Princess Caraboo

From Academic Kids

A sketch of Princess Caraboo, by Edward Bird.
A sketch of Princess Caraboo, by Edward Bird.

Princess Caraboo (1791-1864), a noted impostor, pretended to be from a faraway island and fooled a British town for some time.

On April 3, 1817, a cobbler in Almondsbury in Gloucestershire, England, met an apparently disoriented young woman with exotic clothes who was speaking a language no one could understand. The Cobbler's wife took her to the Overseer of the Poor who left her in the hands of the local county magistrate Samuel Worrall who lived in Knole Park. When he and his wife could not understand her either, they sent her to the local inn, where she insisted on eating a pineapple and sleeping on the floor. Later Mrs. Worrall let her stay at their mansion.

All they could immediately find out was that she called herself Caraboo and that she was interested in Chinese imagery. They sent her to the mayor of Bristol who ended up sending her to St. Peter's Hospital. There she declined all meat. A week later, Mrs. Worrall brought her to her husband's offices in Bristol.

Locals brought many foreigners who tried to find out what strange language the lady was talking, but apparently in vain. Then came a Portuguese sailor named Manuel Eynesso (or Enes) who said he knew the language and translated her story.

According to Eynesso, she was Princess Caraboo from the island of Javasu in the Indian Ocean. She had been captured by pirates and after a long voyage she had jumped overboard in the Bristol Channel and swum ashore.

The Worralls brought Caraboo back to their home. For the next ten weeks, this representative of exotic royalty was a favorite of the local dignitaries. She used a bow and arrow, fenced, swam naked and prayed to God, whom she termed Allah Tallah. She acquired exotic clothing and a portrait made of her was reproduced in local newspapers. A certain Mrs. Neale recognized her from the picture in the Bristol Journal and informed her hosts.

Eventually the truth came out. The would-be princess was actually a cobbler's daughter Mary Baker nee. Wilcocks from Witheridge, Devon. She had been a servant girl in various places all over England but had not found a place to stay. She had invented a fictitious language out of imaginary and gypsy words and created an exotic character. The British press had a field day at the expense of the duped rustic middle-class.

Her hosts arranged for her to leave for Philadelphia and she departed June 28 1817. In the USA she briefly continued her role, but lost contact with Worralls after couple of months.

There was a contemporary legend that she had visited Napoleon in the island of Saint Helena but that is probably untrue.

In 1821 she had returned to Britain but her act was no longer very successful. She briefly traveled to France and Spain in her guise but soon returned to England and re-married. In September 1828 she was living in Bedminster with the name Mary Burgess and gave birth to a daughter the next year. In 1839 she was selling leeches to the Bristol Infirmary Hospital. She died on January 4, 1865 and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Hebron Road cemetery in Bristol.

The hoax was the basis of the 1994 movie Princess Caraboo, written by John Wells, which added some fictional incidents to the true story.

External Links


  • John Wells - Princess Caraboo - her true story (1994)

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