Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Low-Life Deeps, by James Greenwood, 1881 [first published 1875] - Charles Orton's Confession

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CHARLES ORTON'S CONFESSION.

THE extraordinary endurance of popular interest in the "Orton imposture," after the lapse of more than a year, since the bulky "first robber" of that memorable melodrama has been satisfactorily disposed, will perhaps be regarded as sufficient justification for here reproducing what was perhaps the most conclusive evidence of the man's guilt at the time, or since brought to light. I am glad to acknowledge that the confession of "brother Charles" was obtained by me, the more so when I reflect on the vast amount of patience and perseverance it was found necessary to exercise in order to bring the individual in question to book. Indeed, it is doubtful if I should ever have succeeded had it not been for the kind offices of a good friend, whose official connection with the Tichborne case though not prominent, was deep, and whose influence over the elder brother of the "claimant" was very remarkable. The confession was made at my friend's house, and in that gentleman's presence. Said the aged Charles:-
    "What I wish to do is to make a plain statement of all that I know, or ever did know, of the bad business which has just ended so unhappily for my brother Arthur. I don't hope, nor I don't want, to make myself out to be a martyr, and I don't pretend that I shall be able to give a good reason for all my actions in the affair; but I do hope to make it appear that I am not, by a great many shades, as black as I have been [-96-] painted, and that although I am very much to blame, I was made to do a great deal - firstly, on account of my being so poor; and secondly, on account of being drawn, a little at a. time as I may say, into a mess which it wasn't easy to escape out of. That, however, if you will be so kind as to print my account, will be for the public to judge of when they have read it. I will only add, at starting, that it is a true account, and one which I defy any one mixed up in the Tichborne trial to contradict.
    "First of all, perhaps, it may be as well, after the many wrong statements which have appeared in the newspapers, to say a few words concerning my brothers and the family generally. I may mention that my father was a journeyman butcher, in the service of Mrs. Hoad, who kept a shop just about opposite to where our old shop was afterwards, and that Mrs. Road had a niece, and that she and my father got married, and set up for themselves at 69, Wapping, in the year 1818. Thomas was the first boy, and when he grew old enough he went to help in the shop, and also looked after the Shetland ponies which father dealt in. Thomas was just the build of what Arthur grew to be, a very big man, and just like Arthur in the face. Thomas died about ten years ago.
    That was something over a year before father died when this happened, and mother being dead six years before that, my sister Margaret (Mrs. Tredgett) took the business, and I was her foreman. This lasted until things went wrong, and Mrs. Tredgett sold the business in 1866 to Mr. Pitt. I was the next son to Thomas; and then came George. George began his seagoing career in i842, and kept steadily at it, voyaging to and from England until 1856. Then he sailed for Hong Kong. He settled at Singapore, and became master of the steampacket that carries the mail between Singapore and Bankok. That, I believe, is his occupation at the present time. George has for a good many years behaved very handsomely by his [-97-] two sisters who were left widows - Mrs. Tredgett and Mrs. Mary Ann Jury. He allowed them five pounds a month between them, beside sending money to keep the children at school. He may be doing it still for all I know; but, not being friendly with my sisters, I can't say for certain. William was my next brother, and he was apprenticed to a grocer. It was William who was known about Wapping as 'Gentleman Orton.' He was a smart-built young chap. He got into difficulties about betting, and in 1854 went away to New York, From there he went to California. From there he shipped for Panama, but cholera broke out in the vessel, and he and a great many others on board died of it.
    "Then there was my brother Robert. Like all the rest, he helped as a boy in the butcher's business, and when he was old enough, being inclined for the sea, as they all were, he was bound to a Mr. Lisle, a shipowner. His first voyage was in the Mayday, Captain May, bound with a batch of convicts for Norfolk Island, in the year 1843, The Mayday was never heard of afterwards. Then there was my brother Alfred. He was apprenticed to the sea, but, while still a boy, died of fever out in Calcutta. Of all the eight brothers there are only four now alive - George, Edmund, Arthur, and myself.
    "Edmund is the only brother I have not told you about, and it is more particular that I should speak about him than the rest, because his name has been very often mentioned in the course of the trial. Edmund was born in 1829, and would, therefore, be five years older than Arthur. Edmund stayed at the butcher's shop until he was fifteen, and then, like all the rest, having a taste for roving and adventures, he took to the sea. He was apprenticed to Captain John Hall, of Sunderland, in 1847. In August, 1849, he sailed from Liverpool, in the Niagara, on a voyage for Valparaiso; but before he went this voyage, and having been away from home a long while, he got a fortnight's holiday, and came home. He had grown a [-98-] great deal since he was last there, and had took to wearing gold wires in his ears. Edmund at this time was quite a maj and between five feet nine and ten in height.
