07 March 2010

The Tichborne Claimant

Tichborne Park, situated in gorgeous Hampshire farmland, is the well-known seat that was the centre of the then-longest civil court case in British history. The five-bedroom apartment has a tennis court and use of the swimming pool, and is being marketed for a hefty £6,850 pcm. I assumed everyone knew the story of the Tichborne Claimant, but since the family house has been back in the news, it is apparently worth telling the story again.

Tichborne House, Hampshire

Roger Charles Tichborne was born in 1829 in Paris into an important and devout Catholic family whose ancestors had been ennobled by King James I. When the 8th Baronet Henry Joseph Tichborne died in 1845, leaving only daughters, the title passed to the next brother Edward.

Roger was raised in France with his mother, until the age of 16 and was fluent in French. Then in 1849 his father sent the young man to Stonyhurst College in England and later that year joined the 6th Dragoon Guards in Dublin. He spoke English well but with a marked French accent and was teased for being skinny and deeply Catholic.

Next year he left for South America. From Valparaiso he crossed the Andes and arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 1854. In 1853 Edward died and the title and the family estate passed to Roger's father. In April 1854, on Roger's way back home, his ship was lost at sea with all hands, and he was soon pronounced dead. Roger's father died in 1862 and the title and property passed to Roger's younger brother, Sir Alfred. Alfred died in 1866 and his baby son, Henry, inherited the family privileges.

Arthur Orton, 1872

On learning the news of her eldest son's shipping tragedy, Sir Roger's grief stricken mother refused to admit that he was dead. She sent inquiries all over the world, and in November 1865, she received a letter from a Sydney lawyer who claimed that a man supposedly fitting the description of her son was living as a butcher in the rural town of Wagga Wagga.

The supposed Sir Roger was actually Thomas Castro or Arthur Orton, a man who did not speak a word of French. In fact Weird History blog said he was Arthur “Bullocky” Orton was more than just a slaughter man; he was a sometime bushranger and horse thief. And he was grossly overweight, 21 stone, compared to the 10 stone Sir Roger.

However Lady Tichborne was desperate enough to accept him as her son and sent him money to come to her. Orton was encouraged to travel to Britain by an old friend of Roger's father, a man who accompanied him on his trip home. He arrived in London on Christmas Day 1866 and visited the family estates. There he met the Tichborne family solicitors who became his supporters. Then in January he travelled to the Paris hotel where Lady Tichborne was living, the dowager recognised him instantly as her son and gave him a hefty annual allowance.

After Lady Tichborne's acceptance, other family members and colleagues of Sir Roger accepted him as well. But some family members were horrified by this badly spoken, obese, outback Australian butcher. When Lady Tichborne died in March 1868, Orton lost his most prominent supporter and the family couldn’t wait to sue the man.

Tichborne House in Hampshire was the family seat that was the centre of this very long civil court case. Orton had to sell The Tichborne Bonds, to pay the legal costs entailed in claiming his inheritance from the family.

The Tichborne Trial, 1871

The trial to establish his inheritance began in May 1871 and lasted 102 days. Dozens and dozens of people vouched for Orton‘s identity as Roger, except for Orton's own brother. There is one other consideration that I have never heard analysed before.  Orton was a practicing Protestant, and theowinthrop fully believes that this was the key to the massive upsurge of popular support. Anti-Catholicism was still the biggest bigotry alive in Britain back then. Knowing that Orton was a good Protestant, being "cheated" out of his rights, led many other Protestants to support him to the point of idiocy

Eventually the evidence of the Tichborne family eventually convinced the jury. Orton was arrested, charged with perjury and his criminal trial began in 1873. Orton was convicted on two counts of perjury in Feb 1874, and was sentenced to 14 years' hard labour. The legal costs amounted to a truly staggering £200,000 at the time.

Many people who had supported the claimant's efforts refused to believe the truth and claimed he was unjustly persecuted. Still, Orton served ten years in prison and was released in 1884, and by then the newspapers had long moved on to other, more juicy gossip. He died in poverty in April 1898 and was buried with the name Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne on his coffin.

Arthur Orton’s carte-de-visite with its photograph is in the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.


Hermes said...

Its a fascinating story - well worth telling again.

grot said...

Famous at last... Wagga is on the map. Since the only famous person born in Wagga till now was Dame Edna Everage, we have the choice of a flaming cross dresser or a criminal identity thief.

Lord Cowell said...

What an amazing story - It truly beggars belief! Thanks for sharing. David.

Andrew said...

Never heard the story. Very interesting.

Hels said...

I think the intriguing thing about the Tichborne saga is not that sneaky people tried to get access to money that was not theirs. That has happened since time immemorium.

But this case involved a wealthy, landed family; 3 different countries; months in court; lawyers playing fast and loose on both sides; police; angry relatives; and a Catholic-Protestant divide. Plus it cost an absolute fortune in costs. I wonder if the case would have been as intriguing had Arthur Orton had been ennobled and Catholic himself.

Another thing that I didn't mention, but may well be true. Orton's defence was led by Edward Kenealy, a man who was later disbarred for his aggressive behaviour during the case. It didn't harm his career, however, because Kenealy was later elected to Parliament!!

J Bar said...

Very interesting.
Sydney - City and Suburbs

Anonymous said...

A pretty amazing tale; they say that truth is stranger than fiction -- because fiction has to be believable.

I find that my local library has a book about it, and I think I'll check it out. And it turns out that Mark Twain wrote about this case, too -- that should make for a good read!

roo said...

I just discovered that my great great grandma's sister married Thomas Castro. How life would have been different if he had won the law suit....Mike

Hels said...

roo, you could have been famous :)

When did your great great grandma's sister marry Thomas Castro/Arthur Orton? I presume _before_ he went to Britain to claim his title and estate.

Hels said...

Gerry said...

Hi Helen,

I came across your article on Thomas Castro after a long rearch on the net for him....!!!

I few days ago I recived a marriage certificate of Thomas Castro & Mary Ann Bryant in the post (I believe it's a fake copy) and I don't know why. The only link is that my surname is Castro...Very weird...!!!

G. Castro

Hels said....
Gerry, as I said to roo, you are possibly very famous. When I first heard of the Tichborne Claimant 15 years ago, I thought it was remote and untestable history. Now I find at least two people who may have a real and personal connection to the characters. Fantastic!

roo said...

Hello again, my Dad has also received a marriage certificate for Castro and Bryant but I'm sure it is genuine, although I'm yet to see it as he is in Narrabri and I am near Penrith.

Great Great aunty married before they set sail to England and she apparantly died penniless in a work house still claiming to be Lady T (it is amazing what you can find out from digitised newspapers!!)

Still, for a poor country girl who was illiterate and alraedy had a babe she did OK.

Hello to my new step cousin Gerry.

Cheers ... Mike