11th May 1871. The Tichborne Curse.

A picture on the front of The Illustrated London News in January 1874 shows counsel addressing the jury when he demolished the case of Arthur Orton, the false claimant of the Tichborne title and estates, in Alresford, Hamps.(1)

This 19thc cause-celebre stems from the disputed ‘Tichborne Claimant’ after the rightful baronet, Sir Reginald Tichborne Bt. (1829-1854), was supposedly drowned sailing from South America.

The problem was that the missing Tichborne had been brought up in France by a Catholic, French mother who couldn’t accept that her son had died and was in Australia.

She advertised in the Australian Press and Orton of Wagga-Wagga professed to be her long, lost son despite his lack of French and speaking with a Cockney/Australian ‘twang’. Also he was discovered to be a butcher originally from Wapping, London.

Their likeness was in some doubt as seen in the picture below.





The dispute went to court, originally as a civil case which began Today in 1871 in the Court of Common Pleas before Sir William Bovill, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas.

The leading Counsel for Orton was Edward Vaughan Hyde Kenealy, a member of the Irish and English bar who took over the civil-action from William Campbell Sleigh. Against him was the Solicitor-General, Hawkins.(2)

The case lasted for 102 days with the jury ruling against Orton who was dispatched to Newgate Jail in March 1872.

However Orton alias Castro, acquired a lot of public sympathy and still protesting his claim, it went now to the Criminal Court under Lord Chief Justice, Sir Alexander Cockburn, and set to w last 188 days from April 1873 to February of next year.

Here again the jury found against Orton who was sentenced in total to 14 years.

Painting by Frederick Sargent showing Orton the claimant, lower centre, behind Kenealy rising to speak.

The curse presumably was now lifted from the Family, which had resulted from the 12th century ‘Dole’ founded in the village of Tichborne, by Lady Mabella Tichborne, who laid a curse that if the Dole, of gallons of flour to the poor, wasn’t kept up, the Tichborne’s would fall, and seven sons would be followed by seven daughters.

Tichborne Dole 1671 by Gillis van Tilborgh.

However in 1796 the dole was stopped by magistrates owing to abuse by beggars and vagabonds, but when Sir Henry who succeeded in 1821, being one of seven brothers who produced seven daughters, the dole was restored.

Harry Relph, ‘Little Tich’ at 4ft 6inches, the 19thc Music Hall comedian took his name from the Tichborne case, since when small people were known as ‘Titch’.

After Orton’s release he  traded on his new-found fame still insisting he was a Tichborne, and remarkably the Family graciously allowed the name on his grave to be recorded as Sir Reginald Tichborne. One couldn’t make it up!

Documents for the first time were released in 2004 concerning the Tichborne case and now repose in the Hampshire Museum.

(1) January 24th 1874. ILN.

(2) However Kenealy abused witnesses, made scurrilous allegations against Roman Catholic institutions, was disrespectful to the judges and his case was rejected. The Jury censured Kenealy who was later dis-benched and disbarred.


bbc.co.uk/news/hamps 12.8.2004/Pic




About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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