Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Mystic London, by Charles Maurice Davies, 1875 - Chapter XII - An Open-Air Tichborne Meeting

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CHAPTER XII.

AN OPEN-AIR TICHBORNE MEETING.

WHEN Sydney Smith, from the depths of his Barbarian  ignorance, sought to rise to the conception of a  Puseyite, he said in substance much as follows:-" I  know not what these silly people want, except to  revive every obsolete custom which the common sense  of mankind has allowed to go to sleep." Puseyism is  not to our present purpose; but Tichborne-ism is for  it has attained to the dignity of a veritable ism - and  we may define it much after the same method, as  an attempt, not, indeed, to revive the claims of, but  to restore to society a person, who, after a trial of  unexampled length, was consigned by the verdict of a  jury, and the consequent sentence of the Lord Chief  Justice, to the possibly uncongenial retirement of  Millbank Penitentiary. With the rights or wrongs  of such an event I have simply nothing to do. I  abandoned the Tichborne Trial at an early stage in a  condition of utter bewilderment ; and directly an old  gentleman sought to button-hole me, and argue that  he must be the man, or he couldn't be the man, I  made off, or changed the conversation as rapidly as I  could.
    [-101-] But when the question had at length been resolved  by wiser heads than mine, and when, too, I felt I could  write calmly, with no fear of an action for contempt  of court before my eyes, I confess that a poster  announcing an open-air Tichborne meeting in Mr.  Warren's cricket-field, Notting Hill, was too fascinating  for me. I had heard of such gatherings in  provincial places and East End halls; but this invasion  of the West was breaking new ground. I  would go; in fine I went. On the evening of an  exceptionally hot July day, I felt there might be  worse places than Mr. Warren's breezy cricket ground  alongside Notting Barn Farm; so six o'clock, the  hour when the chair was to be taken, found me at the  spot - first of the outer world - and forestalled only  by a solitary Tichbornite. How I knew that the  gentleman in question deserved that appellation I  say not; but I felt instinctively that such was the case.  He had a shiny black frock-coat on, like a well-to-do  artisan out for a holiday, and a roll of paper protruding  from his pocket I rightly inferred to be a  Tichborne petition for signature. As soon as we got  on the ground, and I was enjoying the sensation of  the crisp well rolled turf beneath my feet, a man hove  in sight with a table, and this attracted a few  observers. A gentleman in a light coat, too, who  was serenely gazing over the hedge at the Kensington  Park Cricket Club in the next ground, was, they  informed me, Mr. Guildford Onslow. The presiding [-102-] genius of the place, however, was Mrs. Warren, who,  arrayed in a gown of emerald green - as though she  were attending a Fenian meeting - bustled about in a  state of intense excitement until the greengrocer's  cart, which was to serve as a rostrum, had arrived.  When this occurred, the table and half a dozen  Windsor chairs were hoisted into it; another table  was arranged below the van, with the Tichborne  Petition outspread upon it; and I fancied that  arrangements were complete.
    Not so, however. The gentleman in the shiny  coat and emerald green Mrs. Warren between them  tin-tacked up a long scroll or "legend" along the rim  of the van, consisting of the text from Psalm XXXV.  11 :-" False witnesses did rise up against me. They  laid to my charge things that I knew not." The  association of ideas was grotesque, I know, but really  as Mrs. Warren and the shiny artisan were nailing  this strip to the greengrocer's van, they put me very  much in mind of a curate and a lady friend "doing  decorations" at Christmas or Eastertide. Nor was this  all. When the "strange device" was duly tin-tacked,  some workmen brought four long pieces of quartering,  and a second strip of white calico with letters stuck  on it was nailed to these; and when the stalwart  fellows hoisted it in air and tied the two centre pieces  of wood to the wheels of the greengrocer's cart, I  found that it consisted of the Ninth Commandment.  The self-sacrificing carpenters were to hold - and did [-103-]  hold - the outside poles banner-wise during the entire  evening ; and, with one slight exception, this banner  with the strange device, No. 2, formed an appropriate,  if not altogether ornamental background for the greengrocer's  van. Knots of people had gathered during  these proceedings ; and 1 was confused to find that I  was being generally pointed out as Mr. Onslow, that  gentleman having retired to the privacy of Mr.  Warren's neighbouring abode. Later on I was taken  for a detective, because, in my innocence, I withdrew  ever and anon from the crowd, and, sitting on a  verdurous bank, jotted down a note in my pocketbook;  but this got me into such bad odour by-and-by  that I felt it better to desist, and trust to memory.  Some of the smaller boys also averred that I was Sir  Roger himself, but their youthful opinions were too  palpably erroneous to carry weight.
