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3.72  ·  Rating Details  ·  183 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
This is the story of Margaret Catchpole, born into a smugglers' world in Suffolk in the late 1700s. As the valued servant of a wealthy family and a friend of criminals, Margaret leads a double life that inevitably brings about her downfall, and she is sentenced to hang not once, but twice. But she escapes the gallows and is transported with other convicts to Australia.

A wo
Paperback, 448 pages
Published July 3rd 2008 by Little, Brown
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(showing 1-30 of 387)
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Anne Hamilton
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  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 29, 2016 Yvonne rated it it was ok
Scapegallows is the fictionalised story of Margaret Catchpole, a horse thief, who escaped the hangman's noose twice and was eventually transported to Australia in 1801, for life.

If you hale from Suffolk, U.K., you will probably be familiar with Margaret Catchpole's legendary status. In Ipswich there is a Grade 2 listed public house bearing her name, which reflects her connection to the brewing family, the Cobbolds.

In Australia, she is venerated as one of the country's first midwives and her lett
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
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
Teresa Wainwright
Jul 10, 2016 Teresa Wainwright rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written and full of historical detail, this book was a joy to read. Based on the true story of feisty servant girl Margaret Catchpole, and set primarily in the 18th century world of Suffolk smugglers, the writer has skillfully interwoven facts with her own imagination - and in the telling she has had me hooked from beginning to end.
Apr 26, 2016 Karen rated it really liked it
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.
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 23, 2015 Stephen Squirrell rated it it was amazing
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 :)
Aug 17, 2016 Emmaa22 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical, world, drama
Based on a real person, this is a really good story of a woman transported to Australia - although most of the tale is of her life prior in the East of England. Well written, well put together and easy to recommend.
Annie Donovan-Aitken
I loved this book. Excellent fiesty main character - based on a true story. Loved the details about life in England in 18th Century.
Stan Georgiana
Aug 17, 2016 Stan Georgiana rated it really liked it
3.8 stars
May 05, 2010 Kathee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
great story, i'm glad i read it.
Sep 17, 2011 Abigail rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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!
Jun 19, 2009 Erin added it
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adventure
Based on a true story set in the 1700's. Smuggler Margaret Catchpole. Would read another by author.
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Carol Birch is the author of ten previous novels, including Scapegallows (2008) and Turn Again Home (2003) which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. She has also won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the David Higham Award for Best First Novel. Jamrach's Menagerie was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and the London Book Award.
More about Carol Birch...

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