Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Scapegallows” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


3.71  ·  Rating Details  ·  175 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
New South Wales, 1817. Margaret Catchpole is stranded at a settler's homestead as the floodwater draws in, and she finds herself facing death - as she has several times before.She looks back over her life - the complex and stormy partnership with Will Laud, a 'hell-born-babe', that led her into the world of smuggling and in to a double life. After Will is forced to flee th ...more
Hardcover, 435 pages
Published by Virago Press (UK) (first published March 1st 2009)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Scapegallows, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Scapegallows

The Help by Kathryn StockettTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeThe Kite Runner by Khaled HosseiniThe Book Thief by Markus ZusakA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
4 Star Historical Fiction
133rd out of 252 books — 95 voters
A Town Like Alice by Nevil ShuteThe Thorn Birds by Colleen McCulloughIn a Sunburned Country by Bill BrysonPicnic at Hanging Rock by Joan LindsayOn the Beach by Nevil Shute
Books Set in Australia
472nd out of 526 books — 153 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 361)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Anne Hamilton
Apr 01, 2016 Anne Hamilton rated it it was ok
Just two and a half stars.

I struggled with this book - despite the fact it's beautifully written and it was based on a fascinating true-life story: the convict, Margaret Catchpole, after whom several significant Australian landmarks are named.

After the opening, set during devastating floods in the Hawkesbury in the early nineteenth century, the story returns to tell of Margaret's upbringing in England, how she came to be involved with the smuggler Will Laud, her life as a nursemaid and cook for
Jan 17, 2012 Beadyjan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical
I really enjoyed this fact based fictional account of the life of a woman called Margaret Catchpole who works as a maid and has a boyfriend who is a smuggler, events conspire to eventually get her transported to Australia after narrowly escaping being hanged for her foolhardiness rather than criminality. She's quite a feckless heroine and quite a flawed character with a temper and poor decision making skills but this makes her all the more real.
The books begins in Australia where she has obvious
Even if this book is based on the real life of Margaret Catchpole, the story didn't convince me.

A reference to this book is The History of Margaret Catchpole (London, 1845) written by Reverend Richard Cobbold.

There is another biography of her, "Margaret Catchpole, her life and her letters - The story of a woman who became a legend", written by Laurie Chater Forth.
The story of Margaret Catchpole born into a smuggler's world in Suffolk 1762. A true story. Margaret leads a double life that brings about her downfall, sentenced to hang not once but twice she is transported to Australia with other convicts.
Initial impressions

This premise of this book captured my interest straight away, being quite a big fan of historical fiction but not yet having encountered it of the type written about in this book, I wanted to give it a try. Straight away it became apparent that the writing in this book by Carol Birch was very similar to Rose Tremain, particularly in her novel "The colour". That being one of my favourite books from last year encouraged me and I believed this would be an excellent book even ear
Sep 13, 2012 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Based on the true story of Margaret Catchpole, born into a smuggler's world in Suffolk in the late 1700's. She becomes the valued servant of a weathly, liberal and kind family, The Cobbolds. She was also the friend of sailors and smugglers. She was in love with Will Laud, a 'free-trader' (smuggler). The heroine is a passionate and supremely capable girl brought to life by the Author from, one can imagine, her research into the bare facts from archives. In her life,she saves the lives of children ...more
Apr 26, 2016 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A super story from a master storyteller. As with other Birch stories the bits that you think are highly unlikely are actually the facts that she has uncovered and researched, and then spun a story around. By the end I felt I knew the characters, and the pettiness of English social structures and law comes across really well.
Dec 07, 2014 Wendy added it
My copy is staring at me from the sofa as I havent been able to offload it back at the library yet. I can understand now why it was last taken out in 2008. The only good thing I can say about this book was that it is in large print which makes it easier for me to read when I'm falling asleep. I tried really hard to give it a go but found it to be tiresome, uninteresting and difficult to visualise.

