Margaret Catchpole, or The Female Horse-stealer
Margaret Catchpole, or The Female Horse-stealer is a drama in three acts by Edward Stirling (1809-94)
The drama is also found under various other (rather long and clumsy), titles, such as Margaret Catchpole, or The Female Horse-stealer!, Margaret Catchpole, or The Female Horse-stealer of Suffolk, Margaret Catchpole, The Female Horse-stealer, or The life and Adventures of a Suffolk girl!, Margaret Catchpole, The Heroine of Suffolk! or The Vicissitudes of Real Life! and Margaret Catchpole: The Heroine of Suffolk or The Vicissitudes of Real Life.
The original text
The play by Sterling is based on the real life of Margaret Catchpole (1762–1819), a Suffolk servant girl, who worked as a servant in various houses before being convicted of stealing a horse and later escaping from Ipswich Gaol. Following her capture, she was transported to the Australian penal colony of New South Wales, where she remained for the rest of her life, becoming famous for her chronicles of the convict experience. Her story became the subject of a novel, The History of Margaret Catchpole (London, 1845), by was Rev. Richard Cobbold, the son of her former employers.
This first dramatization by Edward Stirling was performed as Margaret Catchpole, The Female Horse-stealer, or The life and Adventures of a Suffolk girl! in London at the Victoria Theatre, in 1845. The text was published as Margaret Catchpole, The Heroine of Suffolk! or The Vicissitudes of Real Life! in London by Thomas Duncombe (1845) as Duncombe's acting edition of the British theatre, no. 414.
Translations and adaptations
Cobbold's book was also adapted into an 1887 play, An English Lass, and this play formed the basis of the 1912 film The Romantic Story of Margaret Catchpole and also adapted into a libretto by Ronald Fletcher which was set to music as the opera Margaret Catchpole: Two Worlds Apart by British composer Stephen Dodgson in 1979.
Performance history in South Africa
1862: Performed as Margaret Catchpole, or The Female Horse-stealer by Sefton Parry and his company in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town, on 8 April, with Mrs Tellett as "Margaret" riding on a real pony, a feature which, according to the critic of the Cape Argus (10 April, 1862), "brought thunders of applause" (Bosman, 1980: p. 116). Also played was The Serious Family (Bayard and De Wailly/Barnett), and the evening was a "Farewell Benefit for Mrs Tellett, under the Patronage of Lt.-Govr. & Mrs. Wynyard". (F.C.L. Bosman, 1980: p 112, wrongly has the name of the translator of The Serious Family as "Barrett".)
D.C. Boonzaier, 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1932. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)
F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.112, 116
William Groom. 1899-1900. Drama in Cape Town. Cape Illustrated Magazine, 10(4): 478-481, 517-520, 547-552, 580-584, 640-643, 670-672, 706-708.
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