Scapegallows, Paperback
4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


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 wonderful adventure story, Scapegallows takes inspiration from the life of the real Margaret Catchpole.

A woman who lived by her wits, she was a slip-gibbet, a scapegallows.




Free Home Delivery

on all orders

Pick up orders

from local bookshops


Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

This is a beautiful story well-told, based on the personal correspondence and known biography of a strong and resilient woman, Margaret Catchpole, who was transported to Australia in the early nineteenth century. A kernel of fact makes all the difference, and Margaret's eventful life story is all the more captivating because she really lived it. Carol Birch is a stunning author, embroidering Margaret's tale with earthy, familiar dialogue and honest relationships that are relevant to a modern readership, but still credible as historical fiction. Indeed, apart from the harsh English justice system of the eighteenth century, which casts Margaret to the other side of the world, the era in which this novel is set is merely background for an engrossing and timeless biography of an amazing woman. In the afterword, Carol Birch notes that she broke with the Victorian moralising of the only available account of Margaret's life, and the result is a vivid portrait of an outspoken, determined, loyal and unbroken spirit, who never married or had a family of her own, yet who is far from a feminist cliche. Thank you, Carol Birch!

Review by

Interesting story about Margaret Catchpole and the author managed to get enough researched material to build a great story with alot of detail into the life of this brave and strong woman. However, the details that were so rich from the time of her youth, through her love with Will Laud, her friendships with her various employers and close family ties through to her sudden downfall to one criminal act were sadly missing after she was sentenced to transportation to Australia.I would have loved to have learned much more about her time in Australia, where, sent as a convict and having gained employment with one of the families who freely went to Australia, she later gained her freedom and built a good life for herself, providing midwife services to the ladies, being a mentor and friend to an aborigine boy, and building a store and business of her own. These details, were sadly lacking, and given that she had written many letters home to her family and friends, I expected the author to spend more time allowing us to celebrate Margaret's eventual triumph. Her life story in Australia deserved at least as much telling as her early beginnings.

Also by Carol Birch   |  View all