English Eccentrics According to Jonty Morgan

The Tichborne Claimant

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In 1854 a tragedy occurred when Roger Tichborne, heir to the title Lord Tichborne and occasional hare to the greyhounds at Belle Vue, was involved in a shipwreck off the coast of South America. He was presumed to have drowned although his body was never recovered.

Then in 1866 an amazing thing happened. Roger resurfaced in Australia. It was evident, upon his return to England, that he’d taken on a lot of water in the 12 years he’d been drowning because the pre-dip Tichborne was a slender fellow whereas the post-dip version was of mammoth girth. Conservationists were so concerned that they called for 17 icebergs to be melted off Greenland to replenish the sea levels.

The prolonged drowning experience had impacted on Lord Tichborne (he had succeeded to the title mid-splutter) in other detrimental ways such as:
1. Pre-1854 Roger had been fluent in French, his mother tongue, but the 1866 Tichborne didn’t recognise a word of French although, not surprising for someone who spent a dozen years below the sea’s surface, he was familiar with English spoken in a French accent like Jacques Cousteau.

2. The pre-shipwreck Roger was an expert in Latin and Ancient Greek but the post prolonged drowning version didn’t even know that cave canem meant ‘beware of the dog’. However Tich hit back by saying that had it been cave canem piscis ‘beware of the dog fish’ he would then have recognised it.

3. The pre-1854 Roger conversed with a cultured and eloquent tongue. The 1866 model spoke with a rough cockney accent. For over a century this was pronounced to be a side-effect of being submerged under water for so long. Indeed, when the American Dick Van Dyke was called upon to star as a cockney in Mary Poppins he submerged himself in water. However, the critics were scathing in their response and suggested that he should’ve submerged himself in water for a lot longer.

4. The pre-1854 Tichborne had average sized genitals, whereas the post-1866 version was miniscule in that department. This however, strengthened his claim as it was remarked that any man who’d spent a dozen years in cold water would’ve been similarly inconvenienced.

The nation was divided as to whether the resurfaced Roger was an imposter or not. It was in the days before DNA. It was also in the days before PNE and QPR as Rog could’ve made a decent living with his huge girth being stuck between the goalposts. The press labelled him ‘The Tichborne Claimant’. It was even reported that one man had identified the claimant, using an e fit, as being a scoundrel called Ben Castro. This devalued Tichborne even more because it made him a Benefits Claimant.

It did seem that Tichborne had developed a strong affinity with the sea because whenever he walked about seagulls hovered over him (although this was partly because he spent most of his time in Southend eating cod and chips). Also, like fish, he had a morbid fear of nets and did all he could to avoid them…this buggered up his trial as a centre-forward for the Old Carthusians XI.

It was another sort of trial that next descended upon the hapless Roger. He became the star of the most sensational and prolonged court case of the 1800s. Although Tichborne’s mother was firmly convinced the claimant was genuine the rest of the Tichbornes were not. They stood to benefit from Roger being dead and the establishment backed them. The sympathy of the general public was with the claimant who they thought was being hung out to dry (further endorsing the theory he’d been submerged in water for 12 years).

To test the veracity of Lord Tichborne’s claim to have survived prolonged drowning he was put on trial. Roger only agreed to this if special conditions were implemented to make him feel more at home in the imposing environment of the courtroom (although his detractors sniped that he would surely have welcomed feeling all at sea). The conditions were:

1. He should be allowed to wear blue-tinted shades throughout the trial.
2. When asked to place one hand on the Bible he should be allowed the discretion of placing two hands upon the tome and grip onto it if he found it particularly buoyant.
3. He would only consult his barrister in decompression chambers.
4. He should be allowed, at his own discretion, to wear a frogman outfit.

The prosecution agreed to the first three requests but vetoed the fourth as they feared he might come dressed as Napoleon.

The trial at the Old Bailey in 1873-74 became the longest in history (so long that when the case began it was called the New Bailey) and set the precedent of being the first trial in which a defendant was allowed to stand up for himself (mainly because the court usher thought the claimant would do more damage to the furnishings if he sat down). The jury was heavily weighted against Lord Tichborne as it comprised 11 ichthyophobics and only one fishmonger. Eventually, the charge of ‘Attempting to Delude the Publick’ was reduced to the lesser charge, due to Roger’s experience with the sea, of mansaltier, for which he was found guilty.

Tichborne spent the next decade in prison and the rest of his life, upon release, in relative obscurity. He died in 1898 still professing to be Lord Tichborne. His poverty was a contributing factor in his demise, therefore what did for him in the end was his inability to keep his head above water.

