Arthur Orton, (also known as Tom Castro) was born in London in 1834. Obese, near illiterate, unabashedly belching and farting at will, afflicted with a twitch and a tendency to drool, he emigrated to Australia where he found work as a butcher in Wagga Wagga.
His letters homeward at this time show Orton as fond of dogs and children and affectionate towards his Wapping girlfriend. Other evidence suggests heavy drinking, and he appeared before magistrates for minor trade malpractices.
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In January 1865 he married Mary Ann Bryant, a second generation Australian, already a mother. Later that year, encouraged by a local solicitor, William Gibbes, he responded to world-wide advertisements seeking one Roger Tichborne, heir to an ancient Hampshire baronetcy. Roger evidently had drowned off South America in 1854, but his grieving mother refused to accept this, hence the advertisements. Orton decided to claim to be Roger.
Consequently, he returned to Britain late in 1866, to begin a period of fantasy. Apart from Roger’s mother, the Tichborne family disputed the claim and commenced a civil action against him.
The whole matter could have been resolved in an instant. Roger Tichborne had tattoos on both arms. Athur Orton had none. Inexplicably, nobody thought to ask the Tichborne claimant to bare his arms.
Also, Roger had been born in Paris and spoke French as his first language. Arthur was educated at Wapping and spoke with a pronounced Cockney accent.
A sensation occurred in the courtroom when a Dr Lipscombe, described as Sir Roger’s personal physician, gave evidence of a rare physical defect, that, he said, distinguished Sir Roger. The young aristocrat, he said, had an abnormal penis. It regressed, like a horse’s, into his body. The claimant, Arthur Orton, had that same abnormality.
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Orton’s previous sweetheart was also called to the stand. She gave evidence that in the course of their courtship she had become acquainted with his penis, and she recalled at times it did indeed regress into his body.
Despite this ‘evidence’ Orton was charged with perjury and sentenced to fourteen years’ gaol in March 1874. Drink, food and lechery helped to sustain him: his weight rose to twenty-seven stone (171 kg). His very appearance seemed to change from that of a colonial rough to a debauched gentleman. When a popular movement developed in his favour, he responded as a true demagogue.
Released from prison in October 1884, Orton argued his case before the public as a music-hall turn. Drink and women were still major interests, and in his last years he was kept by publicans and their clients. He died in London on April Fool’s Day, 1898.
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’.