    "This is how the mistake might have come about with the witnesses who said they recollected that when my brother Arthur came home just about that time he had earrings in his ears; and it isn't much of a wonder that they made the blunder for a very short time after Edmund had set off for Valparais Arthur came home, and remained at home for two yean Arthur wasn't expected home at that time. It was thought thought by his friends that he was in the neighbourhood of Valparaiso. They were anxious about him, because the last they at that time had heard concerning him was by means of a letter that was sent to father by a naval officer. It stated that being a Valparaiso, he had there met with a destitute English boy, who told him that his name was Arthur Orton, and that he had run away from his ship, being unable any longer to put up with the ill-usage of the captain. The letter further said that the naval officer had asked the boy what he meant to do, and he replied that it was his intention to make his way up the country. It was agreed that when Edmund got to Valparaiso he should make inquiries about Arthur.
    "After a few months there came a letter from Edmund, to say that he could hear nothing about his brother, and that he himself had deserted his ship at Valparaiso, as Arthur had done, and was going up the country too. As we afterwards heard he made his way to New Mexico, where he found adventures enough; for there he was taken prisoner by a hostile tribe, and kept so for nine months, when they began to trust him a little and let him have a gun to go out shooting game for their living. Edmund took the opportunity of making his escape in company with a native woman, and finally made his way to a place called Guymas, where he married a native, and settled there with his family.
   [-99-] "As for my brother Arthur, I can tell you nothing more concerning his boyhood than has already been made known in the newspapers. It is quite correct all that they say about him being a healthy boy before that fire at St. Andrew's Wharf, when he was six years old, which was just by our place at Wapping, and when he was so frightened at being woke out of his sleep to see the flames that he was at once took with St. Vitus's dance, and for a long time seemed to have no control over his features or his limbs. But he never grew thin with it all. He was a wonderfully thick set boy, like Thomas was when he was a lad, and the nickname he had amongst us was the Fat Boy in 'Pickwick.' He was nearly well, however, when at the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to Captain Brooks, of the 'Ocean.' I will not go over the story of his voyage and his running away and getting to Melipilla, only that I may mention that at that time, when Edmund absconded from his ship at Valparaiso, and was so anxious to find Arthur, Arthur was probably all the time only seventy miles away, comfortable at Melipilla.
    "Perhaps I may as well state here, that if my brother was ever severely bitten by a pony while he was a lad at home with us, I, who was always at home too, never heard of it. It was equally news to me when I heard that he had been thrown from a pony, and received a deep cut on the face; likewise that he ever wore earrings. I may also say, that as regards the tattoo marks of A. O., that were said to have once been on his arm, and afterwards got rid of, I never saw them nor heard of them. But then they might have been there without my knowledge, for I was married when Arthur was a lad at home, and slept away, and only saw him about in the business. As for the brown mark on his side, I never saw that either but it was commonly known in the family that he had a birth mark. There are a good many other things that have been said about [-100-]  my brother at that time; but it will be better perhaps for me to get on with what I at first promised to do.
    "At about Christmas time of 1866 I was keeping a small butcher's shop in Hermitage Street. Another man and myself had the business between us, though it wasn't such a big business but that one of us might have managed it easily. Three or four days after that Christmas-Day, my sister, Mrs. Robert Jury, came to the shop and brought a letter for me to read. It was the letter signed in the name of Stevens, that had been left a day or two before with Mrs. Pardon, to be handed to Mrs. Tredgett. My sister Mary Ann had married Mr. Pardon's brother, so that there was a sort of relationship. My sister told me when she brought the letter, that from what she had been told by one and the other who had seen the strange gentleman in disguise, that she verily believed that it must be Arthur himself. I didn't know what to think about it myself, but I at once recognized the letter as being in the handwriting of my brother Arthur. I heard no more about the matter for a week or two, and then I thought I would go and see my sisters, Mrs. Tredgett and Mrs. Robert Jury, and ascertain whether they had heard anything more about the matter.
