History Of Madame Tussaud's
( Originally Published 1920 )
The Tichborne "Claimant"—Nearly an explosion—The big man's clothes—The real heir—The Claimant's release from prison—Confession and death.
I CAN hardly allow this period to pass without making some reference to the fact that from 1872 till 1874—when he was sentenced, on the 28th of February, to fourteen years' penal servitude—the name of the "Claimant" to the Tichborne baronetcy and estates was on every lip, and it seems' to me that no trial in my time has ever engrossed public attention to such a degree.
People flocked to see the Claimant's portrait when it was added to the collection, and perhaps that was the first time one saw queues assembled outside the doors of Madame Tussaud's.
The various incidents of this historic case absorbed my youthful attention, and I recall how, at his house in Kentish Town, the Claimant submitted to the ordeal of having an impression taken of his hands to show the curly thumbs and a scar on his wrist which formed subjects of comment. in the courts.
I was struck by the Claimant's enormous size, which yet did not seem to hinder his movements, for the agility of the bulky man was indeed extraordinary; and equally surprising were the acuteness of his mind and the suavity of his manner.
To save him the inconvenience of fulfilling appointments in the Exhibition studios, my father had a special gaslight fixed at the Claimant's house that sittings might be taken in the evenings.
This device, curiously enough, once put the life of the Claimant in jeopardy. An old gasfitter in our employment, named Dallender, who had done some stage work, introduced an apparatus such as was used in the theatres. Something went wrong with the manipulation of the arrangements, and the room be-came charged with gas. A servant was about to en-ter the apartment with a light, when the Claimant him-self stopped her on noticing the strong smell. But for this fact the famous Tichborne trial might have had a sudden and tragic termination.
The Claimant showed certain qualities which hardly tallied with the character of the "uneducated butcher" he was declared to be. Proof that he had some refinement of feeling—or was he merely actuated by that vanity frequently found among men of his class?—may be inferred from an incident that greatly impressed my father.
The Claimant had promised that he would provide a fresh suit of clothes for his model in the Exhibition, and, in fulfilment of his promise, after the sentence had been passed upon him, he beckoned from the table at which he was seated in court to an attendant, and handed him the suit of clothes, saying :
"Please see to these being delivered at Madame Tussaud's, as they are expected there."
This fact strikes one as being remarkable, having regard to the anxiety of mind he must undoubtedly have suffered at the close of the trial.
It was a curious coincidence that I revisited my old college at Ramsgate about this time, and there had pointed out to me, among the students, the young heir to the Tichborne estates, whose title had been made clear by the conviction of the Claimant for perjury.
The students were on their way to the refectory, and the youthful heir appeared more concerned over the prospect of a good dinner than the result of the case upon which his future depended.
Stories of the Claimant were countless as he strode like a Colossus through the country in the long interval between his civil case and the criminal trial that succeeded it.
He was mobbed by sympathisers everywhere, and men and women shook hands with him, as if it be-stowed a distinction on themselves. There was one amusing story at the time of a wealthy Yorkshire manufacturer whose wife said to him when they entertained the Claimant to dinner:
"John, how we are slithering into Society !"
After he had served eleven years' imprisonment, his sentence having been reduced through good conduct, the Claimant came to the Exhibition to learn if he could be of any further service to us, or we to him. His ponderous bulk was so much reduced by prison fare that we should not have known him. He said he was none the worse for the period of enforced "banting," which reduced his weight without injuring his health.
The Claimant gave me several sittings at this time, and a new model was substituted for the old one. He spoke freely of his prison experiences, and said:
"It was not easy to be philosophical when set to tease oakum, but eventually I bowed to my fate cheerfully enough. It is some consolation to know that thou-sands still believe in the justice of my claim to the Tichborne estates."
Notwithstanding this, the Claimant published in a Sunday newspaper his signed confession, which he is said to have afterwards recanted.
He survived his liberation from prison fourteen years, and, gradually sinking into poverty, died in obscure lodgings in Marylebone, not far from the Exhibition, on the 2nd of April, 1898. The name engraved on his coffin was "Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne," thus maintaining his claim to the very last.