The Tichborne Claimant

Born in 1829, Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne was the son of Sir James and Lady Henrietta Felicité Tichborne and heir to one of the oldest and wealthiest families in England.

He became an adventurer and travelled to South America. He was on board the schooner Bella which sank after leaving Rio de Janeiro on 20th April 1854. An inquest was held and all on board were declared lost at sea.

His mother refused to believe that he was dead and kept a light burning at Tichborne Hall awaiting his return. She continually advertised for news of her son and hired agents to visit docks and taverns frequented by sailors to find and pay for information about his demise.

One story was that the Bella had been stolen by the crew and sailed to Australia.

A butcher called Thomas Castro from Wagga Wagga, Australia, wrote to Lady Tichborne claiming to be her son. An old retainer of the Tichborne who had retired to Australia was asked to verify Castro's identity, and seeing a chance to get his job back, went along with Castro's deceit and coached him in behaviour and manners. On the 25th February 1866, Lady Tichborne accepted Castro as her son and implored him to return home at once. Castro arrived in England on 25th December 1866.

Although the rest of the family and Roger's former acquaintances had serious doubts, Castro was subsequently welcomed back into the family by the gullible Lady Tichborne. Whenever he was confronted by situations or people who threatened to jeopardise his claims, Castro would fain illness, or blame his lack of knowledge on memory-loss after a fall from a horse, years of drink and a hard life in Australia.

Lady Tichborne died in 1868 and the £1000 a year allowance which she had paid to Castro stopped. The family initiated legal proceedings to stop him claiming the family estate and to force him to obtain legal recognition as Sir Roger Tichborne. The case collapsed after 102 days, and Castro was charged with perjury and sent to a further trial at which he was found guilty. He was sentenced to 7 years' penal servitude, and a further 7 years for perjury and forgery. Gilbert and Sullivan based their opera Trial by Jury on the case.

He was released from prison in 1884.

Castro – who was subsequently identified as Arthur Orton [1834-1898], originally of Wapping, London – wrote that he was stunned by the ease of his success. He confessed that he wrote to Lady Tichborne because he was hard pressed for money, and thought that if she was fool enough to send money so much the better. Orton died on 1st April 1898

© Malcolm Bull 2023
Revised 02:53 / 22nd February 2023 / 4488

Page Ref: MMT535

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