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The Mysterious Disappearance and Reappearance of Roger Tichborne

It’s a Victorian mystery Sherlock Holmes himself couldn’t have passed up: A tangled case of stolen identity made possible by a deadly shipwreck, complete with wealth, a baronetcy, and fabulous estates at stake. Thought it was one of the most celebrated legal cases of the 19th century, the intriguing tale of the Tichborne Claimant has been all but forgotten today.

THE BACKGROUND

Born into wealth, given an impressive education, and raised in Paris, Roger Tichborne was a worldly man. On April 20, 1854, at age 25, Tichborne finished up a tour of South America and boarded the Bella, a ship headed from Rio De Janeiro to Jamaica. Four days later, its wreckage was found off the Brazilian coast, devoid of any survivors.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Sir James Tichborne, Roger's father, passed away in June 1862, which would have made Roger the 11th Baronet of Tichborne, if he'd been alive. Instead, the title passed to his younger brother Alfred. Perhaps realizing that young Alfred, a man known for his dissolute habits, was not the best choice to head up the family finances, Lady Tichborne contacted a clairvoyant, who assured her that her eldest son was alive and well.

THE DISCOVERY

In addition to the seer’s declaration, rumors swirled that survivors of the Bella wreck had been picked up by a passing ship and dropped off in Australia. Between the rumors and the clairvoyant's report, Lady Tichborne came to believe that her son was still alive, and she was determined to find him. She took out newspaper advertisements, offering “a handsome reward” to anyone who could provide information.

Sydney Morning Herald // Public Domain

After expanding her search to Australian newspapers, Lady Tichborne received her first clue in October 1865, over 10 years after her son's disappearance. During a bankruptcy examination, a butcher named Thomas Castro from Wagga Wagga, Australia, had revealed some interesting information, including the fact that he had survived a shipwreck and owned properties in England. He also happened to smoke a pipe engraved with the initials RCT—Roger's initials.

Pressed by the lawyer (who had seen the newspaper advertisements), Castro admitted that he was, indeed, the long-lost baronet, and began communicating with Lady Tichborne. Though he was a bit cagey about answering certain questions, she became convinced the butcher was her son. Some experts think Lady Tichborne may have been particularly eager to believe that Roger had survived after Alfred drank himself to death in 1866.

Castro/Tichborne, or “the claimant,” as he was often referred to in 19th century accounts, said that after the Bella had sunk, he'd been rescued by a ship called the Osprey, which was bound for Melbourne. Afterward, he'd wandered Australia and eventually took up life in Wagga Wagga as a butcher. His reasons for staying in Australia and not contacting his family remained unclear.

After communicating with Lady Tichborne, the claimant moved to Sydney to make plans to return to England, including borrowing travel money under the strength of the Tichborne name. At the urging of the lawyer who "discovered" him, the butcher also wrote a will, which raised a few eyebrows. It wasn’t the act itself that was surprising, but some of the contents within: He mentioned family properties that didn’t exist and referred to his mother as “Hannah Frances” when her name was Henrietta.

While the claimant was in Sydney, he happened to run into two former Tichborne family servants, men that had known Roger well. Both of them believed the claimant was Roger, though one of them quickly recanted after “Roger” badgered him for money.

Identifying the man wasn’t exactly straightforward—if it was Roger, he had gained quite a bit of weight. Before he left for South America, Tichborne had been very thin. When the servants ran into him more than a decade later, he was up to nearly 200 pounds. He put on an additional 20 during his time in Sydney and gained another 40 pounds by the time he arrived back in England on Christmas Day 1866. By 1871, the claimant was nearly 400 pounds. While some believed that he was merely enjoying being a man of means once again, others wondered if he was trying to purposely obscure his appearance.

THE REUNION

Upon his arrival in England, the claimant tried to call on Lady Tichborne, but found she was away in Paris. Next, he went to East London and inquired after a family named Orton. They, too, were unavailable, having moved away from the area entirely. He told a neighbor that he was friends with Arthur Orton, who, he mentioned, was now one of the richest men in Australia.

When the claimant eventually reunited with his mother, she immediately proclaimed him her son and gave him a monthly allowance of £1000. However, Lady Tichborne was practically alone in her acceptance of the man. A few family acquaintances were in the claimant’s corner, including a family doctor who claimed he saw a physical resemblance. Also helping his case was the fact that he remembered small details from his childhood, such as a fly fishing tackle he liked to use, specific clothing he used to wear, and the name of a family dog.

But there were also things working against him. His correspondence with his mother was full of misspellings and grammatical errors, though Roger had been extremely well educated. And the claimant lacked a French accent or even an understanding of the language, both of which Roger had, since he was raised largely in Paris. He didn’t recognize his father’s handwriting, and couldn’t remember anything about the boarding college he went to. Also, before Roger left for South America, he left a package with a family servant. The claimant wasn’t able to describe what was in the package.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Of course, he explained all this away by claiming that the shipwreck had been extremely traumatic, scrambling his memory and affecting him in other mysterious ways. And even with all of those suspicious issues, Lady Tichborne believed in the claimant, so there was little that anyone could do about it. Then in 1868 she died, eliminating his only advocate and costing him emotional and financial support.

THE TRIALS

In May 1871, the claimant was part of a civil trial that required him to prove that he was, indeed, Roger Tichborne. Investigators had done plenty of digging on him over the years in Australia, and had found a plethora of people who identified him as Arthur Orton, the son of a butcher from Wapping, London, who had made his way to Australia to make a living and at some point taken the name of Tom Castro. The prosecutors theorized that when Lady Tichborne’s advertisements were published in Australia, Orton saw an opportunity to improve his standing in life. The servants he happened upon in Sydney may have provided pertinent details about Roger's life in exchange for money or the promise of money.

