Sir Roger Tichborne is my name,
I'm seeking now for wealth and fame,
They say that I was lost at sea,
But I tell them 'Oh dear, no, not me.'
This ballad, sung in procession when the Tichborne Claimant appeared at the Grand Amalgamated Demonstration of Foresters at Loughborough in August 1872, neatly compresses the story of the most celebrated of all late Victorian causes. In the spring of 1854, Roger Tichborne, a roving, hard-drinking ex-dragoon, took ship on the Bella bound for Kingston, Jamaica, out of Rio, the only passenger alongside a cargo of coffee. Neither Roger nor the ship was ever seen again. His mother, Henriette, refused to believe that he was dead. An old sailor turned up at Tichborne House begging for cash and, when asked whether he had ever heard of the Bella, said he had heard that the crew ended up in Australia. A few years later, Henriette placed advertisements in newspapers all over the world. In due course, a bankrupt butcher in Wagga Wagga, originally called Arthur Orton though at the time going by the name of Tomas Castro, slyly admitted that he was indeed Roger Tichborne, who would by now have been a baronet and the owner of the large Tichborne estate in Hampshire. And on Christmas Day 1866 he arrived in London to claim his inheritance.
LRB 2 August 2007 | PDF Download