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Upton House and Its Famous Trial

by Jean Bellamy

Arthur Orton 1872On 11th May 1871 there started one of the most renowned legal battles ever to have taken place. The famous Tichborne Trial went down in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest in history.

The defendant was Arthur Orton, alias Thomas Castro (1834-1898) from Wapping, Australia, the son of a butcher. He claimed to be Sir Roger Tichborne, heir to estates at Tichborne near Alresford, Hampshire, and Upton House, Poole, Dorset. The Upton estate had been in the ownership of the family from around 1828 when it was acquired by Edward Tichborne Doughty. The latter having no sons, his nephew, Sir Roger Tichborne, became heir to the family fortunes.

Sir Roger had fallen in love with his cousin, Katherine, but was forbidden to marry her, and after a number of quarrels was banned from Upton House. He left this country intending to return and marry her at a later date, but it was while sailing to America on the Bella that he disappeared and was presumed dead. The ship was believed to have been lost with all passengers, one of those named being a Sir Roger Tichborne.

Everyone believed Sir Roger to be dead except his mother, Lady Tichborne, who never gave up hope that he would return. She advertised regularly in newspapers for information as to his whereabouts, and even kept a candle burning in his room at Upton House. After a number of years, the advertisement was seen by an enquiry agent who persuaded Orton to write to Lady Tichborne claiming to be her son. Orton did so, stating that there had been legal reasons for his prolonged absence, including difficulties with Australian law.

On seeing Orton's photograph, Lady Tichborne was convinced he was her long lost son, though others were more sceptical. By chance, Orton met a family servant of the name of Andrew Boyle who was sure he was Lord Tichborne. With Boyle's help, Orton was able to familiarise himself with the habits, mannerisms and life history of Sir. Roger. Funds were sent out to him so that he could return to England, though he had already borrowed enough for his family and himself.

Orton arrived in December 1866 and went immediately to the Alresford estate and Upton House. Amazing as it may seem, and in spite of the fact that he appeared to have changed from a slim young man to a heavy stocky one of almost 28 stone, his mother accepted him as her own long-lost son. Members of staff and friends accepted him too, though the remainder of the family were not convinced. In no time, the story of Orton's claim spread far and wide, and the national newspapers carried huge headlines. In 1868, however, Lady Tichborne passed away, as did the family solicitor who had also believed in him. By this time, Orton was almost bankrupt, so Tichborne bonds were issued to provide funds.

Tichborne TrialIn 1871, five years after the claimant had landed in England, the trial commenced. It covered a period of 1,025 days (a total of three years less seven weeks), cost £90,000, and resulted in a sentence of perjury. The Civil trial began on 11th May 1871 and collapsed on 6th March 1872; the Criminal trial which followed ended on 28th February 1874. Both proved of tremendous interest to the public, large groups of people congregating in the streets of London. Even the Prince of Wales and the princesses attended the Court, and over one hundred witnesses swore that Orton was Sir Roger Tichborne. Handwriting specimens were produced and compared, but it is said that the verdict was somewhat influenced by the fact that Sir Roger had a tattoo mark on his arm and Orton did not.

The prosecution's closing address lasted a fortnight and the speech for the defence one-and-a-half months. The Lord Chief Justice's summing up occupied one month, though the Jury were out for only half-an-hour. The defendant was deemed an imposter and sentenced to two seven-year consecutive terms of imprisonment and hard labour. Following this, protest meetings were held in Hyde Park, and when Orton died in 1898, over five thousand people attended his funeral. Even to the present time there are said to remain doubts about the case and mysteries which have never been fully cleared up.

Following the departure of the Tichborne family from the Upton estate, the house appears to have been dogged by misfortune, even to being haunted by the ghost of Sir Roger. As it proved impossible to sell the house for some time, it was rented out to various families, of whom two suffered from consumption. In 1901 it was bought by William Llewellyn. Sadly, his wife was killed in a car crash near Poole. He later became High Sheriff of Dorset, and one of his two sons, John Jestyn, was created Baron Llewellyn of Upton, later becoming the first Governor-General of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. William Llewellyn's daughter, Mary, held the distinction of being the first female Mayor of Poole.

Roger Tichborne and
Arthur OrtonIn 1957, Upton House and grounds were sold to Poole Council and were subsequently leased to Prince Carol of Romania who occupied the property for nine years. During his tenancy, lavish receptions were held, the guests being well wined and dined, though the house was allowed to fall into disrepair and the grounds became completely overgrown. On the departure of this family, however, they were cleared and reclaimed by the Council, and today Upton Country Park, as it is known, is open to the public at all times of the year. With its nature trails, wildlife, fresh water lake, peacocks, and a cafeteria and heritage centre, it is a very pleasant place in which to spend a few hours on a fine day.

Upton house, which stands on the northern shores of Poole Harbour, has been described as one of the most interesting in Dorset. The estate's history dates back to Roman times and was said to have been sold to a 'person unknown' in the late 16th century by James, Lord Mountjoy, Lord of the Manor of nearby Canford Magna. Since then, owners have included two generations of the Spurrier family who gained and lost their fortune in the trade carried out between the town of Poole and Newfoundland at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries.

On a personal note, my great-grandfather, John Benjamin Franklin, served on the jury of the Tichborne Trial for a whole year, as a consequence of which he was exempt from jury service for life.

More Information:

Upton Country Park

The Tichborne Trial

Jean Bellamy has been writing since 1970, and is the author of over 300 published articles and short stories. She has written three children's novels (all with a "West Country flavour"). A resident of Dorset, she is the author of several local history books, including Treasures of Dorset, A Dorset Quiz Book, Second Dorset Quiz Book, Dorset Tea Trail, Dorset as she was spoke, Little Book of Dorset, 101 Churches in Dorset, and Cornwall: A Look Back. Jean loves to explore and write on all things British.

Article © 2008 Jean Bellamy
Photos courtesy of Wikipedia.org


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