Druce Portland Affair
by Jackie Speel, 1 May 2010. Updated 9 October 2014
Like a few other people Thomas Charles Druce was
more notable when dead than while alive - and for whom he turned out
not to be.
The following is an attempt to tell the story of
what is generally known as the Druce-Portland Case - in actuality a
sequence of legal cases and other activities - in a reasonably
chronological form. As with most such stories, at the time the
information appeared in a less sequential manner.
The Baker Street Bazaar - about half way
along the street of that name, which links what is now Marylebone
Road and Oxford Street - began as a horse bazaar and was owned,
prior to his bankruptcy in 1832, by John Maberly, MP. The firm
continued, and extended into carriages and other goods, notably
ladies' requirements, and furnishings. The upper floors of the
building were occupied for a number of years by Madame Tussauds'
waxworks. This area was subsequently converted into function rooms
(known as the Portland Rooms) which were used for balls, bazaars and
similar activities. The Metropolitan Board of Works (London's
governing body at the time) required an additional exit to be
constructed as a result of this change of use.
Thomas Charles Druce's origins are somewhat
obscure: he was born in about 1794, long before the registration of
births became a legal requirement. It was later reported that he had
once stated he was born in a village near Oxford. Some doubts,
however, were expressed on this by those researching his origins
during various of the trials: they were not able to identify any
family for him. According to members of the family and household
there was no mention of, or visits by, relatives - though Druces can
be found in the nineteenth century across the social scale from the legal
profession to agricultural work, while a Thomas Charles Druce sailed
to Boston in the United States in 1830.
The Druce of the case worked for a while as a
salesman in Oxford Street before entering the Baker Street Bazaar,
and became wealthy, according to an associate, through his own work
and abilities, in due course buying out his associates. In the
records there are a scattering of legal cases involving the firm -
petty theft by employees and similar matters.
Thomas Charles Druce married twice: on the first
occasion, in 1816, his wife stated she was of due age but was in
fact under twenty-one. The relationship with the woman who was to become his
second wife began while he was still married to his first . There
were children by both relationships, and there was mention of an
adopted son and daughter. The family moved every couple of years,
apparently whenever T C Druce found a house he preferred to the
existing one, eventually residing in Hendon, North London. He
enjoyed good health until the year of his death, 1864, when he
became ill with fistula and complications arising therefrom. The
death was witnessed by a servant: the eldest son of the second
relationship, Herbert Druce, was among those who saw the body and
attended the funeral. While there was medical attendance on the
patient there was no doctor's signature on the death certificate.
This was not, however, a legal requirement until 1875. T C Druce was
buried in the Druce vault in Highgate Cemetery. (Any encounter with
followers of Karl Marx, buried in a different section of the
cemetery, including with the textile firm manager, Friedrich Engels,
is purely hypothetical.)
Herbert Druce, who had entered the firm in 1864,
eventually became the manager of the Baker Street Bazaar. He also
acquired ownership of the family vault, in which several other
members of the Druce family were variously buried, which
necessitated some internal reconstruction.
The fifth duke of Portland was a somewhat eccentric
character, who disliked being seen: he was responsible for a tunnel
building programme at his home of Welbeck Abbey, and used elaborate
means to obscure his activities and movements there and at his
London residence. He died childless, several years after T C Druce,
in 1879, and the title, money, Welbeck Abbey and all passed to
The start of the affair
Key Dates in English Education
Britain's First Domestic Goddess
Precious Story Slides Restored
RULERS OF BRITAIN & AMERICAS:
House of Windsor
United States of America
National Library of Australia
University of Nottingham
The Portland Peerage Romance
Tomb of TC Druce in Highgate Cemetery
The actual story begins some decades after these
two deaths. Some of the omissions and confusions in the story
arising were probably the result of this extended interval - the
usual mixture of deaths, memory lapses, and what can be defined as
the 'absence of crystal ball in keeping records syndrome' and
similar problems, rather than a deliberate attempt to confuse.
Walter Druce was a son of T C Druce's second
marriage: he married his sister's governess, Anna Maria, who was
several years older than he, much to his family's dismay. He died
fairly young - there being ongoing financial problems. In 1898 his
widow petitioned the Ecclesiastical Court of London to have her
father-in-law's coffin opened, as she was of the impression it did
not actually house his remains. She stated that in 1874 she had met
a Dr Harmer, then resident in an insane asylum, whom she was
convinced was T C Druce. She then started developing her story in
various ways, claimed that a number of peers were involved - and
that T C Druce was also the fifth duke of Portland in disguise.
had researched the family history and had found that her
father-in-law and the duke had been active or less visible in
complementary fashion. She also discovered the fact of several of
her husband's siblings being illegitimate - which was, apparently
the first they had learnt of the subject - and that there was a
'tunnel' apparently linking the Baker Street Bazaar with the duke of
Portland's London residence. (This was, in fact, the access required
by the MBW.) There was sufficient uncertainty over the matter to
justify a court case: especially as Herbert Druce refused to allow
the disinterment of his father.
