THE TICHBORNE CASE
In 1854, a young English aristocrat, Sir Roger Tichborne, fell in love with his cousin Katherine and proposed to her. Both families were strongly opposed to the marriage, and Sir Roger, heartbroken, left England to travel around the world and try to forget. His ship sank off the coast of America and he drowned. His body was never recovered, but after three years he was officially declared dead and the family fortune passed to his nephew, Henry. Sir Roger’s mother, however, refused to believe that he was dead and advertised all over the world for news of her long-lost son.
In 1866, one of these advertisements came to the attention of Thomas Castro, a butcher in Wagga Wagga, Australia. He wrote to Lady Tichborne claiming to be Sir Roger arid apologizing for not having written to her for 12 years. He said that he would like to come home but had no money. Lady Tichborne was overjoyed that her “son” had been found. She wrote back, suggesting that he should visit a former family servant, named Bogle, who was living in Sydney.
Castro discovered as much as he could about the Tichborne family and visited Bogle, an elderly and rather short-sighted gentleman. Despite the fact that Castro was ten centimeters shorter and ten kilograms heavier than Sir Roger, Bogle confirmed that he was real. Castro explained that the hardships of life in Australia had changed his appearance. On receiving a letter from Bogle, Lady Tichborne sent enough money to pay for the fare back to England.
When she met Castro, Lady Tichborne was convinced that he was her son and arranged for him to receive £1 ,000 a year, a very large sum of money in those days. If Castro had not been greedy, that might have been the end of the matter, but he insisted that he was the rightful heir to the title and to the entire family fortune, which was extremely large. Apart from Lady Tichborne-and the family solicitor, members of the family and friends were not convinced and started to look for evidence to disprove Castro’s claims. The real Sir Roger had been brought up in France and spoke French fluently, but when Thomas Castro was addressed in French, he could not reply. He said that he had forgotten how to speak French because there had been no opportunity to use that language in Australia.
Eventually, in 1871, the matter went to court, and although his most important ally, Bogle, had died by that time, Castro pressed ahead with the case. Henry Tich borne’s lawyers soon discovered that this man was neither Sir Roger Tichborne nor Thomas Castro. In fact, he was Arthur Orton, who had been born in Wapping in London and had spent most of his life in Chile. He was also wanted by the Australian police for horse-stealing.
Nevertheless, the claimant managed to produce a hundred witnesses who swore under oath tloat he was who he claimed to be. After a hearing of 102 days, the court found that he was not Sir Roger Tichborne. Castro, alias Orton, was then arrested and charged with perjury, that is, ,vith telling lies in court. After a second trial lasting 188 days, he was found guilty and sentenced to 14 years in prison. He still maintained that he was Sir Roger, but when he was released from prison in 1884, he finally admitted that he was an imposter. He died on 1 April 1898.