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Mendoza Introduces Science to Prize-Fighting

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It was the Jewish prize-fighter Daniel Mendoza who first introduced science to the rough and tumble of bareknuckle fighting in the 1780s. Mendoza was born in Aldgate, London in 1764. Prior to his involvement pugilists just stood in front of each other and traded punches. How well they did tended to be dependent on the price of whale oil on the international markets.

Mendoza wasn’t strictly the first person to make an association between boxing and science. That honour goes to Sir Isaac Newton who in 1687 during experiments into the laws of gravity discovered that an apple when leaving the branches of a tree ALWAYS fell to earth because of the pull of gravity. But, a prize-fighter was only guaranteed to fall to earth in a contest if he was offered a sizeable bribe as inducement.
Mendoza, who was small of stature for a heavyweight, more of a middleweight, was the first combatant to introduce science to the fight game. This occurred in his first fight against Fred ‘the Wildman of Hornchurch’ Smith at Hackney Marshes in 1780. Mendoza won on an 8th round cuts stoppage inflicted when he smashed some test tubes over Smith’s scalp. This victory, and its manner of accomplishment, gained the novice pugilist notoriety on the fight circuit. Mendoza, therefore, felt an onus incumbent upon him to continue using scientific methods in his contests.

In his very next outing against Sid ‘the Octopus’ Barker at the Brighton Recreation Ground, Mendoza looked to the medicinal sciences to assist his victory, as a consequence he became the first fighter to use leeches in a bout; although his manager, corner men and various hangers on objected to being called this.
Within a few years Mendoza was embracing the latest scientific breakthroughs to assist the progress of his career. The most notable was the ‘Galvanic Battery’ a charge of electricity that when applied to the corpses of executed people miraculously made the limb it touched jerk as if life had been restored. Mendoza realised that he could use this technique to fight a series of stiffs and fool the public into believing that he was facing credible opponents (this tactic was later revived in the early career of Frank Bruno).

Unfortunately, the plan backfired as when Mendoza was preparing to square up to his first dead opponent Geoff ‘the Maggot Hostel’ Veal at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, the corner man forgot to remove the pail from the floor near Veal’s foot, so when the electrical current was applied to his knee he instantly kicked the bucket. The affair stunk the place out, although to be fair this was because Veal hadn’t benefitted from the use of any refrigeration facilities for the previous two weeks. One sports scribe sat at ringside whose head narrowly missed the flying bucket, did speculate that if England ever had problems winning penalty shootouts the strategy could well be worth a punt.

Veal’s purse was withheld – the Galvanic current had to be applied to his wrist so he’d release his grip on it – and a commission was formed to investigate the state of pugilism. The findings of this commission were damning and it forced boxing underground, much to the consternation of all the fighters involved (except Geoff Veal). The main conclusion of the report was that it was fairly common practice for novice fighters to use dead men as opponents to bolster their record and kudos. The evidence for this was provided by a raid on the Manchester home of the leading matchmaker in the fight world, Harry Brough. Three shovels, the timetable of the number 7 sedan chair route (that passed the local cemetery) and a list of recent obits cut from newspapers were discovered and removed from the property to the accompaniment of much booing from the outraged public assembled outside.

Mendoza had three memorable contests with Richard Humphries, between 1788-90, winning the last two, and generally became accepted as Champion of England in 1792. On his journey to the last fight with Humphries Mendoza got into two, unscheduled, fights. The first was against a street pedlar who sold him a mouldy pie and the second was against a man who had looked at him ‘in a funny way’. This would explain why Marty Feldman was never spotted amongst the celebs at ringside for any of Mendoza’s fights.
To endeavour to make up for the shame he’d helped bring to boxing, Mendoza wrote a book about the science of pugilism which became a bestseller. In it he provided tips for potential fighters which included:

1. Avoiding a Slugfest – put salt in your garden.
2. Skipping Rope – engage the services of a good lawyer who is in the same masonic lodge as the judge.
3. Weight Training – visit your local GP’s surgery (and ask for help with your slight illiteracy while you are there).
4. Shadow Boxing – Do not engage in this when the sun is at its strongest. Wait until it is overcast, your opponent will then be a pale shadow of his former self.
5. The Upper-Cut – Ensure you get a higher percentage of the gate money than your opponent.
6. The Counter-Punch – only use this when you expect to drink a lot of Pimms at a society ball.

Mendoza lost his title to the bigger Gentleman John Jackson in 1795. Jackson nullified his opponent’s evasive, defensive techniques by simply picking him up by his long hair with one hand and pummelling him in the face with the other. Mendoza had been adept at slipping punches and evading damage but avoiding the barber had been his undoing.