This episode of the ON TRIAL series is based on a mystery that is officially settled forever, but still leaves doubts (though less and less as the years pass by).
In 1854 one of the wealthiest Catholic landed families in Great Britain was the Tichborne family, whose history went back to medieval times. That year, a young member of the family named Roger Tichborne went on a trip to Latin America. On the trip his ship, the "Bella" sailed into a storm and was never seen again (some wreckage was found). No survivors turned up either. Roger was the youngest son of the current baronet, and nobody realized that within a few years all older heirs would prematurely die before Roger's father. By 1863 such was the situation. To make matters worse, Roger's mother, Lady Tichborne, refused to accept the logical conclusion that Roger died at sea.
Lady Tichborne began putting expensive advertisements in newspapers for information about Roger's fate all over the British Empire. A news item caught the attention of one Thomas (or Tomas) Castro, a heavy man who lived in Australia. He contacted Lady Tichborne, and she sent him funds to come to Paris.
Roger was a slender, well educated (if somewhat lazy) young man, who had served in the military, and had never married because of his love for a young woman who married someone else. Castro weighed over 350 lbs. and was not well educated. But Lady Tichborne saw him, and recognized him as her son! As there was currently a young baby boy (a nephew of Roger's) who was currently the Baronet, this meant that there was a possible legal problem with hundreds of thousands of pounds of money and land at stake! Lady Tichborne officially recognized Castro/"Sir Roger", and left her estate to him. She died a few years afterward.
The case would go on for years. Castro/"Sir Roger" got a bunch of assistants around him, including a former servant to the family named Bogle (not "Bogie" as in the cast - the servant was not like Humphrey Bogart!). It has been suggested that the gradual great increase of knowledge shown by Castro/"Sir Roger" to family and friends of Roger was due to coaching by Bogle and the other assistants. Many of Roger's friends did insist that Castro/"Sir Roger" was genuine, and would stick to him until the end.
Eventually there were two long trials - the two longest trials in British history up to that time, that lasted three years. The first was to prove the case of the "Claimant" (Castro/"Sir Roger") to being Roger and being baronet. This fell apart due to his answers to various personal questions showing true lack of knowledge of Latin (Roger was a wizard at Latin), as well as his insulting the young lady who was the apple of Roger's eye (the "Claimant" openly suggested they had a sexual affair - actually it was quite chaste). Then former Inspector Jonathan Whicher (see THE MOONSTONE) came out of retirement for the Tichborne family. He had followed the Claimant, and discovered he was really Arthur Orton, a butcher from Wapping, London. The "Claimant" was non-suited in the first trial.
The second trial was for perjury. Orton was defended by a noisy, obnoxious barrister named Dr. Keneally, who built up a case of a monstrous conspiracy against Orton by the Tichborne family to keep him (a Protestant) from taking the estate from the Catholics. A great deal of religious bigotry was involved, and Keneally had (unfortunately) massive public support. Yet the second trial ended with Orton being convicted of perjury and getting fourteen years in prison. He served the time, and died (impoverished) in Australia in 1898.
Was the truth uncovered? I tend to feel it was, as Whicher was a very gifted detective. But there have been voiced doubts ever since 1874, and suggestions that Orton may have been an illegitimate half-brother of Roger. There were, despite Orton's weight and fat, some similarities in the faces. But that does not mean much. So many lies by Orton and his supporters were discovered that, in the end, it is hard to believe there was much truth there. Yet, after the Jack the Ripper Case, except possibly for the Bravo Poisoning Case in 1876, the Tichborne Case is probably the second great Victorian Mystery.
I note that Lady Tichborne was played by Dame Gladys Cooper in this episode, and the hefty Robert Middleton was Orton/Castro/"Tichborne". It sounds like good casting in both roles. Maybe one day it will be released again on television.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?