    In due course the van was occupied by Mr. Onslow,  the Rev. Mr. Buckingham (about whom I felt, of  course, very curious), my shining artisan, and a few  others. A thin-faced gentleman, whose name I could  not catch, was voted to the chair, and announced to  us that he should go on talking awhile in order that  Messrs. Onslow and Buckingham might "refresh," as  they had each come from the country. This they did  coram publico in the cart, while the chairman kept us  amused. The wind, too, was blowing pretty freshly,  and was especially hard on the Ninth Commandment,  which gave considerable trouble to the holders of the [-104-] props. It was directly in the teeth of the speaker,  too - an arrangement which Mrs. Warren, in her zeal,  had overlooked ; and it was decided by common consent  to "reverse the meeting" - that is, to turn the  chairs of the speakers round, so that the Ninth Commandment  was nowhere, and looked like an Egyptian  hieroglyph, as the reversed letters showed dimly  through the calico. The chairman eventually read to  the meeting, which was now a tolerably full one, the  form of petition which was to serve as the single resolution  of the evening. I was struck with this gentleman's  departure from conventional legal phraseology  on this occasion. Instead of naming the cause celebre  "The Queen versus Castro" (it being written, as Sam  Weller says, with a " wee") he termed it "The Queen  via Castro!" The petition was as follows :-
    " That in the trial at Bar in the Court of Queen's  Bench, on an indictment of the Queen v. Castro, alias  Arthur Orton, alias Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne,  Bart., for perjury, the jury, on the 28th day of  February, 1874, brought in a verdict of guilty against  him, declaring him to be Arthur Orton, and he was  sentenced to fourteen years' penal servitude, which he  is now undergoing.
    "That your petitioners have reason to know and  believe and are satisfied, both from the evidence  produced at the trial and furnished since, and from  their own personal knowledge that he is not Arthur  Orton.
    [-105-] "That though 280 witnesses were examined at the  said trial in his behalf, a very large number more, as  your petitioners have been informed and believe, were  also ready to be examined, but that funds were not  available for the purpose, the defendant having been  entirely dependent on the voluntary subscriptions of  the public for his defence.
    " That your petitioners submit that such a large  number as 280 witnesses, most of whom gave positive  evidence that the defendant was not Arthur Orton,  and whose testimony in two instances only was questioned  in a court of law - as against about 200 witnesses  for the prosecution, whose evidence was chiefly  of a negative character - was of itself enough to raise  a doubt in the defendant's favour, of which doubt he  ought to have had the benefit, in accordance both  with the law and the custom of the country.
    " That, under the circumstances, your petitioners  submit that he had not a fair trial, and they pray  your honourable House to take the matter into your  serious consideration, with a view to memorialize her  Majesty to grant a free pardon."
    The Rev. Mr. Buckingham, a cheery gentleman  who bore a remarkable resemblance to the celebrated  Mr. Pickwick, rose to move the resolution; and I  could not help noticing that, not content with the  ordinary white tie of clerical life, he had "continued  the idea downwards" in a white waistcoat, which  rather altered the state of things. He spoke well [-106-] and forcibly I should think for an hour, confining his  remarks to the subject of "Sir Roger" not being  Arthur Orton. He (Mr. Buckingham) belonged to  some waterside mission at Wapping, and had known  Arthur Orton familiarly from earliest boyhood. His  two grievances were that his negative evidence had  not been taken, and that he was now being continually  waited on by "Jesuits," who temptingly  held out cheques for 1000l. to him if he would only  make affidavit that the man in Millbank was Arthur  Orton.
    Mr. Onslow, who seconded the resolution, however,  made the speech of the evening, and was so enthusiastically  received that he had to recommence several  times after glowing perorations. The burden of Mr.  Onslow's prophecy was the unfairness of the trial ;  and his "bogies" were detectives, just as Mr. Buckingham's  were Jesuits. The Jean Luie affair was  the most infernal "plant" in the whole case; and he  read records of conflicting evidence which really were  enough to make one pack up one's traps and resolve  on instant emigration. He was, however, certainly  right on one point. He said that such meetings were  safety-valves which prevented revolution. No doubt  this was a safety-valve. It amused the speakers, and  Mrs. Warren and the glazed artisan ; and it could do  nobody any possible harm. Whether it was likely to  do the man of Millbank any good was quite another  matter, and one which, of course, it was quite beside [-107-] my purpose to discuss. There was a deal of - to me - very interesting speaking; for I gained new light about the case, and stood until my legs fairly  ached listening to Messrs. Buckingham and Onslow.
    When the editor of the Tichborne Gazette claimed  an innings it was another matter ; and - perhaps with  lack of esprit de corps - I decamped. I only saw this  gentleman gesticulating as I left the field; but the  rate at which he was getting up the steam promised  a speech that would last till nightfall.
    As I went off the ground I was struck with the  clever way in which a London costermonger will turn  anything and everything to account. One of them  was going about with a truck of cherries, crying out,  "Sir Roger Tichborne cherries. Penny a lot !"
    There was no symptom of overt opposition, though  opponents were blandly invited to mount the waggon  and state their views ; but there was a good deal of  quiet chaff on the outskirts of the crowd, which is  the portion I always select on such occasions for my  observation. On the whole, however, the assembly  was pretty unanimous; and though it never assumed  the dimensions of a "monster meeting," the fact that  even so many people could be got together for such  a purpose seemed to me sufficiently a sign of the  times to deserve annotation in passing.