the next time

from your unfortuned searvant Margaret Catchpole

madam pray Be so koind as to Leet docter Stebbenes hav that sid of the Letter. I hop thes few scroules find you and all your Good famley well and i hop my Good ladey you writ to the fust transport ship that do Come out for i should Be very glad to hear from you.

[page 3]

for Docter Stebbenes

Dear Sir

this is to a Quaint you of our saf Landen at Sedney on the 20th. day
of december.
Wee wear all well - Barker is a Live, But she was very much fritened at the rufness of the sea - she youst to very often Cry out "i wish i was with my Dear mr. Stebenes for i niver shorll see ipswich no moor" - But she is much the sam as ever.
Elesabeth kellett Live very neear to me and do very well and she is off the stores so as we ar not driv about after work for the Govment Lik horseas - wee are free from all hard work.
sarey Barker hav to spinn for Govment and she is up on the stors But she Can Git har work don By 12 or 1 a clock if she work hard at it.
sir pray Giv my Best respects to all my old fellear prisnors and tell them niver to say "Dead Hearted" at the thoughts of coming to Boteny Bay for it is Likley you may niver see it - for it is not in hapited - onely By the Blackes, the nativs of this place - thay are very saveg for thay all wais Carrey with them spears and tommeay horkes so when thay can meet with a wit man thay will rob them and speer them. - i for my part do not Like them - i do not know how to Look at them - thay are such poor naked Craturs - thay Behav them selves well a nof when thay Com in to my house for if not wee would Git them punneshed. thay very often hav a grand fite with them selves 20 and 30 all to gether - and we pray to be spared. sum of them are kild - thear is nothing said to them for killing one a nother.
The Cropes of weat is very good in this Countrey for it perducers forteey Busshells per ackear - it is a very Bountifull place in deed for i under stand them that niver had a child in all thear lives hav sum after thay com hear.

[continued from last page of letter]

Dear sir

Jan th 21 the Blacks the natives of this places kild and Wounded 8 men and wemen and Children - 1 man they cut of his arms half way up and Brock the Bones that they Left on very much and Cut thear Leages of up to thear knees and the poor man was carread in to the ospitle a Liv - But the Govener hav sent men out after them to shot every 1 thay find - so as i hop i shorll give you Better a Count the next Letter

Pray sir send me word if you know wear Dinah parker and har Child is

[page 4]

Sir i will wright moor a Bout the Countrey when i wright a Gain. Tea is 22's to 20 and 15 shillenes - sugger 2 shillenes to18 and 15 pence per pound - salt beef 1 shilling per pound - mutton 2ds per pound - fifteen shillings for a par of shos -10d for a par of stockenes - fiv shillinges for a yard of Common prent - 3d for a yard of carlaker - 3 shillinges for a pound of sop - Fish is as Chape as aney thing wee can By - But wee hav no monney to trad with hear.

Pray my good sir remember me to Mrs. ripshaw and tell her hear is one of Mr ripshawes owen Daughters Liven up in the Countrey - But i hav not seen har - not yet.

Sir i hop you will Be so koined as to writ to me By the fust ship that do Com out to Botany Bay and Drect to me at samewell rolley in the Brickfeldes No 40 sedney.
sir we had not one died - no not all the passeg out in so maney a wemen.


to Mr John Cobbold Esq
To the Cear
Cap sunter
Janry. 21st 1802
Margaret Catchpole
To Mrs. Cobbold
Written from Botteny Bay

Letter to Uncle and Aunt Howes from Sydney, 20 December 1804 (transcribed by Mrs Cobbold)

