“The pretty girls they’ll always think, Of poor Roger’s Wagga Wagga”
In 1853 Sir Roger Doughty Charles Tichborne, the 24-year-old heir to a rich estate, left his home to experience the world. The ship he was on sank in April 1854 and he was never seen again. His devoted French mother, Lady Henriette, refused to believe that he had died and began placing advertisements in newspapers worldwide, seeking information.
In November 1866 she received a letter from a lawyer in Sydney, Australia who said he had found her son. She sent money and the “son” arrived in London on a snowy 25 December 1866 and visited the family estate in Hampshire.
On 10 January 1867 Henriette met her “son” in Paris where she lived, and embraced him. She gave him an allowance of £1,000 per annum. The locals in Hampshire accepted the man as Roger Tichborne, as did the family solicitor and his former Army colleagues in the 6th Dragoon Guards. Lady Tichborne died on 12 March 1868.
The trustees of the Tichborne estate doubted that this man was, in fact, Roger Tichborne and they had a point. The overweight claimant bore little resemblance to Tichborne and was, in fact, a butcher from Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, born in London and named Arthur Orton. Seeing the money slipping from his fingers, Orton had to sue to be recognised as the legitimate heir.
Thursday 10 January 1867
The civil trial began on 11 May 1871 at the Court of Common Pleas. It lasted 103 days and collapsed on 6 March 1872. Orton was sent to Newgate prior to the criminal trial. He was released on bail from Newgate on 26 April 1872. The second trial opened on Wednesday 23 April 1873 and lasted 188 days, ending on 28 February 1874 at 12.35pm.
It resulted in Orton being sentenced to 14 years’ hard labour (two consecutive terms of seven years) for perjury. The jury retired for just 30 minutes in this, the longest British trial (a record held until 1996). The whole case spanned 827 days and cost £55,315. Doggerel of the time ran: “When the jury said I was not Roger, Oh! How the jury made me stagger, The pretty girls they’ll always think, Of poor Roger’s Wagga Wagga” Arthur Orton was released from prison on 22 October 1884. Perhaps appropriately, he died on 1 April 1898, at his home in London. A plaque attached to his coffin bore the legend ‘Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne’.