Review by Michael Canavan
Be they Nigerian or phony Tax Officers, they invariably seek to cheat you. Invariably, occasionally, one comes along so cheeky that it becomes a Ripping Yarn, immortal even.
Such was the Tichborne Inheritance. Feckless young Roger Tichborne disappears at sea, believed drown-then again, maybe not. Years later, newspaper adverts appear seeking details: in Wagga, Tom Castro [or is that Arthur Horton?] takes note.
Boldly going forth, and acquiring friends and bankrollers, he stakes his claim to the sizeable inheritance. After a solid start, doubts arise: does he resemble Roger? [facially-mmm; girthwise-no]. He cannot speak French. Indecision.
Two trials later, lasting a collective 291 days [the Final Addresses in the second trial occupied a collective 62 days], the final verdict was delivered in 35 minutes.
A comedown from the time that pictures of The Claimant outsold those of the Monarch.
Robyn Annear’s The Man Who Lost Himself takes us from Villa Castro to Tichborne Hall, from the mountains of South America to the flats of the Murrumbidgee: the pace is maintained as various opportunists seek to get their dibs on a slice of the inheritance.
It was an Event: nothing was left undone to secure the 140kg “Jolly Sir Roger” his inheritance. Crowd funding supplied the creature comforts of The Claimant [as he was referred to once legal proceedings get underway] and, in an outstanding PR coup, 1500 Tichborne Bonds were issued to enable wealthy True Believers to contribute. A superb potboiler, “The Tichborne Romance” titillated the lower orders. The British populace was enthralled, being treated daily to saturation press coverage of [well recompensed] Colourful Colonials bearing, often wildly contradictory, evidence for and against. Sorting the wheat from the chaff, then as now, was immensely entertaining
Beneath the bluff and bluster, who was The Claimant? He grew into the role, refining his public persona, charming supporters and drawing in doubters. Only those close to him harboured lingering doubts
The Man Who Lost Himself is superb, a single-sitting read. Like a good detective thriller, the reader is gently guided into making-up their own mind regarding the evidence regarding The Claimant. There is never any real doubt as to the final outcome, but, as in any Ripping Yarn, it was done [and written about] with style and panache. The verbosity and colourful language from all concerned made me wonder: if it wasn’t so serious it would make a wonderful comedy.
It remains so well-known because it seems so modern: a core group of supporters sustaining the faith, combined with a flair for publicity has its modern counterpart, alas, not nearly as colourful as the original.
It finally ended in 1898.
The Claimant died on April Fool’s Day.