El impostor inverosímil Tom Castro. Historia universal de la infamia.

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Roger Tichborne (left) and Arthur Orton (right)

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

Sketch of Thomas Castro’s (Arthur Orton) butcher shop in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, which may have been sketched before or during the Tichborne Case.
Roger Charles Tichborne was born on 5 January 1829 in Paris into a prominent Catholic Hampshire family. King James I of England had made his ancestor Sir Benjamin Tichborne sheriff of Southampton, a baronet in 1621. His father was James Francis Tichborne, younger brother of the head of the family, and his mother was Henriette Félicité, an illegitimate daughter of Henry Seymour who had been born and raised in France. James Tichborne’s eldest brother, Henry Joseph Tichborne, the 8th Baronet, died in 1845 leaving only daughters so the title passed to the next brother, Edward. Earlier Edward had been left a large fortune by a distant relation on the condition that he change his family name to ‘Doughty’ and with the expectation that he would have a son to carry on the Doughty name. Edward’s only son died young but he did have one daughter, Katherine, first cousin to Roger.Through the influence of his mother, who did not appreciate England very much, Roger was raised in France until the age of 16 and was fluent in French. His father, James Tichborne, had to claim that the boy had to attend a funeral in England before his mother would let him leave. In 1849 he went to Stonyhurst College and later that year joined the 6th Dragoon Guards in Dublin. Apparently his French accent caused ridicule, and he sold his commission in 1852. He also courted his cousin, Katherine Doughty, though her family disapproved both for his life style and because as Catholics they would need special permission from the Church to marry. Next year he left for South America. From Valparaíso, Chile he crossed the Andes and arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1854. In 1853, Edward Doughty died and the title and fortune passed to Roger’s father who changed his name to James Francis Doughty Tichborne.On 20 April 1854, Roger sailed from Rio Janeiro aboard the ship Bella bound for New York. He was put aboard her by a gentleman who would later be called as a witness by the government. A letter written by Roger just before his embarkation showed his intention at the time to extend his stay abroad for another two or three years. Some four or five days after the Bella sailed, her longboat was found adrift, and she was never heard of again.[1] Roger was pronounced dead the next year, 1855. Roger’s father died in 1862 and the title and property passed to Roger’s younger brother, Sir Alfred Joseph Doughty Tichborne. Alfred died in 1866 and his only son, Henry Alfred Joseph Doughty Tichborne, inherited title and property upon birth a few months later.

Claimant emerges

Arthur Orton c. 1872

On learning the news of her eldest son’s death, Sir Roger’s mother refused to admit that he was dead. She sent inquiries all over the world, and in November 1865, she received a letter from an Australian lawyer, William Gibbes, who said that a man supposedly fitting the description of her son had approached him, and was living as a butcher in the New South Wales rural town of Wagga Wagga.

The supposed Sir Roger was actually London-born Arthur Orton, who at the time used the name Tom Castro. Aside from some facial resemblance to Tichborne, he did not fit the description at all. Instead of sharp features and black hair, he had a rounded visage and light brown hair. He was also overweight and did not speak a word of French. Moreover, his first letter from Australia referred to facts Lady Tichborne did not recognise. Lady Tichborne was desperate enough, however, to accept him as her son and sent him money to come to her.

Orton was reluctant to go at first, presumably because he feared exposure, but his associates—one of whom was an old friend of Roger’s father—made him change his mind. Andrew Bogle, a former servant of Roger’s uncle Sir Edward, accompanied him on his trip to Britain. He arrived in London on Christmas Day 1866 and visited the Tichborne estates. There he met the Tichborne family solicitor Edward Hopkins and Francis J. Baigent who became his supporters. When in January he travelled to the Paris hotel where Lady Tichborne was living, the desperate lady “recognised” him instantly as her son. She even handed him Roger’s letters from South America. The fact that Orton did not understand French did not bother her, and she gave him an allowance of £1,000 a year. Orton researched Sir Roger’s life to reinforce his imposture.

After Lady Tichborne’s acceptance, various other acquaintances of Sir Roger claimed to recognise him as well. They included other officers of the 6th Dragoons, several county families and sundry Hampshire villagers. He even hired a group of manservants that had served in the 6th Dragoons.

Resistance begins

Orton caricatured in Vanity Fair by ‘Ape‘ in 1871

Other members of the Tichborne family were not so gullible and promptly declared him an impostor. Their investigators found out that this Tom Castro was a butcher’s son from Wapping and had jumped ship in Valparaíso, Chile, where he had taken the name Castro from a friendly family. Orton had even inquired about his family members in Wapping when he had come back from Australia. They also found many other discrepancies when Orton tried to fit his own South American experiences to those of Sir Roger.

When Lady Tichborne died in March 1868, Orton lost his most prominent supporter. He would have probably stopped the charade had he not owed a significant amount of money to his creditors. (He sold “Tichborne Bonds” to pay the legal costs when he tried to claim his inheritance from the Tichborne family.) The rightful heir at the time, Sir Henry Alfred Joseph Doughty Tichborne, was only two years old.


The Illustrated London News, January 24, 1874. Henry Hawkins addressing the Jury

The trial to establish his inheritance began on 11 May 1871 in the Court of Common Pleas before Sir Alexander Cockburn, 12th Baronet CJ, and lasted 102 days. Orton weathered the attacks against the discrepancies in his story and his outright ignorance of many key facts Roger would have known, including how to speak French as the heir had spent most of his youth in France.[2] Over 100 people vouched for his identity as Roger—except Orton’s brother who claimed otherwise. Eventually Sir John Coleridge (whose junior was Charles Bowen) 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 5 March 1872, when Orton’s counsel William Ballantine gave up after witnesses described tattoos which Roger had had but Orton did not, and Orton lost his upper-class supporters.

Charles Chabot gave evidence as an expert witness on questioned document examination.[3]

Orton was promptly arrested and charged with perjury. His criminal trial began in 1873 and lasted 188 days with the judge, again Sir Alexander Cockburn, taking 18 days to sum up.[4] The jury was eventually convinced—based on, for example, testimony by Orton’s former girlfriend—that this claimant was false. Orton’s defence was led by Edward Kenealy, who would later be disbarred for his aggressive behaviour during the case. Orton was convicted on two counts of perjury on 28 February 1874, and was sentenced to 14 years’ hard labour. The legal costs amounted to £200,000 (at least £10 million pounds sterling or $12 million US dollars adjusted currency).


The Beggar’s Petition

Many people who had supported the claimant’s efforts refused to believe the truth and claimed he was unjustly persecuted. Rumours included conspiracy theories about Jesuits.[5] Kenealy was elected to Parliament, but failed to convince other members to take the Tichborne case to a Royal Commission in April 1875. As a result, Orton’s supporters started a small-scale riot in London.

Orton served ten years in prison and was released in 1884, by which time the public had forgotten him. He confessed in 1895 then later retracted but aroused little interest. He died in poverty on 2 April 1898 and was buried in Paddington Cemetery in London leaving behind a widow. His coffin has a plate with the name Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne.[6]

In 1913 a woman claiming to be Theresa Mary Agnes Doughty Tichborne daughter of Sir Roger Doughty Tichborne though she was also known as Theresa Alexander was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to six months for sending threatening letters to various members of the Tichborne family claiming they were doing her out of her rightful inheritance. She was apparently a daughter of Arthur Orton.[7] In 1923 she was convicted for further threats and sentenced to a year in prison.[8]

Cultural references

Commemorative plate, held in the National Museum of Australia, Eternity gallery. The text around the rim reads: “Would you be surprised to find that this is Tichborne”.

  • The Australian novelist Marcus Clarke (1846–1881) used elements of the Tichborne Case in his novel For the Term of His Natural Life (1874). In the novel the transported convict, John Rex, travels back to England and assumes the identity of Richard Devine. Clarke’s interest in the Tichbornes also led to a lesser known novel Chidiock Tichborne(1874).[citation needed]
  • Jevons‘s Logic, 1876, a small textbook by the economist who invented marginal utility theory, mentions this case to illustrate proof by weight of evidence. The claimant, for example, was unable to distinguish Greek text from Latin.[citation needed]
  • Music hall performer Harry Relph, known on the stage as “Little Tich”, took his stage name from the Tichborne claimant.[10]
  • By 1895 the case had popularised the use of the phrase “you will not be surprised to hear”.[11]
  • Mark Twain‘s 1897 book Following the Equator contains a chapter about the Tichborne Claimant as part of the history of Wagga Wagga.[citation needed]
  • A 1924 play by Margaret Watts (or MF Watts, as she was billed) ran for a short period at the Queen’s Theatre, London starting on 11 September and closing on 18 October and dealt with the history of the case. Directed by Basil Dean, the writer of the play is today better remembered as the sister of crime writer Agatha Christie.[12]
  • The Crooked Hinge (1938) by detective novelist John Dickson Carr combines a seemingly impossible throat-slashing with elements of witchcraft, an automaton modelled on Maelzel‘s Chess Player, and the story of the Tichborne Claimant.
  • Mary Elizabeth Braddon‘s novel Aurora Floyd contains a quote written in Orton’s notebook and used against him during his trial. It reads: “I should think fellows with plenty of money and no brains must have been created for the good of fellows with plenty of brains and no money.”
  • In 1933 Jorge Luis Borges published a short story, “El impostor inverosímil Tom Castro” (“Tom Castro, the Implausible Impostor“). It is an accurate account of the Tichborne case except for the enhanced role of Ben Bogle, although it has often been taken for a work of fiction.[citation needed]
  • Michael Innes‘ detective novel A Change of Heir (1966) has a plot very much along Tichborne Claimant lines, though its hero was provided with interminable diaries to make his recollections convincing.([citation needed]
  • The Link: A Victorian Mystery (1969) is a fictionalization of the Tichborne case by British novelist Robin Maugham.[citation needed]
  • Patrick White‘s 1979 novel The Twyborn Affair, homophone of “The Tichborne Affair”[13] is suffused with ambiguous re-births.[14]
  • The 1995 album The Green Bicycle Case, by the Australian band the Lucksmiths, contains a track titled “The Tichborne Claimant” relating to this case.[citation needed]
  • The 1998 movie The Tichborne Claimant is loosely based on the facts of this case; the dates were changed and Andrew Bogle is presented as the instigator of the fraud (in fact he was deemed by Lord Chief Justice Cockburn after the trial to have been honest but mistaken.[citation needed]
  • The Simpsons episode “The Principal and the Pauper” is based on the Tichborne Case. On the Simpsons Season 9 commentary, the writer vehemently confirms that the story is based on the true story of the Tichborne Heir, not Martin Guerre as many internet fans loudly proclaimed.[15]
  • The 2011 novel The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man (Pyr) by Mark Hodder sets the Tichborne Case as the centerpiece, recasting facts of the case within a speculative, fictional narrative.[16]


  1. ^ Morse, John Torrey (1874). Famous Trials: The Tichborne Claimant, Troppmann, Prince Pierre Bonaparte, Mrs. Wharton, the Meteor, Mrs Fair. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company. p. 14.
  2. ^ University of Texas, Tarlton Law Library – notes on the Tichborne Case
  3. ^ Henderson, T. F. (2004) “Chabot, Charles (bap. 1815, d. 1882)“, rev. John D. Haigh, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press , <accessed 27 July 2007> (subscription required)
  4. ^ [Anon.] (1911) “Sir Alexander Cockburn“, Encyclopaedia Britannica
  5. ^ page 352 of The Tichborne Case
  6. ^ from the London Daily Mail (1898-04-18). “Dead, but still the claimant: Arthur Orton to be buried as Sir Roger Tichborne”. The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-31.
  7. ^ “The Tichborne Case: The defendant sentenced”. The Times (London): p. 2. 1913-07-13.
  8. ^ “Tichborne Case Sentence”. The Times (London): p. 9. 1923-10-26.
  9. ^ Tarlton.law.utexas.edu
  10. ^ Ernest Henry, Short (1970). Ring Up the Curtain: Being a Pageant of English Entertainment covering Half a Century. Ayer Publishing. p. 61. ISBN 0836952995.
  11. ^ From “The Dress for Bicycling” by Dora de Blaquiere, volume 17, 5 October 1895, p14; reprinted on p178 of Selections from The girl’s own paper, 1880-1907 By Terri Doughty (2004)
  12. ^ Morgan, Janet. Agatha Christie, A Biography. (Pages 113-115) Collins, 1984 ISBN 0-00-216330-6
  13. ^ Mackenzie, Manfred. “” The Mighty Pipe Smoking Me “: Imposture in Such is Life”. Journal of the South Pacific Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies. Retrieved 2 April 2010.
  14. ^ “Roger, is that you?”. English: Sydney Morning Herald. 3 August 2002. Retrieved 2 April 2010.
  15. ^ Keeler, Ken. (2006). Commentary for “The Principal and the Pauper”, in The Simpsons: The Complete Ninth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox, 4:25–5:00.
  16. ^ Hodder, Mark. The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man. Pyr. Retrieved March 2011.


  • Annear, R. (2002). The Man Who Lost Himself: The Unbelievable Story of the Tichborne Claimant. Melbourne, Australia: Text Publishing. ISBN 1-877008-17-6.
  • Michael Diamond (2003). Victorian Sensation. Anthem Press. pp. 57–63. ISBN 1-84331-150-X.
  • Rohan McWilliam: The Tichborne Claimant: A Victorian Sensation, Hambledon Continuum, London 2007 ISBN 1-85285478-2
  • Twain, Mark (1897). “Chapter XV”. Following the Equator. literaturecollection.com. Retrieved 2007-05-06.
  • Woodruff, Douglas. The Tichborne Claimant: A Victorian Mystery, Farrar, Straus (1957)
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