Anna Maria Druce pursued her case over the next
couple of years in various courts - starting with the London
Consistory Court. (There was a legal uncertainty as to whether it
was the Consistory Court or the Home Secretary who had jurisdiction
over the exhumation of bodies in consecrated ground - which may have
been one factor in allowing the case to continue.) It was eventually
pointed out that Druce, Harmer and the duke had notably different
birth years, that Anna Maria Druce had previously made use of T C
Druce's will and codicil, and various people associated with her
father-in-law were still alive and denied the claim, as did Dr
Harmer's wife and doctor. There was some dispute over whether
photographs of Harmer and T C Druce showed the same man.
In due course Anna Maria's case was dismissed, and
she then pursued various subsidiary cases through several courts.
Some of her comments in the various legal contexts were 'rather
eccentric' and drew rebukes from the judges and persons whom she had
summoned. Among those who were called was one Margaret Hamilton, who
was to appear in the later case, and who was rather dubious about
some of Mrs Druce's claims: the authorities at the time noted that
there were major inconsistencies between the two women's
testimonies. Anna Maria Druce was eventually declared insane and put
into an asylum.
The court case
As a result of Anna Maria Druce's researches heirs
of the first marriage were discovered, which meant that any claims
passed to them. A grandson by the first marriage George Hollamby
Druce, who had been living in Australia took up the legal pursuit.
He had come to an arrangement with a cousin via a senior line whose
legitimacy was disputed. George Hollamby pursued over a number of
months various avenues to create or augment his case, seemingly
going outside the borders of strict legality at times. Witnesses
were sought via newspaper adverts and publications were issued, and
two companies were formed (there being a dispute in relation to the
first) to finance his case (this being an example of what is known
legally as champerty). Purchasers of shares were promised a high
return on the successful completion of the case.
The court case proper - the trial of Herbert Druce
- began in late 1907, with George Hollamby Druce claiming that his
half-uncle, Herbert Druce, the current owner of the Baker Street
Bazaar, had committed perjury in stating that he had seen his father
dead and buried. If the case were proved G H Druce would become the
duke of Portland, and the current holders of titles and properties
would lose out (though the title could not be rescinded from the
existing holder). During the course of the trial various lawyers
were present observing on behalf of, or representing the interests
of, the duke of Portland, Lord Howard de Walden and others.
Three witnesses in particular presented stories
that supported G H Druce's claims: Robert Caldwell, Margaret
Hamilton, and Mary Ann Robinson. A number of other witnesses
provided a range of information, of a corroborative or background
nature. Various people claimed that they had seen Druce on the
morning of his supposed funeral and variously after his death.
Photographs of Druce and the duke were produced by various parties
involved and there was again some disagreement over resemblances.
Among those who had responded to the adverts was a
Mary Ann Robinson, living in New Zealand, who 'by chance' bought an
Australian newspaper and spotted an advert. She had lived on the
duke of Portland's estates and had met him on occasion. She wrote to
the address provided, and was visited by two members of the Druce
family and was encouraged to write up her memoirs and embellish them
as much as she wished. At various points she was sent leaflets on
the Druce Portland Case. When she had created her documentation -
including two diaries and letters, arrangements were made for her to
come to England. She brought a 'companion', Miss O'Neil, with her:
on the ship and in London various documents she had were supposedly
stolen or appropriated. She claimed inter alia that she had known
Charles Dickens, who had introduced her to the duke of Portland and
arranged for her to have a job as 'outside correspondent' with him.
Robert Caldwell, an Irish-born naturalised citizen
of the United States claimed that he had suffered from an unpleasant
condition of the nose which had not responded to treatment, but on
going to India had been taught how to cure it. On returning to
England, he claimed, he had cured the duke of Portland of the same
affliction, when noted medical persons had not been able to do so.
He had been paid a large sum of money for this, and had become
friends with the duke: in 1864 he had helped organise the mock
funeral of T C Druce, involving a procession of fifty coaches.
Margaret Hamilton told a complex story of being
born in Rome and then being adopted by the Atkinson family,
subsequently marrying a man named Hamilton. She claimed to have
spent various periods of time with her father in London and became
an acquaintance of the duke, knowing that he was also T C Druce. She
stated that he had called her Madge and had at one point promised to
marry her, but her father had objected.
