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It was called the 'Tichborne Romance' and it became the greatest cause-celebre of the Victorian age. In 1865, a butcher from Wagga Wagga in Australia proclaimed himself to be the English aristocrat, Sir Roger Tichborne, thought to have died at sea many years before. He fetched up in England and insisted on the restoration of the Tichborne inheritance.
Some believed him (including many who had known Roger Tichborne) even though he looked nothing like the original. Others insisted that the butcher was an impostor. The Tichborne Claimant's appearance triggered two of the longest trials in English legal history and divided the nation. The public was fascinated by the lurid revelations from the courtroom about seduction, corruption and intrigue amongst both Britain's elite and in the back streets of London.
The Claimant became a hero to the working class who insisted that he was genuine and backed a bizarre campaign to support him. An MP was even elected to parliament on the back of the Tichborne cause, which became one of the largest popular agitations of the modern era. Was the Claimant a butcher or a baronet?
Rohan McWilliam employs this colourful and sensational story to explore the mentality of the Victorians. From the Australian Bush to the pubs and music halls of London's East End, the book reconstructs the flamboyant exploits of the Claimant and the stories he told about himself. McWilliam recreates the extraordinary personalities that the Claimant attracted including his barrister, Edward Kenealy (an Irish lawyer who saw himself as a religious prophet), the spiritualist Georgina Weldon and the swashbuckling demagogue John De Morgan. In this multi-layered cultural history, McWilliam investigates the case by exploring radical politics, legal London, popular souvenirs, Staffordshire figurines, street music, comedy and melodrama.
The book makes the case for seeing the Tichborne cause as an unlikely but vital moment in Britain's political and social development.