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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.

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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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Food
The History Behind Why We Eat 10 Dishes at Thanksgiving
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Halloween is for candy comas, and on Independence Day we grill, but no holiday is as completely defined by its cuisine as Thanksgiving. No matter what part of the country you're in, it's a safe bet that at least a few of the below dishes will be making an appearance on your table this week. But what makes these specific entrees and side dishes so emblematic of Thanksgiving? Read on to discover the sometimes-surprising history behind your favorite fall comfort foods.

1. TURKEY

A roasted turkey on a platter.
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Turkey has become so synonymous with Thanksgiving that most of us probably imagine the pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans chowing down on a roast bird in 1621. Although we don't know the exact menu of that first Plymouth Colony feast, a first-person account of the year's harvest from governor William Bradford does reference "a great store of wild turkeys," and another first-person account, from colonist Edward Winslow, confirms that the settlers "killed as much fowl as…served the company almost a week." However, culinary historian Kathleen Wall believes that, although turkeys were available, it's likely that duck, goose, or even passenger pigeons were the more prominent poultry options at the first Thanksgiving. Given their proximity to the Atlantic, local seafood like oysters and lobsters were likely on the menu as well.

As the holiday grew in popularity, however, turkey became the main course for reasons more practical than symbolic. English settlers were accustomed to eating fowl on holidays, but for early Americans, chickens were more valued for their eggs than their meat, and rooster was tough and unappetizing. Meanwhile, turkeys were easy to keep, big enough to feed a whole family, and cheaper than ducks or geese. Even before Thanksgiving was recognized as a national holiday, Alexander Hamilton himself remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day." The country followed his advice: according to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans will eat turkey in some form on Thanksgiving Day—an estimated 44 million birds!

2. STUFFING

Pan of breaded stuffing.
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Stuffing would have been a familiar concept to those early settlers as well, although their version was likely quite different from what we're used to. We know that the first Plymouth colonists didn't have access to white flour or butter, so traditional bread stuffing wouldn't have been possible yet. Instead, according to Wall, they may have used chestnuts, herbs, and chunks of onion to flavor the birds, all of which were already part of the local fare. Centuries later, we're still stuffing turkeys as a way to keep the bird moist through the roasting process and add extra flavor.

3. CRANBERRIES

Dish of cranberry sauce.
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Like turkeys, cranberries were widely available in the area, but cranberry sauce almost certainly did not make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving. Why not? The sugar reserves the colonists would have had were almost completely depleted after their long sea journey, and thus they didn't have the means to sweeten the terrifically tart berries.

So how did cranberries become such an autumnal staple? For starters, they're a truly American food, as one of only a few fruits—along with Concord grapes, blueberries, and pawpaws—that originated in North America. They grow in such abundance in the northeast that colonists quickly began incorporating cranberries into various dishes, such as pemmican, which mixed mashed cranberries with lard and dried venison. By the Civil War, they were such a holiday staple that General Ulysses S. Grant famously demanded his soldiers be provided cranberries for their Thanksgiving Day meal.

4. MASHED POTATOES

Bowl of mashed potatoes.
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Potatoes weren't yet available in 17th-century Plymouth, so how did mashed potatoes become another Thanksgiving superstar? The answer lies in the history of the holiday itself. In America’s earliest years, it was common for the sitting President to declare a "national day of thanks," but these were sporadic and irregular. In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt the holiday, and others soon followed suit, but Thanksgiving wasn't a national day of celebration until Abraham Lincoln declared it so in 1863.

Why did Lincoln—hands full with an ongoing war—take up the cause? Largely due to a 36-year campaign from Sarah Josepha Hale, a prolific novelist, poet, and editor, who saw in Thanksgiving a moral benefit for families and communities. In addition to her frequent appeals to officials and presidents, Hale wrote compellingly about the holiday in her 1827 novel Northwood, as well as in the womens' magazine she edited, Godey's Lady's Book. Her writing included recipes and descriptions of idealized Thanksgiving meals, which often featured—you guessed it—mashed potatoes.

