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.