Demon Drink & Evil Weed View notes to above extract

F Fowler 1859 MSS Mitchell Library

SITE SOURCE: Sydney Folklore – SECTION 9: Demon drink and teetotalism



In Islam, beautiful celestial black-eyed damsels of the Muslim paradise. They possess perpetual youth and beauty and their virginity is renewable at pleasure. They are the reward of every believer.

Margaret Catchpole

a Suffolk horse-thief and gaol-breaker, who was later transported to Australia, is a case in point. A legendary figure in her own time, Margaret’s story was recorded by the Reverend Richard Cobbold in 1847, as a cautionary tale for other women. In the process he recast Margaret in the role of the “fallen woman”, a familiar character in Victorian literature

Courtesy of Suffolk Record Office, ref HA213:1287144
In June 1797, about a year after leaving the service of the Cobbold family, Margaret stole a horse from their stables in order to reach Laud, whom she believed to be in London. The Ipswich Journal reported how “this female horse-stealer” rode 70 miles in 10 hours, an “extraordinary” feat for a woman. She had dressed as a “young man…the better to avoid detection”, but the unusual colour of the horse – a “strawberry roan” – and her awkwardness in riding, soon raised suspicions amongst those she passed on the road, and it was not long before she was apprehended in London.

Margaret was sentenced to death at the Bury assizes in August 1797, but this was commuted to seven years imprisonment following a powerful appeal made on her behalf by the Cobbold family – the very people she had stolen from. Margaret was thus consigned to Ipswich Gaol, where she appears to have lived an exemplary life for several years.

However, in 1800 she broke the law again – and in spectacular fashion. Hoping to meet her lover and escape with him to Holland, Margaret escaped from the gaol. This time disguising herself as a sailor, Margaret – only 5 ft 2 in tall according to the handbill published after her escape – scaled a 22ft wall topped with spikes, using a gardening frame, linen line and prop!

A £20 reward was offered for Margaret’s recapture
© Courtesy of Suffolk Record Office

But she was soon discovered, and was again sentenced to death at the Bury assizes. This time her sentence was commuted to transportation for life, and in May 1801 Margaret left Ipswich bound for Australia, along with two other female convicts. In Australia Margaret managed to make a better life for herself, working hard, receiving a pardon, and becoming a midwife and farmer, before her death in 1819.

Not surprisingly Margaret’s exploits brought her great notoriety in Suffolk, where she is still something of a legend today. She is also a well-known figure in the history of Australia: her letters home to Suffolk provide historians with a valuable and virtually unique record of the experiences, attitudes and thoughts of an early female convict and “coloniser”, as expressed in her own words.