5. GRAVY

Plate of turkey and potatoes covered in gravy.
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Despite a dearth of potatoes, it's likely that some type of gravy accompanied the turkey or venison at the earliest Thanksgiving gatherings. The concept of cooking meat in sauce dates back hundreds of years, and the word "gravy" itself can be found in a cookbook from 1390. Because that first celebration extended over three days, historian Wall speculates: "I have no doubt whatsoever that birds that are roasted one day, the remains of them are all thrown in a pot and boiled up to make broth the next day." That broth would then be thickened with grains to created a gravy to liven day-old meat. And, if Wall's correct, that broth sounds suspiciously like the beginning of another great Thanksgiving tradition: leftovers!

6. CORN

Plate of corn.
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Corn is a natural symbol of harvest season—even if you're not serving it as a side dish, you might have a few colorful ears as a table centerpiece. We know that corn was a staple of the Native American diet and would have been nearly as plentiful in the 17th century as today. But according to the History Channel, their version would have been prepared quite differently: corn was either made into a cornmeal bread or mashed and boiled into a thick porridge-like consistency, and perhaps sweetened with molasses. Today, we eat corn in part to remember those Wampanoag hosts, who famously taught the newcomers how to cultivate crops in the unfamiliar American soil.

7. SWEET POTATOES

Bowl of mashed sweet potatoes.
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In the midst of so many New England traditions, the sweet potatoes on your table represent a dash of African-American culture. The tasty taters originally became popular in the south—while pumpkins grew well in the north, sweet potatoes (and the pies they could make) became a standard in southern homes and with enslaved plantation workers, who used them as a substitution for the yams they'd loved in their homeland. Sweet potato pie was also lovingly described in Hale's various Thanksgiving epistles, solidifying the regional favorite as a holiday go-to. More recently, some families further sweeten the dish by adding toasted marshmallows, a love-it-or-hate-it suggestion that dates to a 1917 recipe booklet published by the Cracker Jack company.

8. GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE

Plate of green bean casserole.
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Beans have been cultivated since ancient times, but green bean casserole is a decidedly modern contribution to the classic Thanksgiving canon. The recipe you love was whipped up in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, a home economist working in the Campbell's Soup Company test kitchens in Camden, New Jersey. Reilly's job was to create limited-ingredient recipes that housewives could quickly replicate (using Campbell's products, of course). Her original recipe (still available at Campbells.com), contains just six ingredients: Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, green beans, milk, soy sauce, pepper, and French's French Fried Onions. Her recipe was featured in a 1955 Associated Press feature about Thanksgiving, and the association has proven surprisingly durable—Campbell’s now estimates that 30 percent of their Cream of Mushroom soup is bought specifically for use in a green bean casserole.

9. PUMPKIN PIE

Slice of pumpkin pie.
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Like cranberries, pumpkin pie does have ties to the original Thanksgiving, albeit in a much different format. The colonists certainly knew how to make pie pastry, but couldn't have replicated it without wheat flour, and might have been a bit perplexed by pumpkins, which were bigger than the gourds they knew in Europe. According to Eating in America: A History, however, Native Americans were already using the orange treats as a dessert meal: "Both squash and pumpkin were baked, usually by being placed whole in the ashes or embers of a dying fire and they were moistened afterwards with some form of animal fat, or maple syrup, or honey." It's likely that Hale was inspired by those stories when pumpkin pie appeared in her culinary descriptions.

10. WINE

Two glasses of wine.
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Chances are good that a few glasses of wine will be clinked around your table this November, but did the pilgrims share a tipsy toast with their new friends? Kathleen Wall thinks that water was probably the beverage of choice, considering that the small amount of wine the settlers had brought with them was likely long gone. Beer was a possibility, but since barley hadn't been cultivated yet, the pilgrims had to make do with a concoction that included pumpkins and parsnips. Considering the availability of apples in what would become Massachusetts, however, other historians think it's possible that hard apple cider was on hand for the revelers to enjoy. Whether or not the original feast was a boozy affair, cider rapidly became the drink of choice for English settlers in the area, along with applejack, apple brandy, and other fruit-based spirits. New England cider thus indirectly led to a less-beloved Thanksgiving tradition: your drunk uncle's annual political rant. Bottoms up!

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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