Late Regency style ring
|Ring. Vaucluse House Collection, Historic Houses Trust of NSW. Photograph © Rob Little/RLDI.|
Woman's gold dress ring in late Regency style
A late Regency style ring, studded with tiny seed pearls, is one ‘treasure’ from our collection at Vaucluse House with an intriguing story behind it. The ring is simply made, with two lines of beading along the ring edge formed by filing rather than more costly granulation.
Margaret Catchpole (1762-1819), the quintessential 'convict made good', is reputed to be the ring’s original owner.
Catchpole’s life story has been retold – and creatively re-imagined – several times, including the Australian early silent film ‘The Romantic Story of Margaret Catchpole’ (1911). The Australian Dictionary of Biography notes that many details of her life and that of another celebrated female convict, Mary Reibey, have become confused over time.
A series of Catchpole’s letters now in the State Library of New South Wales is important both for the descriptions of colonial life and for her eyewitness account of the devastating Hawkesbury floods of 1806 and 1809. The latter stories have great resonance today, considering recent (2012) flood events.
Catchpole was well regarded and respected by the families to whom she was assigned, including the Rouse family of Rouse Hill House. Pardoned in 1814, she did not return to England but stayed in the Richmond area working as a midwife. She died having contracted influenza from a shepherd she was nursing.
But was this ring actually hers?
It was donated to the Trustees of Vaucluse House in 1958. At that time, they were collecting objects of Australian historical significance which were not necessarily related to Vaucluse or the Wentworth family. A small handwritten label records that the ring:
“Belonged to well known convict (Margaret Catchpole). Given by her to Miss Jane Piper of ‘Westbourne’ Bathurst. She left it to me [i.e. Piper’s niece Alice Bland].”Jane Adelaide Piper was the daughter of the financially imperiled Captain Piper (1773–1851) who had relocated his family to Westbourne, on the Macquarie River in 1832.
Intriguingly, Jane Piper was not born till 1831, 12 years after Catchpole had died, and no connection between them has - as yet - been discovered.
Ring and box. Vaucluse House Collection, Historic Houses Trust of NSW. Photograph © Rob Little/RLDI.