Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol III (1901).djvu/251

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Orton
Orton
237


claimant was the heir of Sir James Tichborne. Previously to this, however, he had been cross-examined on one of his affidavits, and had committed himself to a large number of facts. He had described his rescue from the Bella's boat by a ship called the Osprey, and, aided by Roger's diaries and letters, which had been preserved by Lady Tichborne, had transferred to the former a good many of his own wanderings and adventures.

Meanwhile the trustees learnt that it was freely asserted in Australia that Tom Castro originally bore the name of Orton, and their attention was directed to Wapping, whither it was discovered t hat the claimant had repaired on the first night of his arrival in England. The parents were dead, but he had made inquiries after the surviving members of the family. During his absence from England to attend an inquiry in South America for the purpose of testing the alleged visit to Melipilla, Charles Orton declared to the trustees that the claimant was his brother Arthur, and had ever since his return kept up close relations with himself and his sisters.

In consequence of this and of the Melipilla inquiry establishing the fact that Roger had never been there, but that Arthur Orton had, the claimant's solicitor and a large number of his supporters withdrew from the case. The claimant was penniless and owed huge sums. Lady Tichborne had died in April 1868, and Mr. Hopkins was also dead. Left to himself, he might have thrown up the attempt ; but behind him were a number of creditors. Fresh sums were obtained by the issue of 'Tichborne Bonds,' and eventually, after a long delay to take evidence in Australia, his ejectment action against the trustees of the Tichborne estate came on before Chief-justice Bovill and a special jury.

The trial of this action lasted for 102 days, between 11 May 1871 and 5 March 1872. Serjeant Ballantine led for the claimant, Sir John (afterwards Lord chief-justice) Coleridge [q. v. Suppl.] and Mr. Hawkins, Q.C. (afterwards Sir Henry Hawkins, Lord Brampton), for the trustees. The claimant himself was not put in the box until something like forty of his witnesses had been called. His cross-examination at the hands of Sir John Coleridge lasted twenty-two days, and was remarkable alike for the colossal ignorance displayed by him and for the acuteness and bulldog tenacity with which he faced the ordeal. To quote Sir John's own words : 'Did you ever see a more clever man, more ready, more astute, or with more ability in dealing with information and making use of the slightest hint dropped by cross-examining counsel?' His deficiencies are summed up by the same authority : 'The first sixteen years of his life he had absolutely forgotten; the few facts he had told the jury were already proved, or would hereafter be shown, to be absolutely false and fabricated. Of his college life he could recollect nothing. . . . About his amusements, his books, his music, his games, he could tell nothing. Not a word of his family, of the people with whom he lived, their habits, their persons, their very names.' 'When he reappears in 1865 he has undergone a physical and a moral miracle : a slight, delicate, undersized youth has developed into an enormous mass of flesh.'

Indeed, this physical discrepancy is one of the most remarkable features of the whole imposture. Roger Tichborne had been slight and delicate with narrow sloping shoulders, a long narrow face, and thin straight dark hair. The claimant, though about the same height, was of enormous bulk, scaling over twenty-four stone, big-framed and burly, with a large round face and abundance of fair and rather wavy hair. There can be little doubt that he did present points of resemblance to several male members of the Tichborne family, but, curiously enough, Roger was described by the witnesses as a bad-looking copy of his beautiful French mother, and utterly unlike the Tichbornes. Moreover, Roger, born and educated in France, spoke and wrote French like a native ; the claimant did notknow a word of French. Roger's English correspondence was often ungrammatical, with traces of foreign idiom; the claimant's letters were monuments of vulgar illiteracy ; yet there were strange coincidences both in spelling and expression.

Over one hundred persons swore to the claimant's identity ; they were drawn from every class and with few exceptions were perfectly genuine in their belief, though the most influential and respectable of them were called prior to the claimant's cross-examination. It was not until Sir John Coleridge, in a speech of unparalleled length, laid bare the whole conspiracy and placed the inception of the fraud before the world, that the result ceased to be doubtful. Up till then educated and legal society had been evenly divided. The first witness called for the defendant trustees swore to having tattooed Roger at Stonyhurst, whereas the claimant had denied having been tattooed and his arm showed no marks. After several members of the Tichborne and Seymour families had been in the box, the jury declared that they required no further evidence, on which