The sad story of Sir Roger Tichborne, the heir to the Tichborne family estate in Hampshire, was prominent news in 1854. He was lost at sea travelling back home from South America and the events surrounding his death obviously caught the imagination of the new licensee Charles Covey and his associates, thus the new beer house was named The Sir Roger Tichborne a very unconventional name for a public house. The history of Sir Roger Tichborne is a fascinating story.
Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne was born January 5th 1829, in Paris as the eldest son of a baronet and heir to the Roman Catholic Hampshire family of Tichborne. King James I of England had made his ancestor Sir Benjamin Tichborne, sheriff of Southampton, a baronet in 1621. His father was James Francis Doughty-Tichborne and his mother French-born lady Henriette Felicite.Through the influence of his mother, who did not appreciate England very much, Sir Roger mainly spoke French. In fact, he lived with his mother in France until the age of 16. James Tichborne had to claim that the boy was going to 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. Next year he left for South America. From Valparaíso he crossed the Andes and arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 1854. In April, on his way back home, his ship was lost at sea with all hands, and he was pronounced dead the next year. The title and the estates passed to his younger brother Sir Alfred Joseph Doughty-Tichborne (who died 1866).
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 a Sydney lawyer who claimed that a man supposedly fitting the description of her son was living as a butcher in Wagga Wagga, Australia. The supposed Sir Roger was actually 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 round features and light brown hair. He was also overweight and did not speak a word of French. His first letter referred to facts Lady Tichborne did not recognise. However, Lady Tichborne was desperate enough 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 Sir Roger's father—made him change his mind. Sir Roger's former servant Andrew Bogle 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 Sir Roger's letters from South America. The fact that Orton did not understand a word of French did not bother her, and she gave him an allowance of £1,000 a year. Orton researched Sir Roger's life to enforce his imposture.
After Lady Tichborne's acceptance, various other acquaintances of Sir Roger accepted him as well. They included other officers of the 6th Dragoons, several county families and Hampshire villagers. He even hired a group of manservants who had served in the 6th Dragoons.
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.TrailsThe 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 Sir Roger would have known, including how to speak French as the heir had spent most of his youth in France. Over 100 people vouched for his identity as Sir 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 Sir Roger had had but Orton did not, and Orton lost his upper-class supporters. 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. 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 ten million pounds sterling or twenty million US dollars adjusted currency).
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. 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 alternately confessed and claimed he was innocent but aroused little interest. He died in poverty on 2 April 1898. His coffin still carries the name Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne.