In 1854 a wealthy young aristocrat named Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne disappeared at sea and was presumed dead. His distraught mother, refusing to believe he was actually dead, placed ads in newspapers around the world, seeking information about his whereabouts.
In 1866 she received a response from an Australian man who claimed to be her son. What followed was one of the most intriguing and debated cases of (possible) impersonation of all time.
There were dramatic differences between Roger Tichborne and the Australian claimant. Roger Tichborne had weighed 125 pounds and spoke French as well as English when he disappeared. The Australian man, by contrast, weighed over 300 pounds and spoke no French. However, the facial features of the two men were similar.
Lady Tichborne embraced the Australian man as her long-lost son, making him the full heir to her estate. But when she died, the other heirs lost no time in bringing suit against him to stop him from gaining the inheritance. On the witness stand he proved unable to remember basic facts about the past of Roger Tichborne, and the court ruled that he was a fraud. But as he sat in jail for the next ten years, he lost a great deal of weight and began to resemble Roger Tichborne more and more. Many began to suspect that he really was the long-lost Roger.
It seems almost certain that the Australian man was a fraud, but when he died in 1898 the family allowed the name “Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne” to be inscribed on his tombstone.
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