Margaret Catchpole (1762-1819) was servant to Eliza Knipe Cobbold. She may have been born in Nacton, near Ipswich where she spent her early years on a farm. Already as a young girl, she showed that she was both brave and a skilled horsewoman, once having ridden bareback to fetch a doctor.
She became a Suffolk folk heroine, capturing the public imagination through her widely reported exploits of riding a stolen horse to London and later escaping from Ipswich Gaol - for which she was twice sentenced to death. Her death sentence was commuted to transportation to Australia, where she supported herself as overseer of a farm, midwife and smallholder. Margaret learnt to read and write in England. It has been suggested that she was taught by her employer, Eliza Knipe Cobbold. She is described in the Australian Dictionary of biographies as ‘a true convict chronicler…with a gift for recording events'. She wrote about Aboriginal people and wildlife and the brutality of life there. Her memory is highly regarded in Australia.
Her enduring fascination is based on her history and bravery, and her story has been fictionalized many times.
A portrait of Margaret is in Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich.