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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: March 2014

4 - ‘Waiters on Chance’: The Tichborne Claimant, Land Law Reform and Rural Dispossession


Following a six-hour speech by Henry Brougham in Parliament in 1828, in which he denounced a number of inequities in the administration of law, a Royal Commission was set up to consider the state of law pertaining to property. The Commission concluded that ‘when once the object of transactions respecting land is accomplished, and the estates and interests in it which are recognized are actually created and secured, the law of England, except in a few most unimportant particulars, appears to come almost as near to perfection as can be expected in any human institutions.’ Eileen Spring argues that lawyers had a vested interest in opposing land law reform and as a result land law was not significantly amended until 1925. This contention would seem to be borne out by the objective of The Law Times and Journal of Property, established as ‘a journal devoted to the numerous intelligent, wealthy, and influential classes engaged in the making and administration of the law throughout this great empire’. That the legal system protected the interests of the landed gentry was certainly shown to be true in the lengthiest trial of the nineteenth century, which was the scandalous inheritance dispute over the Tichborne estate, described by the Daily News as ‘the most extraordinary trial which has taken place in our time’. Hardy began his fiction-writing career with a sensation novel, a genre preoccupied with class, illegitimacy and, fundamentally, the transfer of the landed estate, all of which issues captivated the public at that time in the sensational Tichborne trials.