Biography of English Impostor Arthur Orton Part 3

About the English imposter Arthur Orton, biography and history of the famous conman.


ARTHUR ORTON (1834-1898), English impostor

Once in England, Orton learned that Lady Tichborne was in Paris, so he went there to see her. In a darkened hotel room, where Orton claimed to be too sick to leave his bed, the meeting took place. Despite poor lighting and the cataracts that were forming in her eyes, Lady Tichborne identified Orton as her long-lost son.

Orton immediately began litigation to regain his "rightful" title. Orton's bid to become a Tichborne was amazing; the two men looked and acted almost nothing alike. The true Sir Roger was thin, frail, tall, and rather effeminate, with a tattoo on his left arm. He had straight dark hair, was well educated, and spoke French fluently. The fake Sir Roger, on the other hand, was grossly fat, had wavy fair hair, and had virtually no education. Orton failed almost every test in his effort to prove he was Tichborne. For example, the village blacksmith near the Tichborne estate was asked by Orton to verify that he was Roger Tichborne. The blacksmith replied, "If you are, you've changed from a racehorse to a carthorse." Yet, numerous people did believe Orton was Tichborne and supported his claim, and all the while Orton kept gathering details of the life of Roger Tichborne. His following was so large that before the trial, when he was bereft of funds, local citizens supported him by buying Tichborne Bonds. Orton successfully raised Pounds 40,000 from investors who were promised repayment after he secured the Tichborne estate.

Unfortunately for Orton, by the time the trial came to court on May 11, 1871, Lady Tichborne had died. In the interim, too, members of the Tichborne family had obtained considerable evidence to show that the "Tichborne claimant" was Arthur Orton. The trial lasted 102 days and cost the Tichborne family Pounds 90,000. In the end, Orton lost both the case and his freedom. He was arrested for perjury and, after a second, even longer trial, was sentenced in February, 1874, to 14 years in prison.

Orton served 10 years of his term. After his release in 1884, he attempted to test his claim again but could not obtain the necessary funds--even after arranging a series of lectures to rekindle public sympathy for his cause. Orton dropped out of the public eye and worked in a music hall, then in a pub, and then in a tobacconist's shop. Finally, desperate for money, he sold his "confession" to the People newspaper for $7,500. The money didn't last long. He died in poverty in April, 1898. Orton's death was not without irony, though. On his coffin--donated by a Paddington undertaker who believed Orton's story--was inscribed: "Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne, born 5 January, 1829; died 1 April, 1898."

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