    "I found that they had. They had received two letters, which when I saw I knew at once to be in the handwriting of my brother Arthur, who had remained so many years unheard of. They, too, declared that they knew the handwriting, although there was no signature to the letters. I don't recollect all the writing, but I know that one of the letters asked my sister Mary Ann to be good enough to go and see a person who lived at Victoria Cottage, Victoria Park, and find out who the man that lived there was. This, I may say, was the house where Mr. Pittendreigh and his wife lived. From what I could make out, Mr. Pittendreigh was a lawyer's clerk, and in an office belonging to some of the big lawyers engaged in a lawsuit that Arthur had got mixed up in, and that somebody had writ from [-101-] Victoria Cottage to give Arthur a hint of telling him something to his advantage if it could be done quietly, and that my brother, not feeling sure but that it might be a trap, wanted to know who and what the person at Victoria Cottage was.
    "As well as I remember, my sister told me that she had been able to manage the affair very well. There was, it seems, in the window of the house, a bill of apartments to let at Victoria Cottage, and my sister made it her business to inquire respecting them, and that then, in quite a natural way, came up the question of references, &c., and so she found out where Mr. Pittendreigh was employed. I ought to have told you that this letter was addressed from Essex-road, Croydon. And when we had talked about this letter my sister told me that Arthur had sent her another with a five pound note in it, together with word that so long as she was careful and kept her own counsel he would send the like sum every month, to help keep the two sisters who were living together.
    "Well, I waited, thinking perhaps, that I might hear from my brother Arthur. Business at the butcher's shop was very bad, and I thought if five-pound notes was so plentiful he might send me one or two. So, finding that he didn't take any notice of me, I wrote to him, getting his address at Croydon from Mrs. Tredgett. I addressed him as Sir Roger Tichbomne and put it to him in this way. Says I, 'I hear that you know where my brother Arthur is, and that you know him to be a rich man. Will you kindly send me his address, as I should like to write to him asking him if he can give me a little assistance?' Well, no answer came to this. I was very hard up at the time, and, after thinking about it, and of what I had by this time heard as to what it was my brother was doing, I took advice of my partner as to why I shouldn't make a move towards getting a little money out of the matter. I didn't like to go about it, for fear I might injure my sisters, who, I knew, were receiving their five pounds in a regular manner. But my partner [-102-] and me talked it over, and I made up my mind that I would go and offer myself to the side my brother was wrongfully setting up against.
    "But I didn't know quite how to set about it. I recollected about Victoria Cottage, where the lawyer's clerk lived, that my sister Mary Ann went to find out about, but I didn't know which side the lawyers he worked for were on. So I thought that I would go and see if I could find out. I went to Victoria Cottage, and saw the clerk's wife; but she was as sharp, if not sharper, than I was, and wouldn't answer straight out any question I put to her. When she got out of me that it was something about Tichborne I had come about, then she asked me in, and then we talked, and I told her that I thought about giving evidence in favour of the infant heir, provided it was made worth my while to do so. I didn't say more than that, nor how much I wanted, or anything. I only said that I bad some information to give which that side might be glad to get. Mrs. Pittendreigh persuaded me not to be too hasty in the matter. 'You leave me your address,' said she, and 'I think it very likely that to-morrow you will be wrote to.' I didn't care at first about doing this; but at last I did. I gave her the address right, but not the name. I put the name backwards - Mr. C. Notro, butcher, Hermitage-street, Wapping.
    "Nothing came of it all next day, but on the following day there came a letter with the Croydon postmark. My partner, who knew all about it, opened it, and brought it over to the house where I was living. It was not a letter exactly, but an odd scrap of white paper, on which was wrote these words: 'Why should you injure one that never did harm to you? I shall send you in a day or two what you require. Desist.' The last word, 'Desist,' was wrote where the signature should have been, but it didn't want any signature for me to be able to identify it as my brother Arthur's writing. Of course, I can't be sure that my going to Victoria Cottage had anything to do [-103-] with him writing to me, though I think it must have, because he wrote to me as Mr. C. Notro. Well, the very next morning there came another letter, likewise with the Croydon postmark, and with a five pound note in it, and a scrap of paper, written on these words: 'I shall allow you this sum every month at present.' This was wrote in the same writing as the one that said 'Desist,' and like that which came to my sister Mary Ann at first to ask her to go and find out about the people at Victoria Cottage. It was my brother Arthur's writing. Amongst ourselves - my sisters and myself, I mean - there was never the shadow of a doubt who it was who was sending us the money. When we talked about it and about how he was getting on- quite by ourselves, of course-we never spoke of him but as Arthur, though so many at that time where beginning to call him Sir Roger Tichborne.
