It all started in 1853, when Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne was sent off on an extended ocean voyage to South America. This kind of voyage was a popular cure amongst aristocrats for improper or strange behaviour. It was so that he could recover from his disappointment that he was not allowed to marry his cousin Katherine.

Roger was the heir to a rather sizeable estate and fortune. His family dated back to two centuries before the Norman Conquest of the British Isles.

When he arrived in South America, he crossed the Andes and left Rio de Janeiro to head for Australia on April 20, 1854, on the ship Bella. When the ship sunk, nobody managed to abandon it. The only trace discovered was an upturned long boat and debris. An inquest was held and the Bella, her passenger and crew were officially declared lost at sea.

In 1862 the estates of the Tichborne family were passed down to Roger’s younger brother, Alfred. Their mother, Dowager Lady Henriette Tichborne had firmly refused to believe that her son Roger was dead. When her husband Sir James died in 1862, she started to take out advertisements in newspapers from South America and Mexico to Australia. In the ads, she made it quite evident that she was desperate and that a substantial reward would be offered for any information. When Alfred died, it left her as the only living member of the family.

In 1865 a letter from Australia arrived. It was from an agency in who believed they had discovered her son, now working as a butcher in Wagga Wagga. New South Wales. At the time, Wagga Wagga was a small country town of only 1000 people, and everyone knew each other. The man was going under the name Thomas Castro, and he was in the middle of a bankruptcy case, as his Butcher shop was failing.

To the astonishment of everybody involved, Lady Henriette immediately accepted this claimant as her son, despite the fact there were several very good reasons to suspect fraud here. Roger had been a slight, narrow-chested man who weighed 125 pounds. He spoke fluent French and had a tattoo on his left arm. The claimant was anything but slight, spoke not a word of French and had no tattoos at all.

But in Australia he was known as Roger Tichborne, and was received as royalty. The claim had sparked a great deal of interest, not only because of its unlikeliness, but also as a social issue. The working-class of Britain offered their support to Castro, the claimant. It was through the raising of money from public meetings that he paid for a large portion of legal costs. The working-class viewed this as a battle- he had lived as an aristocrat, and then lived at a level of poverty and was being pushed out of his right in which he was born. To the rulers of Britain- aristocrats, priests of the Catholic Church and politicians, the idea of freedom that this case had represented, and the fervour that had been inspired into the masses was the problem.

When he arrived in England for the trials he met up with several people from his childhood, one of whom was Andrew Bogle. After only a short talk with two people, they became convinced this was Roger. Both said he displayed such a detailed knowledge of people and events connected with the family and estate, details only the real Sir Roger could have known.

The rest of the family found firm evidence that this man was actually Arthur Orton, the son of a butcher from London. When the family bought suit against Orton in 1871, he spoke of ‘his’ grandfather, who Roger had never met and many other small details that Roger could never have known about. Lady Henriette was so desperate to believe that she had found her son that she insisted “I think my poor, dear Roger confuses everything in his head, just as in a dream, and I believe him to be my son, though his statements differ from mine”.

Many years later it was found that Andrew Bogle approached Orton (or Castro as he was known) and offered him his services, to provide him with the Tichborne family information, contacts and aristocratic social skills so that he could claim Sir Roger's estate - probably for a percentage of the inheritance in return.

Before the trial got to court, Henriette died. Eventually, Orton was convicted of fraud and perjury. He was sent to prison for 14 years. He was released after serving ten years and sold his story to a newspaper for 3 000 pounds. A few years later he died, his gravestone was inscribed ‘Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne; born 5 January 1829, died 1 April 1898.’
(You have to wonder whether the date there has any significance!)

The Tichborne Affair has been the inspiration for many novels, journalism, theatre and plays. The strangest of all was probably the figurines and novelty pipes of The Claimant sold in shops. His wax model was even exhibited at Madame Tussaud’s in London. Some of the novels include;

  • ’For the Term of His Natural life’ by Marcus Clarke
  • ’The Twyborne Affair’ by Patrick White
  • ’Claim’ by Mat Schulz

Sources: - For a photo of Roger Tichborne. –A very very long and more detailed story.
‘Claim’ – By Mat Schulz. – A work of fiction based on the story (I highly recommend this book!)