‘The Slaughterman of Wagga Wagga’ : Imposture, National Identity, and the Tichborne Affair

IN 24 December 1866 a butcher from Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, arrived in London and claimed to be Roger Tichborne, the long-lost son of a wealthy English family and heir to a very large fortune. Roger Tichborne had not been seen since he left England for Chile in 1852 and was widely presumed to have died in a shipwreck. However, his mother was unable to reconcile herself to his death. After consulting a clairvoyant who assured her of her son's well-being, Lady Tichborne contacted a missing persons agency and ran international advertisements promising a reward for information concerning his whereabouts. But the man who answered one such ad was more than two hundred pounds heavier than Tichborne had been, and could not speak a word of French, the language of Roger's childhood. He remembered nothing of Stonyhurst Academy, where Roger had been educated, and he could not tell Latin from Greek, although Roger had received lessons in both. Most troubling of all, as Helen Tiffin has noted, was his failure to account satisfactorily for his appearance, disappearance, and re-emergence in Australia during the late 1850s and early 1860s (130). Nevertheless, Lady Tichborne promptly identified him as her son and heir. Not surprisingly, the rest of the Tichborne family disputed this man's identity claims, arguing that the inheritance should remain in the hands of Roger's young nephew, who was second in line for the family fortune. The Claimant responded by suing the man in whose name the Tichborne estates were entrusted, thus beginning the second longest civil case in English history.

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Published 1 October 2004 in Volume 21 No. 4. Subjects: Australian identity, Cultural & national identity, Imposture.

Cite as: Dawson, Carrie. ‘‘The Slaughterman of Wagga Wagga’ : Imposture, National Identity, and the Tichborne Affair.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 21, no. 4, 2004. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.8c4f03ea57.