    "Well, I received my five pounds a month - a five-pound note in an envelope - regular, from the commencement until the beginning of August in the same year. Then I got a letter in the same old handwriting, but without any name at the end. It was to request me to leave Wapping and its neighbourhood as soon as I possibly could. It didn't explain why. All that the letter said was that I was to get out of Wapping immediately, and at the same time it was mentioned that the money I was receiving was quite enough for me to live on at present, and that, if I was careful as to what I was about, when the 'case was over there would be no lack of money, and if I wanted a thousand or two, why I should have it.' At the time I only thought that my brother was afraid that people might find me out, and make inquiries that mightn't be good for him: but now I can see that there was something more in it. While I had the butcher's shop in Hermitage-street, although it mightn't be much, there was something to be made by it, which would give me a little independence, but if I was took away from it and made to depend on the five pound a month for my living, I [-104-] should be all the more afraid of doing anything that might give offence. However, I thought it best to do as I was asked, and the next day I left my house at Wapping, and took lodgings in the Keaton-road, Bermondsey. As regards the notes I received from my brother, I took them all, endorsed with my name or with that I was going by to the Bank of England, and afterwards several of them were traced by Inspector Whicher as having been issued from the Alresford or Croydon Bank a day or two before they came in my possession.
    "I still got my five pounds regularly, seeing my sisters sometimes, but not so often as I used, for Mrs. Tredgett seemed to think that I had no right to put in my claim for assistance. Near the end of the year, Mrs. Tredgett came to our place and said that the plaintiff's solicitor wished to see me. By-the-by, I should have mentioned that some time before I had received from my brother Arthur one of the usual unsigned scraps of paper, telling me to have nothing to say to a person named Holmes if he came to me. So I thought it best to write and ask him if I was to act according to Mrs. Tredgett's message, addressing my letter to Sir Roger Tichborne, as usual, at Croydon. He wrote back, 'Yes; go,' and so I went to the solicitor's office in Clement's-lane, Lombard-street. There was nothing done that day except the making of an appointment for me to come next day.
    "When I went next day Mr. Holmes was there, and he brought out a very large photographic likeness, which I saw at once was my brother's likeness, although, when asked, I denied it, he had so much altered. Perhaps I ought to say that I had seen Arthur some time before. I felt curious as I had not seen him for so many years, and so one day when I went to Croydon to cash a five pound cheque on the Croydon Bank he had sent me, I took the trouble to find out where he lived, and as I was passing the house I saw Arthur looking out at the door. I knew him at once, and I nodded. I believe that he knew me, [-105-] for I think he nodded back again, but of that I cannot be sure. I wasn't the only one of his relations that went to Croydon uninvited. His sister, Mrs. Captain Jury, did so just after he went to live there, and the door was opened by the nursemaid, who had one of the Claimant's children in her arms; on which Mrs. Captain Jury exclaimed, 'Lor! what a regular little Orton.' Arthur refused to see her. He said he was ill; but he sent a letter to Elizabeth, begging that it might not happen again.
    "Well, when I saw the photograph that the solicitor showed me I knew it in an instant, but I also knew that it wasn't expected of me to say so; so when the solicitor said to me, 'Do you see any resemblance between this gentleman and your brother Arthur?' I said, 'No.' There was writing on the margin of the photograph, saying that the undersigned had seen it, and saw no likeness in it to Arthur Orton. Mrs. Tredgett's name was signed there and I signed mine.
    "I did not hear anything more of him for a matter of two months, and then I got a message that he wanted to see me again, and I was made to understand that this time I was to meet the 'Claimant' himself. I went, knowing of course what was expected of me, and having made up my mind what I should do. When I got to plaintiff's solicitor's office there were two gentlemen there-Captain Angell and Colonel Lushington. Sitting in another chair was my brother Arthur, but he did not move when I went in. He just raised his eyes to my face once, and then he looked away, and never looked at me again, and never said a word. 'Do you know this gentleman?' I was asked, and I said 'No,' just as I had said concerning the portrait. Then I came out, and I was asked this time to swear an affidavit, but I said I would rather not, but that I had no objection to sign a statement. And I did sign a statement, making it seem that, for all I knew different, the gentleman I had seen might be Sir Roger Tichborne or anybody else. For all that, I recognized him.
