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

Thursday Lecture Series, Evidence

March 10, 2011 Thursday, 12:15pm EST The Heyman Center, Columbia University

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.