Margaret Catchpole – Her Life and Her Letters by Laurie Chater Forth

The moon rose late on the night in 1797 when Margaret Catchpole rode John Cobbold’s horse to London. Did she steal it or borrow it? Did she act alone or did she have accomplices? Horse stealing was a capital offence in Georgian England. Did she risk her life for love, friendship or freedom?

Having twice been sentenced to death and escaping the gallows both times, she became the ‘notorious’ Margaret Catchpole about whom plays were written and films were made. Before convict transportation to Australia ended, Margaret Catchpole had become the heroine of a best-selling romantic novel, perhaps the only woman convict to feature in the popular fiction of the time. The fiction created much debate and obscured her real identity to the extent that she was believed to be a myth—or someone else. Margaret Catchpole was just one among the thousands of convicts transported to New South Wales but she was the only one whose name has rarely been absent from print since the day, in August 1797, when she stood before the Bury Summer Assizes and heard her death sentence announced. Why has history chosen to remember her?

Based on the eleven letters she wrote to friends and family in Suffolk and presented together possibly for the first time; Margaret Catchpole–Her Life and Her Letters is the first definitive book written about the Hawkesbury’s convict midwife. It investigates and reinstates the life story of the woman whose contribution to colonial life was for a time forgotten.

As well as exploring Margaret’s life in Suffolk,  Margaret Catchpole–Her Life and Her Letters presents Margaret’s eyewitness accounts of floods, hardships and the life and loneliness of the early settlers. This remarkable convict woman’s voice speaks for the many forgotten ones whose hard labour built the foundations of European Australia.

The Verdict

 Margaret Catchpole Her Life and Her Letters is the story of a woman to whom many have claimed kinship but none have proved. The book asks many questions about the mysterious Margaret Catchpole and the author invites the reader on the journey to find answers.

In 2003 Laurie commenced research into this intriguing Hawkesbury historical figure culminating in the publication of “Margaret Catchpole Her Life and Her Letters” in 2012. The calibre of her research coupled with an enjoyable writing style has produced an exciting work which sifts the fact from the fiction surrounding this enigmatic figure. Laurie’s work makes a significant contribution to the recorded history of colonial women in the Hawkesbury.

The Author

Laurie Chater Forth has been writing and encouraging others to write since 1998.

She has published short stories, won prizes for memoir and crime fiction, taught creative writing at the Hawkesbury Community College, and at The W.A.S.H. House. Mt Druitt. (Women’s Activities and Self Help House). She has worked in the fashion and cosmetic industry, in sales, as Mediator in Conflict Resolution for the Community Justice Centre, Penrith. NSW, and as a Family Support Worker for Barnardo’s Special Neighbours, Penrith. Laurie’s stories appeared in the New Idea, Woman’s Day, THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN That’s Life Section, The Partners in Crime and the Romance Writers of Australia anthologies. As a member of the Hawkesbury Historical Society, she has written historical profiles for Hawkesbury Gazette. In October 2012 Laurie won the Dr Rex Stubbs OAM Memorial Scholarship for research and interpretation of Hawkesbury Local History.

She is now serving her seventh term as President of the Hawkesbury Writers Group, a Branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers.

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