    [-106-]  "I did not hear any more, but went on living on the five pound a month, which came pretty regular, until I had been receiving it about a year. Then the money didn't come so regular. One day while I was out Mrs. Tredgett came in a hurry, bringing with her a letter, which she read to my wife, and which she had received from Arthur, and which desired her to come as soon as she could to our house, and tell me that things were getting dangerous; that it had come to his knowledge that our house was watched by detectives and that, for fear of accidents, if I had by me any of the letters he had sent me they had better be burnt immediately. As it happened, I had kept by me every bit of writing he had sent me, ever since he sent that first letter, asking me why I should wish to injure one who had never hurt me, and signed 'Desist.' I had all the scraps of writing in a box, and I did not want to burn them; but Mrs. Tredgett said that they must be burnt for the sake of everybody. Mrs. Tredgett told my wife that Arthur would have written to me himself, but that he was afraid to, because he knew that the house was watched. She also said that Arthur had sent her five pounds, and that if we burnt the letters she would leave us one pound out of it. On my wife promising that the letters should be burnt she left a sovereign.
    "When I came home my wife told me what had happened, and she was so frightened that, against my will, I agreed to what Mrs. Tredgett had asked, and the box was brought out, and the letters were burnt, every one of them. Before Mrs. Tredgett went she told my wife that Arthur began to be doubtful about me. Next day I wrote a letter, addressed to Sir Roger Tichborne, saying that he need not be at all doubtful of me while he acted by me as he promised, and that if he was afraid to send the usual money in the usual way, for fear of the name of Orton being on the envelope, that I would change my name and call myself Mr. Brand, which was my wife's maiden [-107-] name. I asked him to send me some money as soon as he possibly could. I thought that I should have got a letter by return, with the usual five-pound note, but instead of that, in a day or two a railway porter came with a little parcel, and asked for Mrs. Brand. My landlord opened the door. and said no such person was living there, but I overheard it, and said it was for me. It was two sovereigns and a half wrapt in blotting paper, in a sort of a pill-box.
    "Well after this the money got more and more uncertain. I didn't have anything else to live on, and very often 1 didn't know what to do for a few shillings. What was sent was in small sums-very often in French money. Many times he would send me a twenty-franc piece in a letter, which was to last me for the week; and as he seldom paid for the registering, I had to pay double when it came - eightpence out of sixteen shillings. I never made a calculation, but I think I may safely say that what I all along received from Arthur didn't amount to more than eighteen shillings a week. But I should have kept my word with him if he had kept it up regular. I didn't know what was the reason of his treating me so, and thought that it might be better if I moved, and so I left Keaton-road and went to live at Melon Ground, Peckham; but the money did not come any better. Then I heard about his going to Chili, and then that he had gone.
    "To speak my mind, I thought that he had gone away, and never meant to come back any more. I thought it not unlikely that matters were not going as well with him as he hoped they would, that he was sick of it, and that going to Chili was an excuse for getting away altogether. I don't put that as an excuse for doing what I did, but I do say that thinking so made it seem not so much harm in me going over to the other side. I had not received any money for some time, though I was so hard up that the brokers were in my house to seize my goods, which was the fact, and may be remembered in my favour as [-108-]showing that in spite of the bargain that was made between us, that he would find me in money enough to live on, I was left to get to such a state of destitution.
    "I wrote, and told him about the brokers being in my place - two letters - and begged him to send me something. Then I heard that he had really started for Chili, and I wrote to his wife-they had gone to live at Alresford then-writing in the name of Brand, and asking if Sir Roger had left any message or letter for a person of that name. But I got no kind of answer to my letter. I waited awhile, and then I went to see my old partner at Hermitage Street, and we talked it over, and I at last agreed to put myself in communication with the other side. I did so, and shortly afterwards made an affidavit telling the whole truth. A little time after this the plaintiff's solicitor came to see me, and to inquire if what he heard was true, and I told him it was, and he went away. Before this, though, I had a visit from Mrs. Tredgett, and she told me that she had heard it rumoured that I had turned traitor. After I had made the affidavit I wrote to Mrs. Tredgett begging her to consider the matter, and make a clean breast of it, as I had done; but all the answer she sent back was that I was a cowardly cur, and that was the last I heard of her.
    "And this, as far as I am concerned, is the real truth and nothing else.
    "CHARLES ORTON.
  
"March 6, 1874."