Born to a wealthy family in Hampshire in 1829, Roger Charles Tichborne was the son of Sir James and Lady Henrietta Felicite Seymour Tichborne. After spending most of his youth in France and several years at a Jesuit boarding school, he served in the army 1849-52, then left for a world tour. His ship was presumed lost in 1854, and eventually all on board were declared dead.
His mother never gave up hope of his return and after she placed advertisements in Australian newspapers in 1865, was informed that her son had been alive all this time. She arranged for his return, and although most other family members were convinced he was an impostor, she and a number of other individuals believed his story.
In 1868 an issue was directed to be tried in the Court of Common Pleas as to whether the claimant was the heir of Sir James, who had died in 1862. He brought an ejectment action against the Tichborne trustees before a judge and special jury. The trial lasted 102 days (May 1871-March 1872), and the claimant was cross examined for 22 days by the Solicitor General, Sir John Coleridge. A large number of witnesses swore to his identity, but the final cross-examination proved that he was ignorant of many facts which Sir Roger must have known, eg. How to speak French.
The defence’s case rested on proving the existence and parallel travels of one Arthur Orton, a Wapping man who eventually wound up in Australia, and whose path may even have crossed that of Sir Roger's. The jury found for the defendants. After the trial Orton was arrested for perjury and tried at the Bar in 1873. Even more witnesses were called this time, but on the 188th day the jury found that he was guilty, and he was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He was released in 1884 and in 1895 published a signed confession.
The case was a great source of class strife at the time of the trials, and even today some authors maintain that the government railroaded the claimant. For many years this (the two trials combined) was the longest trial in English history.