[page 5] Sydney December the 20 1804

My Dear

Uncle and aunt. with grat plesher i once moor tak up my penn to wright to you and all my Dear Cusanes unkles and auntes and all enquiren Frindes - Hoping they ear all in good health as it Lave me - Bless God for it - and as young as ever.and in good Spirites I will asuer you uncle i should be all most ready to Jump over St. John Church - wich is the fust Church that is finiched in the Countrey.
My dear uncle and aunt you must well think what a Comfort it would Be for me to hear from you all as i her englent is in a ver Bad Stat - and this is the fouth time of my wrighten.
fust i sent you a Letter by the ship i com in and the next was the Glatton and the next was the Calcutter - hopping that i should a had a Letter Long Before this. Time hear is Long - i's a nof to mak me go out of my Mind to se so maney Letters Com from London and poor i cannot git no not one - i all wayes thought that Mrs Cobbold would a sent me one Befor this time - But i hop my Dear uncle you will not neglect me this time for i am very unhappey to think that i cannot hear from you and my Aunt and all my Dear Cusanes.
I am in grat hopes that - please God - i should Live so Long as 2 or 3 year -i shorll hav that plesher and that grat Joy of seeing you all - for this Gouvener is a very Good Man to parden such as has heavy sentences for Life - Hear hav Bin a Grat maney that hav got thear free parden.
The young Man that Bring this Letter was for Lif But now he is Com free to his owen hom - wich is in London - I lived with him at Mr John palmers a squirs - for i lived thear twelves Monthes as a Cook and Darrey Searvent and this William lived thear as Fotman so he promesed me he would brind this letter saf to London i hav left that places for this 18 Monthes and more - At this present time i am housekeeper to a free sattler that had the miss fortin to Loos a Good Wife and left him with tow children - thay com over in the sam ship i did.
Thes free peopell are the farmers they hav one hundred ackers giv to them wen they Com hear But it is all Lik a Wood so thay hav to Cut dowen the tres and burn

[page 6]

them a Way Befor thear can be aney Corn grow - Wee Begun to sow Wheat in March and aprell and harvest com on in november and as soon as that is of thay seet fieer to the stubbell and Burn it of and then put in Corn Dyrickely- not plow it nor how it.
Ower land is most part Brak up with min and larg howes wich is very hard work and hav kiled maney a good man. This is a very Daingres Countrey to Liv in for the natives thay are Black minn and wimen - thay Goo nacked - thay youst to kill the wight poopell very much But thay are Better - But bad a nof - now. the Black Snakes is very Bad for thay will fly at you Lik a Dog and if thay Bit us wee dy at sun dowen - Hear is som 12 feet Long and as big as your thy and maney very Daingress thinges and maney grat Quorstess things - but if can onces git a leetter from your Dear Handes i will send you a List of the holl Countrey.
My Dear Uncle and aunt pray Giv my Lov to my Dear uncle and aunt Leedder and all my Cusanes - and for Gods sak and for my Sak Leet all that is Liven see this Letter.
This is a very hot Countrey - the Ground burn ouer Feet in the Summer part - wich is at this time - and in the Winter it is very Could, but no snow-just very white frostes - It is a grat Deel Coulder than it youst to Be for it was a very woodey places but now it onely is in sum places - it will be a very poples places in Time - it is a grat Deel Better then it was whin i fust Com hear.
Hear is a few appeall and pear trees and Grapes - a few oke trees but no other sort exept petches and apery Cot - no gosbress nor currenes.
Monney is very scarce Cus a penney Goo for 2 pences - all Coppers go the sam - silver and Gould is hard to Be com at By the Lik of me.
Thay trad from Indey and Chainry to hear - Tea hav bin for fouer pound four shillenes par pound. Sarah Barker and

[page 7]

the other Young Wooman that went with me is Liven so my Dear uncle if the young man should wright from London to you - send to him Diddareckley and then he will bring it saf to me - for he intend to Com Back a Gain.
So i must Con Clud with all my Best Prayers and Wiches to you all - and i remain your Loven Cusen

Margreat Catchpoule

pray Goo to mrs. Cobbold and tell har that i hope she will send me werd how all the good fammeley do for i longt to hear from them all and should be very glad to know if Doter Stebben Be a live - and then i will send to you all a Gain if the young Man wright to you and if you send to me Drect at Sydney new South Wales port Jackson, i hav sent a Letter to mrs. Cobbold - Let my Letter be left at Govment houes.