The Tichborne Claimant - Encyclopedia

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THE. TICHBORNE CLAIMANT Roger Charles Tichborne (1829-18J4), whose family name became a household word on account of an attempt made by an impostor in 1868 to personate him and obtain his heritage, was the eldest grandson of Sir Edward Tichborne, the 9th baronet, of a very ancient Hampshire family. Sir John de Tichborne, sheriff of Southampton, was created a baronet by James I. in 1621, and from him his 1 See H. Winnefeld, Die Villa des Hadrian (Berlin, 1895). Jahrbuch des k. d. arch. Instituts, Erganzungsheft III.: R. Lanciani, La Villa Adriana (Rome, 1906).

descendants inherited great wealth and the position of one of the leading Roman Catholic families in the south of England. Roger Charles, born at Paris on the 5th of January 1829, was the eldest son of James Francis Doughty-Tichborne (who subsequently became 10th baronet and died in 1862) by Henriette Felicite, natural daughter of Henry Seymour of Knoyle, in Wiltshire. This lady, who hated England, was intent upon bringing up her son as a Frenchman; the result was that he got hardly any education until he went in 1846 to Stonyhurst, whence he proceeded in 1849 to Dublin and joined the 6th Dragoon Guards. His eccentricity and his French accent made him a butt in his regiment, and, being disappointed of war service, he sold out in 1852, and in the following year proceeded on a trip to South America. He sailed in March 1853 from Havre for Valparaiso, whence he crossed the Andes, reaching Rio de Janeiro in 1854. In April of that year he sailed from Rio in the "Bella" and was lost at sea, the vessel foundering with all hands. His insurance was paid and his will proved in July 1855. The baronetcy and estates passed in 1862 to Roger's younger brother, Sir Alfred Joseph Doughty-Tichborne, who died in 1866. The only person unconvinced of Roger's death was his mother the dowager Lady Tichborne, from whom every tramp-sailor found a welcome at Tichborne Park. She advertised largely and injudiciously for the wanderer, and in November 1865 she learnt, through an agency in Sydney, that a man "answering to the description of her son" had been found in the guise of a small butcher at Wagga VVagga, in Queensland. As a matter of fact, the supposed Sir Roger did not correspond at all to the lost heir, who was slim, with sharp features and straight black hair, whereas the claimant was enormously fat, with wavy, light-brown hair. His first letter to Lady Tichborne was not only ignorant and illiterate, but appealed to circumstances (notably a birth-mark and an incident at Brighton) of which she admitted that she had no recollection. But so great was her infatuation with her fixed idea, that she soon overcame the first qualms of distrust and advanced money for the claimant to return to Europe. Like all pretenders, this one was impelled by his entourage, who regarded him in the light of an investment. He himself was, reluctant to move, but the credulity of persons under the influence of a romantic story soon came to his aid. Thus an old friend of Sir James Tichborne's at Sydney, though puzzled by the claimant's answers, was convinced by a resemblance to his supposed father. At Sydney, too, he made the acquaintance of Bogle, a negro servant of a former baronet. Bogle sailed with him from Sydney in the summer of 1866, and coached him in the rudiments of the role which he was preparing to play. On reaching London on Christmas Day 1866 the claimant paid a flying visit to Tichborne House, near Alresford, where he was soon to obtain two important allies in the old family solicitor, Edward Hopkins, and a Winchester antiquary, Francis J. Baigent, who was intimately acquainted with the Tichborne family history. He next went over to Paris, where in an hotel bedroom on a dark January afternoon he was promptly "recognized" by Lady Tichborne. This "recognition" naturally made an enormous impression upon the English public, who were unaware that Lady Tichborne was a monomaniac. That such a term is no exaggeration is shown by the fact that she at once acquiesced in her supposed son's absolute ignorance of French. She allowed the claimant L1000 a year, accepted his wife, a poor illiterate girl, whom he had married in Queensland, and handed over to him the diaries and letters written by Roger Tichborne from South America. From these documents the claimant now carefully studied his part; he learnt much, too, from Baigent and from two carabiniers of Roger's old regiment, whom he took into his service. The villagers in Hampshire, a number of the county families, and several of Tichborne's fellow officers in the 6th Dragoons, became eager victims of the delusion. The members of the Tichborne family in England, however, were unanimous in declaring the claimant to be an impostor, and they were soon put upon the track of discoveries which revealed that Tom Castro, as the claimant had been called in Australia, was identical with Arthur Orton (1834-1898), the son of a Wapping butcher, who had deserted a sailing vessel at Valparaiso in 1850, and had received much kindness at Melipilla in Chile from a family named Castro, whose name he had subsequently elected to bear during his sojourn in Australia. It was shown that the claimant, on arriving in England from Sydney in 1866, had first of all directed his steps to Wapping and inquired about the surviving members of his family. It was discovered, too, that Roger Tichborne was never at Melipilla, an assertion to which the claimant, transferring his own adventures in South America to the account of the man whom he impersonated, had committed himself in an affidavit. These discoveries and the deaths of Lady Tichborne and Hopkins were so discouraging that the "claimant" would gladly have "retired" from the baronetage; but the pressure of his creditors, to whom he owed vast sums, was importunate. A number of "Tichborne bonds" to defray the expenses of litigation were taken up by the dupes of the imposture, and an ejectment action against the trustees of the Tichborne estates (to which the heir was the 12th baronet, Sir Henry Alfred Joseph DoughtyTichborne, then two years old) finally came before Chief Justice Bovill and a special jury at the court of common pleas on the 11th of May 1871. During a trial that lasted over one hundred days the claimant exhibited an ignorance, a cunning and a bulldog tenacity in brazening out the discrepancies and absurdities of his depositions, which have probably never been surpassed in the history of crime. Over one hundred persons swore to the claimant's identity, the majority of them - and they were drawn from every class - being evidently sincere in their belief in his cause. It was not until Sir John Coleridge, in a speech of unparalleled length, laid bare the whole conspiracy from its inception, that the result ceased to be doubtful. The evidence of the Tichbornes finally convinced the jury, who declared that they wanted no further evidence, and on the 5th of March 1872 Serjeant Ballantine, who led for the claimant, elected to be non-suited. Orton was immediately arrested on a charge of perjury and was brought to trial at bar before Chief Justice Cockburn in 1873. The defendant showed his old qualities of impudence and endurance, but the indiscretion of his counsel, Edward Kenealy, the testimony of his former sweetheart, and Kenealy's refusal to put the Orton sisters in the box, proved conclusive to the jury, who, on the one hundred and eighty-eighth day of the trial, after half-an-hour's deliberation found that the claimant was Arthur Orton. Found guilty of perjury on two counts, he was sentenced on the 28th of February 1874 to fourteen years' penal servitude. The cost of the two trials was estimated at something not far short of £200,000, and of this the Tichborne estates were mulcted of fully £90,000. The claimant's better-class supporters had deserted him before the second trial, but the people who had subscribed for his defence were stanch, while the populace were convinced that he was a persecuted man, and that the Jesuits were at the bottom of a deep-laid plot for keeping him out of his own. There were symptoms of a riot in London in April 1875, when parliament unanimously rejected a motion (by Kenealy) for referring the Tichborne case to a royal commission, and the military had to be held in readiness. But the agitation subsided, and when Orton emerged from gaol in 1884 the fickle public took no interest in him. The sensation of ten years earlier could not be galvanized into fresh life either by his lectures or his alternate confessions of imposture and reiterations of innocence, and Orton sank into poverty and oblivion, dying in obscure lodgings in Marylebone on the 2nd of April 1898. (T. SE.)

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