Arthur Orton (20 March 1834 – 1 April 1898), the son of a London butcher, went to sea as a boy, spent a year in Chile, and worked as a butcher and cattle ranger in Australia in the middle-to-late 1850s. He has generally been identified by legal historians and commentators as the "Tichborne Claimant", who in two celebrated court cases both fascinated and shocked Victorian society in the 1860s and 1870s.
In 1866 Thomas Castro, a butcher from Wagga Wagga in Australia, claimed to be Roger Tichborne, the heir to the Tichborne estates and baronetcy who had been declared lost at sea in 1854. During the protracted court proceedings that followed Castro's claim, evidence was produced that Castro might in fact be Arthur Orton, attempting to secure the Tichborne fortunes by imposture. The verdict of the jury in Regina versus Castro (1873–74) was that Castro was not Roger Tichborne, and that he was Arthur Orton. He was sentenced to fourteen years imprisonment for perjury. After his release he lived in great poverty, still insisting that he was Tichborne. In 1895 he confessed to being Orton, but retracted almost immediately. He died in 1898; the Tichborne family allowed a card bearing the names "Sir Richard Charles Doughty Tichborne" to be placed on the coffin.
Commentators have generally concurred with the court's verdict that the Claimant was Orton, but some 20th-century analysts have raised uncertainties about this accepted view, and have suggested that although the Orton identity remains the most likely, a lingering doubt remains.
Orton was born at Wapping, London, the son of George Orton, a butcher and purveyor of ships' stores. He left school early and was employed in his father's shop. In 1849, he was apprenticed to a Captain Brooks of the ship Ocean. The ship sailed to South America and in June 1849 Orton deserted and went to the small Chilean country town of Melipilla. He stayed in Chile for a year and seven months and befriended the Castro family. Orton then went back to London as an ordinary seaman.
In November 1852 he sailed for Tasmania aboard the Middleton and arrived at Hobart in May 1853. There, Orton worked for several butchers. Orton's letters to England at the time showed he was fond of dogs and children and affectionate towards his girlfriend in Wapping. There is some evidence he was a heavy drinker; and for minor trade malpractices, he appeared before magistrates. Orton crossed to the Australian mainland late in 1855 and worked for some time on cattle-stations in Gippsland, Victoria. From 1855 to the mid-1860s there is little detail about his life, but he appears to have pursued gold prospecting, mail-running and pastoral station hand-work, with a suggestion of bushranging and even murder.
In August 1865 advertisements appeared in Australian newspaper asking for information about the fate of Roger Charles Tichborne (born 1829), who had been on a vessel Bella which disappeared at sea off South America in 1854. This advertisement had been inserted by Lady Tichborne, the missing man's mother, who believed her son was still alive. Roger Tichborne had, however, been presumed dead by the courts and his younger brother had thus succeeded to the Tichborne baronetcy and the family's estates.
In 1866, through his solicitor William Gibbes, a butcher in Wagga Wagga known as "Thomas Castro" came forward, claiming to be the missing Sir Roger. He appeared to have some knowledge of the missing man's background and family history, although many of his assertions were inaccurate or false. However, at Gibbes's prompting he wrote to Lady Tichborne and was invited to come to England to be recognised. It is the contention of most historians that the Claimant was Arthur Orton, whose travels had at some time crossed the path of Roger Tichborne whose identity the former had then adopted.
Recognition, doubt and legal process
The Scotland Yard detective Jack Whicher discovered that immediately on his arrival in England in December 1866 the Claimant visited Wapping and made enquiries about the Orton family. When this visit was made public during the legal processes, it was presented as strong evidence that the Claimant was indeed Arthur Orton. However, Lady Tichborne recognised him as her son with complete certainty; he was likewise accepted as Roger by numerous family servants and professional advisers. In his analysis of the affair, Rohan McWilliam considers the extent of recognition remarkable, given the physical bulk and unrefined manners of the Claimant, as compared with the Roger Tichborne of 1854. Almost all the rest of the Tichborne family considered the Claimant an imposter. Nevertheless, he obtained much financial support for the prosecution of his claim, which went ahead despite the death of Lady Tichborne in 1868. After a lengthy civil hearing the jury dismissed the Claimant's case to be Sir Roger; he was then arrested and tried for perjury under the name of Thomas Castro. In the trial that followed the jury declared that he was not Roger Tichborne and identified him on the evidence as Arthur Orton. He was sentence to 14 years' imprisonment, of which he served 10 before his release on licence in 1884.
After his release the Claimant continued to press his claim, but gradually lost his following. By the mid-1890s he was impoverished; in 1895, for a fee of several hundred pounds, he published a confession in The People that he was Orton. However, almost immediately he repudiated this confession, and styled himself once again as Sir Roger Tichborne. He died on 1 April 1898 in impoverished circumstances, and was given a pauper's burial. In "an act of extraordinary generosity", the Tichborne family allowed a card bearing the name "Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne" to be placed on the coffin before its interment.
The modern consensus is that the Claimant was Orton, who had used family information obtained from gullible or self-serving supporters. However, in his account (1957) of the case, Douglas Woodruff insists that at least some degree of doubt as to the Claimant's true identity must remain. Woodruff argues the sheer improbability of anyone conceiving such an imposture from scratch and at such a distance: "[I]t was carrying effrontery beyond the bounds of sanity if Arthur Orton embarked with a wife and retinue and crossed the world, knowing that they would all be destitute if he did not succeed in convincing a woman he had never met and knew nothing about first-hand, that he was her son". Orton's cause continued to be upheld during the 20th century by his eldest daughter, one of four children borne him by his wife, who lived until 1926.
In popular culture
- Michael Roe, 'Orton, Arthur (1834 - 1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol.. 5, MUP, 1974, p. 374. Retrieved 2009-11-02
- Serle, Percival (1949). "Orton, Arthur". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 2009-11-02.
- McWilliam 2007, pp. 14–15
- McWilliam 2007, p. 277
- Greenwood, James 'Low-Life Deeps: An Account of the Strange Fish to be Found There' - Chatto and Windus, Piccadilly (1881) - The Dictionary of Victorian London
- 'The Tichborne Trial' - Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Rōrahi XXXII, Putanga 96, 21 Hereturikōkā 1873, Page 3 National Library of New Zealand Archive
- McWilliam 2007, pp. 18–19
- McWilliam 2007, p. 23
- Woodruff, p. 66
- McWilliam, pp. 25–26
- McWilliam, Rohan (May 2010)). "Tichborne claimant". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online edition). Retrieved 17 March 2012. (subscription required)
- McWilliam 2007, p. 273
- Woodruff, pp. 452–53