If the greatest criminal mystery of Victorian England was the Whitechapel/Jack the Ripper murders of 1888, the Ticheborne Claimant case has claims to being the second greatest mystery of that period. Officially it has been "solved". I will not make any effort to support or condemn the Claimant. But it is a remarkable story which led to the longest series of trials in Victorian criminal jurisprudence.
I have not seen this episode but it appears that only the first trial was the dramatized because I fail to see one name in the cast who would have to be involved in the second trial: Dr. Keneally. More about him later.
In 1854 a young Catholic aristocrat named Roger Tichborne took a trip to South America. Roger was third in line to a wealthy baronetcy, and was on this trip after being rejected for marriage. Finally he wrote that he was returning home on a boat the "Bella". It set sail but apparently sank in a storm a few days out with the loss of the entire crew and passengers. I say apparently because there was very little in the way of physical wreckage found.
Shortly after the two lives between Roger and the title ended. If Roger was dead a baby nephew was the new owner of the title and estates. Again Roger could have been declared legally dead after seven years. But his mother, the Dowager Lady Tichborne, refused to acknowledge he was dead. She started an international campaign to find her son alive again.
One of the advertisements was published in the Australian colonies, and came to the attention of one Thomas (or Tomas) Castro. Castro was an obese (Sidney Greenstreet size) young man, a butcher by trade, who had come to Australia from South America. Goaded by a crooked solicitor, Castro contacted Lady Tichborne claiming he was the missing Roger. She sent him money and he traveled to Paris. She went to his rooms (at an expensive hotel that she paid for) and recognized him by looking at him while he was covered in blankets in a bed facing the wall, with only his ears visible - and in a dark light. Lady Tichborne insisted it was her Roger, and Tomas/"Thomas" Castro knew he had a meal ticket.
Soon he was back in England, and he began gaining other supporters, like Andrew Bogle a former servant of the Tichbornes. Soon people noticed that Castro's memories of the other family members and their friends improved - especially after Bogle was in a position to tutor him on family history. Yet occasionally some of Roger's old intimates heard the Claimant say things that...well that only Roger could have said from personal knowledge. Many became Castro's adherents.
Castro was a practicing Protestant, and I fully believe that this was the key to the massive upsurge of popular support. Despite the existence of vicious anti-Semitism and anti-third world feelings in England in the 1870s, anti-Catholicism was still the biggest bigotry around. Knowing that Tom Castro was a good Protestant, being "cheated" out of his rights led many other Protestants to support him to the point of idiocy. Lady Tichborne died in 1869, and Castro (on the advise of his solicitor) started "Tichborne bonds" which if purchased guaranteed repayment with interest from the estates as soon as Castro was recognized as Roger. The bond issue, incredible as it may seem, sold well.
The events of the next few years are incredible and complicated. But in 1871 the case finally went to court. It would take two years before Castro was proved an impostor. The Tichborne family got the services of former Chief Inspector Jonathan Whicher of Scotland Yard, who had retired after his proper solution of the Road Murder of Francis Saville Kent by his sister Constance (see DEAD OF NIGHT) was rejected by the public in 1860, before Constance decided to confess. Whicher and his private operatives watched Castro's movements and found that he constantly was looking for the family of one Arthur Orton, a butcher from Wapping in London. Orton looked very much like Castro. This evidence, as well as some loony mistakes Castro made on the witness stand sunk his case - but it took two years to sink.
Subsequently Castro/Orton was put on trial for perjury. Here he was defended by Dr. Keneally, who was a total pro-Orton fanatic. If the first trial took two years in order to link Castro to Orton, the second trial took a year and a half (it ended in 1874) due to Keneally throwing in all sorts of "psychological" bits of crap that he felt showed Orton was Sir Roger, had suffered from physical changes (he weighed about 200 lbs more than Sir Roger), and that the witnesses against Orton were liars and perjurers. Not only did none of this work, but Keneally was subsequently disbarred for his defense of Orton. However, he was also subsequently elected a member of Parliament. Go figure!
Orton got fourteen years for fraud. But he lost weight in prison, and suddenly showed a more genteel side to his nature - one closer to what Sir Roger would have been like. The physical changes also showed how his face looked much more like Roger Tichborne than one would have thought. Orton later admitted he was a fraud, but then - still later - renounced his confession. On his death in 1898 he was buried as Sir Roger Tichborne!
I told you it was an incredible story, and it still is debated. I think he was a fraud (Whicher and the prosecution team of Sir John Coleridge, Harding Gifford, and Henry Hawkins proved it). But he certainly left many small unanswered questions, especially regarding his physiological changes in the 1880s. Could he have been an illegitimate member of the family? Was he really Orton? The fact is we are not absolutely sure to this day.
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