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Ennever & Enever family history & ancestry. Click here to return to the home page WJ Ennever (1869-1947). From the portrait by J Seymour R.A., exhibited in the Royal Academy.

The Tichborne Claimant, a Victorian mystery
(at the time one of the longest trials in English legal history)

Tichborne claimant (d. 1898), by Maull & Co, early 1870s Copyright ODNB  

"The great doubt still hangs suspended.  Probably for ever now, its key long since lost amid the irresponsible lawlessness, deception and transient aliases, and the homicides, of the mid-Victorian Australian bush, a mystery remains; and the strange enigma of the man who lost himself still walks in history with no other name than that which the common voice of his day accorded him: the Claimant." 3

This story of a Victorian drama is well documented in contemporary records such as newspapers, subsequent books and in collections of documents in museums and I have created this history from these available sources (see below for full details).

Roger Tichborne (left) and Arthur Orton (right)

After Roger Tichborne, the son of a wealthy Hampshire family, vanished when travelling in 1854, a man claiming to be him turned up at the family home. A lengthy and expensive trial saw him exposed as an impostor.

When she got word that her son's boat had sunk in bad weather, Lady Tichborne refused to believe he was dead. She placed adverts around the world appealing for him to get in touch and come home.

She accepted an Australian butcher's claims that he was her son, even though he had somehow become shorter and fatter and entirely lost his prominent French accent. Several other members of the family refused to accept him, however, and after Lady Tichborne's death a trial began which kept Victorian high society enthralled. Over 100 days and £200,000 later, Arthur Orton from Wapping was sentenced to 14 years for perjury.

Sketch of Court scene during the Civil Trial (from The Tichborne Claimant)

The Claimant's identity remains elusive. While most commentators have assumed him to be Orton, Douglas Woodruff in the most substantial study of the case, The Tichborne Claimant (1957), has raised the possibility that he might have been Sir Roger after all. Whoever he was, the Claimant provided the Victorian working class with a flamboyant hero.

This story concerns Roger Tichborne, disappointed in love who is then lost at sea, and a man who, more than a decade later, appears from the Australian outback claiming to be the missing heir. The civil and criminal trials which followed held the record as the longest court case in British legal history until the mid 1990s, and the archive contains photographs of almost everyone involved: - the extended Tichborne family and the Tichborne Claimant, the legal teams on both sides; the witnesses; judges and jurors; and even the court ushers and the boy who sold the newspapers in the street outside.

In an age when forensic science was in its infancy, passports were not always required, and very few people owned any form of personal documentation, the case hinged on the difficulty of proving identity in a court of law. The country was divided, with the Establishment opposing the Claimant but many ordinary people supporting a man who they regarded as being deprived of his rightful inheritance; at one point it was feared that the case might even cause a revolution or civil war.

Briefly, the story runs as follows:

Tichborne Hall, c1865

The Tichbornes were devout Catholics, which until the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 meant that they could neither stand for Parliament nor become officers in the armed forces. Like other Catholic familes therefore, the Tichbornes lived the lives of wealthy country gentlemen, hunting, shooting and amassing land and wealth.

In 1829, Roger Tichborne was born, the eldest son of Sir James and Henriette Felicite Tichborne. The marriage was not happy; there was a difference of 21 years in their ages and Henriette, an illegitimate member of the French royal family, was spoiled, highly strung and loathed England and the rural life with a passion.

Roger Tichborne suffered from a malformation of the genitals, a condition which is now known to be both rare and hereditary. His mother took him back to Paris where, in an age when little boys were put into trousers at the age of 5, he was obliged to wear specially made frocks until he was 12, in the mistaken belief that looser clothing would allow his genitals to emerge. Brought back to England at the age of 16, Roger went first to boarding school at Stonyhurst, and later into the army.  His holidays were spent with his uncle and aunt, Sir Edward and Lady Doughty, and their daughter Katherine, or Katty.

Roger and Katty soon fell in love, but the match was bitterly opposed by both families, not least because they were first cousins. Finally it was agreed that Roger should travel abroad for three years, and that if they still wished to marry when he returned, then the family would raise no objection.

The Tichborne case kept Victorian high society enthralled

Roger went first to South America, where he travelled for over a year, and where he had two daguerreotype photographs taken of himself. During this time, cousin Katty married Percival Pickford Radcliffe, of a wealthy Yorkshire Catholic family.

