LaBudde | The Great Tichborne Case Collection

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Scope and Content of Collection

The Great Tichborne Case Collection is housed in the LaBudde Special Collections of the UMKC Miller Nichols Library. It is a lean but significant collection of ephemera and other items documenting the celebrated 19th-century legal case in the United Kingdom of Arthur Orton, an impostor who claimed to be missing heir Sir Roger Tichborne. Orton's conduct was so outrageous that it was the target for much fodder in newspapers and other publications. The collection highlights the vast notoriety given to this case and the fate of Orton. Included is the Pictorial Souvenir of the Great Tichborne Case with a narrative of the lives of Tichborne and Orton. This volume has the accounts of both Orton trials: the first to claim heir to the Tichborne legacy, the second when he was charged with perjury after proven an imposter. Also included in the collection are eight chapbooks, 15 song sheets, caricatures taken from magazines and even Tichborne Alphabets. One interesting item is a greeting card, (perhaps a valentine) asking to be the "Claimant for your hand and heart". The card depicts Orton in the foreground of a butcher shop. There are facsimile documents of the Tichborne Estate Mortgage Debenture and The Claimant's Letter from Newgate. The newspapers, Tichborne News and Anti-Oppression Journal and Tichborne Gazette, contain accounts of the trial and have inclusive dates of June 15, 1872 – August 31, 1872.

Historical Sketch

The affair of the Tichborne claimant was the celebrated 19th-century legal case in the United Kingdom of Arthur Orton (1834–1898), an impostor who claimed to be missing heir Sir Roger Tichborne (1829–1854).

Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne was born the first of two surviving sons to Sir James and Lady Henrietta Felicite Tichborne in Paris, France in 1829. Being the eldest son of a wealthy family, it was expected that his life would be spent in luxury while waiting for his father to die to inherit; however, he joined the army in 1849. After a time he decided it wasn't working for him and resigned his commission. In 1854 Sir Roger set out to see the world and find himself. After traveling in South America for a year he decided to sail from Rio de Janeiro to New York onboard the British cargo schooner Bella. On the morning of April 30 they set sail but on the fourth day the ship foundered. It is unknown whether it was a result of bad weather or the shifting of cargo, but the Bella capsized before anyone was able to abandon ship. An inquest was held and the Bella, her passengers and crew were officially declared lost at sea.

Lady Tichborne, Roger's mother, refused to believe her son was dead. Her family tried to convince her otherwise, to accept that Sir Roger was gone forever, but she would not. She advertised in presses all over the world in an attempt to locate him. In 1866 Thomas Castro, aka Arthur Orton, of Wagga Wagga in Wales came forward to claim he was the long lost Sir Roger Tichborne. The now eccentric and excitable Lady Tichborne accepted the imposter without question even though his stature was not as her son's and his demeanor nothing like him. Other members of the Tichborne family were not convinced and declared him an impostor. Later, they investigated and found out that Orton was a butcher's son from Wapping in Wales and had jumped ship in Valparaíso, Chile, where he had taken the name Castro from a friendly family.

When Lady Tichborne died, Orton lost his most prominent supporter. He sold "Tichborne Bonds" to pay the legal costs when he tried to claim his inheritance from the Tichborne family. The trial to establish his inheritance began in the Court of Common Pleas on May 11, 1871, and lasted 102 days. Orton's testimony contained many discrepancies in his story and his ignorance of many key facts Sir Roger would have known. Over 100 people vouched for his identity as Sir Roger — except Orton's brother who claimed otherwise. Finally, Sir John Coleridge revealed the whole case in a cross-examination that lasted 22 days, and the evidence of the Tichborne family eventually convinced the jury. The case was closed on March 5, 1872, when Orton's counsel William Ballantine gave up, and Orton lost his upper-class supporters.

After the trial Orton was arrested for perjury and tried at the Bar in 1873. Even more witnesses were called this time, but on the 188th day the jury found that he was guilty, and he was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He was released in 1884 and in 1895 published a signed confession. The case was a great source of class strife at the time of the trials, and even today some authors maintain that the government railroaded the claimant.

 

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