Thursday Lecture Series: Evidence

Tichborne: The Art of Visual Persuasion in British Law and Popular Culture

Thursday, The Heyman Center

Jennifer Tucker’s talk traced the rise and ambivalent reception
of visual and expert courtroom evidence from 1850 to 1900 by
focusing on one of the most famous legal dramas of the nineteenth
century: the “Tichborne Impostor” or “Tichborne Claimant”
trials (London, 1871–1874). The Tichborne trials transformed
an English émigré working as a butcher in rural Australia—who
claimed to be an aristocrat’s son—into the popular hero of the
British metropolitan working classes. Despite the prominence of
the trial, little is known about the relationship between knowledge,
politics, and visual artifacts in the case.
Professor Tucker’s study used the documents of the trial to ask
how Victorians in these early days of the mechanical reproduction
of images thought about visual artifacts as “proof” and to determine
what kinds of evidence were deemed credible. Questions
like these arise with particular urgency in the courtroom, where legal
judgments require decisions about whom and what to believe.