Roger decided to sail for the West Indies in the spring of 1854, and managed to take a last-minute passage on board the ‘Bella’. Soon afterwards, the longboat from the ‘Bella’ was found floating in the sea, and Roger Tichborne was presumed dead.

Although the ‘Bella’ had been officially declared lost, Roger’s mother was convinced that he was still alive, and placed advertisements in the national and international press seeking information about her missing son. Roger’s younger brother, Alfred, had in the meantime become the 11th Baronet, though his excessive drinking and profligate habits led to his early death at the age of 27, leaving his wife, Theresa, pregnant with their first child.

Eventually, in 1866, Lady Henriette Tichborne received the letter she had been hoping for for more than a decade. A man claiming to be Roger Tichborne wrote from Wagga Wagga, in Australia, with a story of having been picked up from the wreck of the Bella and taken to Australia, where he had become a butcher and postman. His story, however unlikely, was given credence because he suffered from the same genital malformation as Roger Tichborne.

Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne, original taken by Thomas Helsby in Santiago, January - February 1854

Lady Tichborne lost no time and invited the man she believed to be her son, together with his wife and child, back to England. However, because Roger has been declared officially dead, and because Alfred’s wife had given birth to a son, the Tichborne Claimant had to prove his identity in a court of law.

The first trial, the Civil trial, was intended to prove whether the man from Wagga Wagga was in fact Roger Tichborne. Unfortunately, before the case opened, Lady Tichborne died and his main support was lost, for, as she said, ‘how would a mother not know her own son?’ In order to raise funds for his legal fees, the Claimant began selling ‘Tichborne Bonds’; effectively a gamble on the outcome of the trial, which although they sold for between £40 and £60, were worth £100 out of the Tichborne estate if the case was won.

Costs in the case were considerable, with commissioners being sent both to South America and Australia to find witnesses who might be able to identify the Claimant. During these investigations one name kept appearing; not Roger Tichborne but Arthur Orton of Wapping; son of a prosperous ship’s victualler who had been sent on a long sea voyage in the hope that it would cure him of a nervous condition.

During the trial, the Claimant was asked about the contents of a sealed package that had been entrusted to Vincent Gosford, the estate steward and close friend of Roger Tichborne, before Roger’s departure for South America. In his reply the Claimant alleged that he had had intimate relations with his cousin Katty at Cheriton Mill, and that the package contained instructions for her possible confinement.

The Claimant at the time of Lady Tichborne's recognition. Paris, January 1867

Such a slur on a lady’s reputation caused an outcry amongst the Establishment, and this, together with the sale of Tichborne Bonds, turned the upper classes into his most bitter enemies. The trial collapsed, the Claimant was declared not to be Roger Tichborne, and was immediately arrested for perjury.

Following his release on bail, the Tichborne Claimant began to do the round of the music halls, travelling by rail and addressing huge crowds. Photographs of the Claimant and his family, and of the Tichbornes were collected by many people in much the same way as football cards are today, and these show the Claimant posing as a man of substance and fashion. Even during the second, Criminal Trial, the Claimant was a popular guest at dinners and parties and received ‘fan mail’ from ladies who found him particularly attractive.

The Claimant in prison, 1874

This second trial was presided over by Sir Alexander Cockburn, Lord Chief Justice of England, and tried the Claimant on 32 separate counts of perjury. The case became a national sensation, with newspapers bringing out special editions with news of the latest events in the court.

Sentenced to 14 years hard labour, the Tichborne Claimant served 10 years and 4 months. He was photographed in his prison uniform, and support for his cause actually increased while he was inside.

On his release, the Claimant spent two more years on the music hall circuit, but gradually interest in the case began to wane, and he travelled to America to try his luck there. The venture was not a success, and he returned to London where he is widely reported as marrying Lily Enever, a music hall artiste. The couple are also reported as having had four children, all of whom died in infancy. The couple lived in desperate poverty in London where, on the morning of April 1st 1898, Tichborne Claimant died in his sleep.

The costs of a moderate funeral were borne by the undertaker, and 5,000 people went to the cemetery, with many more lining the route to pay their respects.

The Claimant was buried in a pauper’s grave, without a headstone, but the coffin carried, with the permission of the Tichborne family, a plate which read ‘Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne’.