Choosen by my book group I was very disappointed by this and didn't manage to finish it. I would giv
Feb 07, 2014 Andrée rated it really liked it
Based on fact and nicely written. What a gal!
Margaret Catchpole was clearly a survivor and much liked.
Unusual to get some history on one of the lower orders - which gives us an idea of the impact she made.
A Good Read, particularly if you're interested in history (Ipswich local, 19th Century or Australian invasion)
Mar 20, 2016 Patriciagoodwin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-reads
Based on the life of Margaret Catchpole a Suffolk woman whose life was embroild with smugglers & finally ending in transportation to Australia. Extremely well written & Margaret's voice comes over convincingly. A could not put down novel
Stephen Squirrell
This book transport you back to the 1700's with some fantastic detail and a top story line made all the better because as we live in Felixstowe in Suffolk we know many of the places mentioned in the book :)
Annie Donovan-Aitken
Feb 04, 2014 Annie Donovan-Aitken rated it really liked it
I loved this book. Excellent fiesty main character - based on a true story. Loved the details about life in England in 18th Century.
May 05, 2010 Kathee rated it really liked it
Based on the life of the real Margaret Catchpole, this historical fiction book was easy, fun reading and very engaging. Margaret was born into a poor,close-knit family but went astray trying to help her lover, a smuggler. She escaped capital punishment twice and was sent to Australia instead where she made a life for herself and is still remembered there today with a hospital wing and other things named after her.
Tom Johnson
Feb 14, 2012 Tom Johnson rated it really liked it
one can note quite a bit of Jamrach's Menagerie in Scapegallows (2007) - Carol Birch is a first rate story teller - Jamrach's was a level above but by no means is that a knock against Scapegallows - breathes life into history she does - creates a world inhabited by sympathetic characters. The Naming of Eliza Quinn (2005) is next. That’s what's so nice about finding a good author - helps fill a February
David Willcox
Jun 24, 2013 David Willcox rated it really liked it
Fascinating, and full of historical detail, Carol Birch certainly does her historical research and this novel, based on the true life story of Margaret Catchpole, who was reprieved twice from hanging and finally transported to Australia where she remained until she died. Most of the book tells the story of how her love finally led to her undoing. a tale of smugglers and the wealthy. well worth reading
Feb 15, 2016 Debbie rated it it was amazing
great story, i'm glad i read it.
Sep 17, 2011 Abigail rated it it was ok
I was a bit disappointed. The title and "blurb" implied it was all about her "escaping the gallows" - but most of the book was about her life as being part of a community with strong ties to smugglers. It started off well, and maybe with a different title would have been better. Maybe a bit more about her life in Austrailia as well.....
Jo Barton
Nov 10, 2009 Jo Barton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This books is based on the true story of Margaret Catchpole, who was born into a smugglers world in Suffolk in the 1700's. She leads a troubled life and is sentenced to hang, but escaping the gallows,she was transported to Australia for life.
I enjoyed this story, it's a well written historical narrative ,with a likeable, if foolhardy ,heroine.
Feb 07, 2013 Heather rated it really liked it
I read this rollocking yarn without realising it was based strongly on fact. I would have liked to hear more about her life in Australia, but thoroughly enjoyed the tale of how she got here. Although I'd never heard of her, I can see why Margaret Catchpole is still remembered in Suffolk and in the Hawkesbury region of NSW.
Sep 04, 2013 Alison rated it really liked it
A friend at church passed this on and I'm glad she did. I didn't realise til the end that it was based on a true story. I enjoyed the detail of life in a different time - I would just have liked to know more about Margaret's life in Australia.
Dec 02, 2013 Gill rated it liked it
I didn't realise until the end that it was based on a true story though, obviously, greatly fictionalised. It was a good story, well told and gave a vivid impression of everyday life in the late eighteenth, early nineteenth centuries.
Aug 25, 2013 Shang rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting read! Very sad ;( and also twisted and slightly cruel. But I guess, those were the days! Overall, this wasn't a book I would usually read but it was EXTREMELY helpful for my history assignment!
I love a good historical fiction book- especially when they are about fascinating countries like Australia. I liked this one so much that I gave it to my mom.
Sarah Warbey
Jul 06, 2015 Sarah Warbey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Weirdly I gave up on this book after the first chapter originally but a year or so later I decided to try again and it was brilliant, could not put it down.
Oct 03, 2011 Tara rated it liked it
Great story, based on fact - some excellent writing from Carol Birch though in the end I wasn't totally convinced by her main character.
Kay Wells
Aug 24, 2012 Kay Wells rated it really liked it
Shelves: adventure
Based on a true story set in the 1700's. Smuggler Margaret Catchpole. Would read another by author.
Mar 14, 2013 Jay rated it really liked it
It has everything...English servants and pirates and deportation to Australia.
Mar 08, 2012 Pawneet rated it it was amazing
One of the finest books I have ever read.
Nov 17, 2012 Phyllis rated it really liked it
Story of a survivor.
Jan 15, 2008 Christine rated it it was ok
Just finished this book about the life of Margaret Catchpole who was transported to Australia for various crimes commited in Suffolk at end 1700s / early 1800s. I didn't realise it was based on the life of a real person which may explain why the narrative drags in the middle section. The start was very promising and the end equally interesting so worth a go although I didn't feel that the central relationship between Margaret and Will was particularly convincing and the John Luff character was m ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 12 13 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • A River Town
  • Poppy
  • The Dig Tree: The Story of Bravery, Insanity, and the Race to Discover Australia's Wild Frontier
  • Out of Ireland
  • The Girl from Botany Bay
  • The Blackstone Key
  • The Thief Taker
  • Boys of Blood & Bone
  • A Fence Around The Cuckoo
  • Strandloper
  • The Fraud
  • Pargeters
  • Midnight Fires (Mary Wollstonecraft, #1)
  • The Highwayman's Daughter
  • The Pianist in the Dark: A Novel
  • The Principessa (Francis Quoynt #2)
  • Before the Storm
  • How the Hangman Lost His Heart
Carol Birch was born in Manchester and attended Keele University. The author of eleven novels, she won the 1988 David Higham Award for the Best First Novel of the Year for Life in the Palace, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize with The Fog Line in 1991, and she was long-listed for the 2003 Booker Prize for Turn Again Home. Her novel Jamrach's Menagerie was long-listed for the Orange Prize 2011. She ...more
More about Carol Birch...

Share This Book

No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »