|1144185. Wed Aug 05, 2015 1:05 pm
|Maybe a bit late for the ‘M’ series but still quite interesting I think!
In 1913, a man dressed in a boy scout’s uniform turned up on the quays of Southampton. Going by the name of ‘Captain Lancelot P. Malpagne’, he described himself as a US cavalry officer and the son of a New Jersey millionaire, travelling around the globe for the dual purposes of settling a wager and finding a wife. He ventured north, telling stories of his travels, including how he crossed the Sahara desert and got into a scrap with a lioness. Through his tales and his charm, Malpagne ingratiated himself with mayors, clergymen and many others across Britain and Ireland, not least quite a few ladies: he claimed to have received 460 marriage proposals and became engaged on at least two occasions.
Not everyone was so easily won over. Some unpaid hotel bills aroused the suspicion of the police, who felt that he was not the bona fide globetrotter he presented himself as. Nevertheless, he made it from the south coast of England to North West Scotland, suffering only one blip in Rotherham, when he was arrested and sentenced to three months in prison for stealing a “fawn coloured rainproof overcoat”.
By the time he made it to Ireland, the scrutiny of the police had become far more pronounced. After swindling a few shillings from members of the YMCA in Omagh, Co Tyrone, a warrant was issued for his arrest. He disappeared for about a month before being caught in Queenstown harbour (modern day Cobh), on the verge of escape. He was arrested and brought before the court in Omagh on charges of fraud. After an entertaining trial that packed the courthouse and filled newspaper columns both at home and abroad, the jury found him guilty. When the verdict had been given, Judge Ross, who had presided over the trial, revealed some of the secrets to Malpagne’s identity.
His real name was Thomas Thacker, and he was not from New Jersey, but South Africa. He served a year in the Boer War before getting discharged, either because of rheumatism (according to Thacker) or because of boils (according to the army). He worked for a period in an asylum and joined a travelling theatre company, before falling, via gambling and alcohol, into a life of ill-repute. After six years of petty crimes and incarcerations in South Africa (including one case which, through his use of aliases, almost brought into question the efficacy of the finger-print identification system), he found himself aboard the Dunluce Castle en route to Southampton, going by the name of Captain Malpagne.
On the back of these misdemeanours, Judge Ross sentenced Thacker to three years in prison. After serving two and-a-bit years of the sentence, most of which he seemed to spend in character, he was released. He was spotted again in Omagh soon after his release, before disappearing back into the mists of history, whence he came.
Most of the information was obtained from Irish, British and South African newspapers, viewed online, in the British Library, and in the National Library of Ireland. The quote about the overcoat is from the Derby Daily Telegraph, 13th September, 1913, p. 4.
I also found some of his prison records in the Irish National Archives.
I made a short documentary on his time in Ireland if anyone’s interested! http://www.rte.ie/centuryireland/articles/american-hustler-jailed-in-tyrone