The story continued to make headline news particularly in the USA until 1947 with numerous articles being syndicated in the early 1930s and a double page spread entitled 'When Justice Triumphed' appeared in The Post Standard in New York in February 1947.  You can see this 1947 article here.  The story was also made into a film, 'The Tichborne Claimant', in 1998 featuring Stephen Fry and Sir John Gielgud in his last film performance. 

The Enever family connection

The Claimant after his release, 1884

In his book 'The Tichborne Claimant', Douglas Woodruff claims that the Claimant married Lily Enever, a claim also made on both the Hampshire Museums website and in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.   No dates are given but this would have been in the mid to late 1880s, after the Claimant's return from his unsuccessful fund-raising trip to the USA.

There is undoubtedly a link between the Claimant and Lily Enever as he wrote a letter in 1888 to his supporter and second cousin of Roger Tichborne, an A J W Biddulph, from 101 Praed Street, Paddington, London the home of Lily's parents, Henry and Jane Enever.  Lily was born Rosina Enever in 1866 but was called Lily even before she began her stage career.  There is no record of Lily marrying the Claimant and because the Claimant had previously been married and there is no evidence of a divorce a second marriage could have proved more damaging to his already tattered reputation.  Indeed, when Lily 're-married' in 1900 after the Claimant's death, she described herself as a spinster. 

More research needs to be done to identify the four children said to have been born to the Claimant and Lily but it does at first appear that either their births and deaths were not registered or, more probably, Woodruff has mistaken them for the four children the Claimant is known to have had with Mary Ann Bryant.  Douglas Woodruff's book suggests that the registrations have in fact been made stating that the Claimant was listed as a lecturer.  It also claims that Lily's parents were chemists although this is also incorrect, Henry Enever being recorded throughout his life as an umbrella, stick or whip maker.  Rohan McWilliam's book published in 2007 also claims that the Claimant and Lily married and produced four children, all dying in infancy, but again has no documentary evidence for the statements 9. The extensive collection of documents held by the Hampshire Museum Service holds no evidence about these later aspects of the Claimant's life.

There are three families involved in these later stages of the Claimant and Lily's lives, the Claimant, the Enevers and the Jacksons and none are straightforward.  Although Lily used the name Lily, she was born Rosina, and I can find no trace of the birth or the marriage of her mother, Jane Julia nee Magnus, to Henry Enever.  I have so far also been unable to trace Lily's 'second' husband, Henry Jackson, in earlier censuses although we have his and his father's name & both their occupations from his marriage to Lily.  Neither have Henry or Lily have been located in the 1911 census.  In fact, only George, Lily's eldest brother who followed in his father's occupation of an umbrella maker, and the then married Emma, a younger sister, can be found in the 1901 census although at least five of Lily's six siblings have been found through later marriages.

Theresa Mary Agnes Doughty Tichborne aka Alexander. Central Criminal Court: After Trial Calendars of Prisoners
Theresa Mary Agnes Doughty Tichborne aka Alexander.  Central Criminal Court: After Trial Calendars of Prisoners
Theresa Mary Agnes Doughty Tichborne aka Alexander. Central Criminal Court: After Trial Calendars of Prisoners
Theresa Mary Agnes Doughty Tichborne aka Alexander.  Central Criminal Court: After Trial Calendars of Prisoners

The four or five children of The Claimant and Mary Ann Bryant are all thought to changed their names and it is only Mary Agnes Teresa Tichborne who can be reliably traced as she continued to wage her personal battle with the Tichborne family, a battle which included libel, demanding money with menaces and sending letters threatening to murder. She too, used an alias also being known as Theresa Alexander. I understand that some descendants of the family attended the première of the 1998 film but have been unable to confirm this or trace these family members.

Sources

1 Hampshire Museums Service Hampshire Museums Service purchased an archive of photographs, sketches and documents relating to the Tichborne Trials
2 Wikipedia  Tichborne Case
3 The Tichborne Claimant by Douglas Woodruff publ Hollis & Charter 1957
4 Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (login required)  Tichborne Claimant, Claimant of baronetcy
5 BBC Bizarre Victorian trial on show
6 Wagga Wagga Local History The Tichborne Claimant
7 Obituary The Times Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne also known as Arthur Orton
8 The Tichborne Claimant (1998 film)
9 The Tichborne Claimant by Rohan McWilliam publ Hambledon Continuum 2007

 

If anyone has any further information about Rosina (or Lily) Enever and her family, I would be delighted to hear from you.

Author:  Barry Ennever

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