The story of the Tichbourne Claimant has all the elements of a Victorian Melodrama, but it illustrates in many ways real life is stranger than fiction.
Roger Charles Tichborne was born in Paris in 1829. He was bought up mainly in France, although the Tichbourne family home was in Hampshire.
In 1854, Roger Tichborne now heir to the family fortune boarded a ship, the Bella bound for New York, but less than a week later, the Bella was lost at sea and in 1855 Roger was declared dead.
Roger’s mother Lady Tichborne however refused to give up hope and sent messages to be printed in newspapers around the world asking for further information about Roger’s fate.
In 1865 an Australian solicitor contacted Lady Tichbourne with the news that a man claiming to be her son had contacted him.
The man who contacted him was called Tom Castro a butcher from Wagga Wagga , although Tom Castro was a larger build than Roger Tichborne when he had disappeared there was some physical likeness.
Lady Tichborne sent for Castro who arrived in London in 1866, when she met him she declared he was Roger Tichborne and set him up in England with a generous allowance. Other people connected with the family declared Castro was Roger Tichbourne.
Other members of the Tichborne family however were not so convinced. They employed agents to travel the world to check Castro’s story and they discovered that Castro was actually Wapping-born butchers son Arthur Orton who had left England, jumped ship in Chile and ended up eventually in Australia.
To resolve the conflict of whether Castro was Roger Tichborne or Arthur Orton, some of the Tichborne family took his claim to court, therefore beginning one of the most celebrated legal cases of the nineteenth century.
The first trial Tichborne v. Lushington was a civil trial to establish Orton’s claim to the Tichborne inheritance, after a year it was decided Castro was not Roger Tichborne but was Arthur Orton.
Although “The Claimant” as Castro/Orton was known had lost the case and the trial had polarised public opinion in the country and a considerable number of people showed their support by contributing money to the Claimants defence. Although many the newspapers of the day were convinced Orton was a fraud, there was many people who thought that “the Claimant” had been treated unfairly.
In 1873 the Claimant faced a perjury trial, Regina v. Castro, Once again the verdict went against Orton and he was convicted of two counts of perjury and sentenced to 14 years’ hard labour.
In the end Orton served ten years in prison gaining freedom in 1884, for the next couple of years Orton travelled around Music Halls trying to make a living from his celebrity, It was also claimed he had confessed to a newspaper that he was Orton for a substantial amount of money. But when this money had run out he withdrew this confession.
Eventually interest in the case eventually waned and Orton lived in poverty till he died in 1898.
Many questions have been raised about the strange story of Arthur Orton, How did a butchers son from Wapping became involved in this elaborate fraud ? Why was the country so divided on the case ? Even today there are still some people that still believe Arthur Orton was the real Roger Tichborne.
Even in the death of Arthur Orton there was a final twist to the story, the coroner, his death certificate and a coffin plate all named him as Sir Roger Tichborne.
As a newspaper of the time stated
‘The Judges of the High Court were two years in determining that the living Tichborne was Orton. The Registrar of Births and Deaths determined in two minutes that the dead Orton was Tichborne.’