At the trial, the claimant avoided answering questions about his relationship with Arthur Orton and denied that they were one and the same. The prosecution was prepared to call in more than 200 witnesses to argue the point, but in the end, it turned out that Tichborne had tattoos the claimant didn’t possess.

The jury rejected the suit, but a criminal trial now had to be held to determine if the claimant was guilty of perjury. The resulting trial ended up being the longest ever in English court, lasting 188 court days. The evidence against the claimant was abundant, including testimony from a handwriting expert who said that the claimant’s penmanship matched Orton’s, not Tichborne’s. Another damning piece of evidence: While a ship called the Osprey had, indeed, arrived in Australia, it didn’t match the claimant's description. Furthermore, he couldn’t name the crew members or captain, and ship logs didn’t mention picking up shipwreck survivors—an event that probably would have been noteworthy enough to jot down.

It took the jury just half an hour to find the mystery man guilty; he ended up serving 10 years of a 14-year prison sentence. In all that time, he only admitted that he was Arthur Orton once—and it was because a journalist paid him for the confession. Once he had the money, the claimant immediately retracted the statement and went back to asserting that he was Roger Tichborne, even though he no longer sought the money, fame, or properties associated with the name.

THE CONCLUSION

When he died in 1898—fittingly, perhaps, on April Fool’s Day—the claimant was buried as a pauper. However, in a confusing move, the Tichborne family allowed a plaque to be placed on the coffin identifying the man within as “Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne.” The same name was also listed on the death certificate, and registered with the cemetery burial records.

More than a century later, we still don't definitively know the fate of Roger Tichborne—and unless the family consents to DNA testing, we probably never will.

[h/t: Futility Closet]

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IA Collaborative
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Design
Lovely Vintage Manuals Show How to Design for the Human Body
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IA Collaborative

If you're designing something for people to hold and use, you probably want to make sure that it will fit a normal human. You don't want to make a cell phone that people can't hold in their hands (mostly) or a vacuum that will have you throwing out your back every time you clean the house. Ergonomics isn't just for your office desk setup; it's for every product you physically touch.

In the mid-1970s, the office of legendary industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss created a series of manuals for designers working on products that involved the human body. And now, the rare Humanscale manuals from Henry Dreyfuss Associates are about to come back into print with the help of a Kickstarter campaign from a contemporary design firm. Using the work of original Henry Dreyfuss Associates designers Niels Diffrient and Alvin R. Tilley, the guides are getting another life with the help of the Chicago-based design consultancy IA Collaborative.

A Humanscale page illustrates human strength statistics.

The three Humanscale Manuals, published between 1974 and 1981 but long out-of-print, covered 18 different types of human-centric design categories, like typical body measurements, how people stand in public spaces, how hand and foot controls should work, and how to design for wheelchair users within legal requirements. In the mid-20th century, the ergonomics expertise of Dreyfuss and his partners was used in the development of landmark products like the modern telephones made by Bell Labs, the Polaroid camera, Honeywell's round thermostat, and the Hoover vacuum.

IA Collaborative is looking to reissue all three Humanscale manuals which you can currently only find in their printed form as historic documents in places like the Cooper Hewitt design museum in New York. IA Collaborative's Luke Westra and Nathan Ritter worked with some of the original designers to make the guides widely available again. Their goal was to reprint them at a reasonable price for designers. They're not exactly cheap, but the guides are more than just pretty decor for the office. The 60,000-data-point guides, IA Collaborative points out, "include metrics for every facet of human existence."

The manuals come in the form of booklets with wheels inside the page that you spin to reveal standards for different categories of people (strong, tall, short, able-bodied, men, women, children, etc.). There are three booklets, each with three double-sided pages, one for each category. For instance, Humanscale 1/2/3 covers body measurements, link measurements, seating guide, seat/table guide, wheelchair users, and the handicapped and elderly.

A product image of the pages from Humanscale Manual 1/2/3 stacked in a row.

"All products––from office chairs to medical devices—require designs that 'fit' the end user," according to Luke Westra, IA Collective's engineering director. "Finding the human factors data one needs to achieve these ‘fits' can be extremely challenging as it is often scattered across countless sources," he explains in a press release, "unless you've been lucky enough to get your hands on the Humanscale manuals."

Even setting aside the importance of the information they convey, the manuals are beautiful. Before infographics were all over the web, Henry Dreyfuss Associates were creating a huge compendium of visual data by hand. Whether you ever plan to design a desk chair or not, the manuals are worthy collectors' items.

The Kickstarter campaign runs from July 25 to August 24. The three booklets can be purchased individually ($79) or as a full set ($199).

All images courtesy IA Collaborative

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Space
NASA Is Posting Hundreds of Retro Flight Research Videos on YouTube
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Bruce Weaver / Stringer / Getty Images

If you’re interested in taking a tour through NASA history, head over to the YouTube page of the Armstrong Flight Research Center, located at Edwards Air Force Base, in southern California. According to Motherboard, the agency is in the middle of posting hundreds of rare aircraft videos dating back to the 1940s.

In an effort to open more of its archives to the public, NASA plans to upload 500 historic films to YouTube over the next few months. More than 300 videos have been published so far, and they range from footage of a D-558 Skystreak jet being assembled in 1947 to a clip of the first test flight of an inflatable-winged plane in 2001. Other highlights include the Space Shuttle Endeavour's final flight over Los Angeles and a controlled crash of a Boeing 720 jet.

The research footage was available to the public prior to the mass upload, but viewers had to go through the Dryden Aircraft Movie Collection on the research center’s website to see them. The current catalogue on YouTube is much easier to browse through, with clear playlist categories like supersonic aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles. You can get a taste of what to expect from the page in the sample videos below.

[h/t Motherboard]

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