Various witnesses were called on both sides to
provide information on the events of some forty years previously. Miss
Catherine Bayley, initially the Druce children's nurse and then the
housekeeper, who stated that the family had moved every couple of
years, that she was not aware of Druce using any other name - but
there had been rumours among the servants about a fake burial. A
photographer for a while based opposite the Baker Street Bazaar,
patronised by T C Druce, gave slightly contradictory information,
while there were claims that the making of a coffin had been
observed. It was also argued that the small cabinet photographs of
the type produced by Miss Robinson were not generally available
until some time after the date she claimed to have acquired them. A
number of technical legal questions were raised as to whether
various documents were allowed, and there was much comparison of
handwritings and other documentation. Various inconsistencies were
discovered in the stories - though many could probably be explained
by remembering events of several decades previously. There was also
a certain amount of sniping between various of the legal profession
Investigations and exhumation
A number of investigations into several of the
witnesses were being pursued in parallel to the perjury trial. It
became clear that much of the stories of Robert Caldwell, Mary Ann
Robinson and Margaret Hamilton were fabrications. The New Zealand
police found that Miss O'Neil was in fact Mrs Robinson's daughter -
and, in the records, noted that there were 'frequent male visitors'
to their house. This house had at one point burnt down - the police
statements on the event being somewhat ambiguous, especially as none
of the jewellery claimed to be owned by the Robinsons was found in
the ruins: the few items saved did not include the alleged documents
which Mrs Robinson had presented.
It also became apparent that
Margaret Hamilton - it was slightly uncertain at the time whether
she had in fact married Mr Hamilton - had not been living where she
claimed she had been in the UK during the crucial years, but had
been residing with her husband. Major flaws were exposed in
Caldwell's story - and he admitted that he had made statements that
were ambiguous or incorrect (including that his brother had adopted
his given name). He had also been involved in a court case in the
States, when he had attempted to make money with claims about the
private life of a judge, including being in possession of
compromising letters. Caldwell managed to evade police supervision -
Chief Inspector Walter Dew had held the warrant for the arrest - and
returned home to the United States: he was then deemed to be too
physically ill and mentally incapable to provide further statements.
Much of his story was decided to be a fabrication. (The story about
'funeral with fifty carriages', however, might have had a slight
factual basis - there were regular auctions of carriages and other
vehicles at the Baker Street Bazaar: and there might well have been
some display of mourning.)
Eventually Herbert Druce consented to the
exhumation of his father's remains, and this was done at the end of
December 1907. There was a claim by the prosecution that there might
be tampering with the grave and a request for police supervision of
the grave - but the police decided to provide minimal protection,
'the grave being on private ground, and visible by policemen on
patrol'. Various medical people, journalists, and others attended
the exhumation - but George Hollamby Druce was excluded, despite his
attempts to attend. The coffin of T C Druce, on being opened, was
found to contain the remains of T C Druce, sufficiently preserved to
be immediately recognisable.
End of the case
The claim promptly collapsed. George Hollamby Druce
initially intended to carry on his case - but did not (and much was
made in certain quarters of the cousin with a theoretically better
claim). Mrs Robinson and Mrs Hamilton were arrested, the former by
Inspector Dew, and were tried for perjury. Mrs Robinson had, in
fact, known Charles Dickens when young: and the balance of evidence,
it was argued, was that she was the daughter of the Atkinson family.
Both women were sentenced to short prison terms reduced on the
grounds of their advanced age (they were in their late sixties/early
seventies). The two firms financing the case ceased operating, the
investors losing their money. The Director of Public Prosecutions
investigated bringing charges of champerty and maintenance against
the investors and George Hollamby Druce but decided in effect that
there was insufficient money to be made out of the proceedings to
justify the pursuit.
There was another minor trial involving an
investigator attempting to get money for having pursued detail in
the 1861 census in an attempt to prove that Druce and the duke were
different people - mainly through their having different birth
dates. While the information was accurate the fee claimed for the
investigation was somewhat excessive by standards of the day, and
the case faded out.
Herbert Druce was told by the judge that he left
the court with his reputation intact and returned to running his
business, dying in 1913. Mrs Anna Maria Druce and Robert Caldwell
died within a fortnight of each other in early 1911, and several
others died that same year. George Hollamby Druce died in the 1940s.
Inspector Walter Dew was to be chiefly notable for his involvement
in the arrest of Dr Crippen.
The Baker Street Bazaar continued for a number of
years, and the buildings were used as a subsidiary hospital during
the First World War: the site has since been rebuilt.
Main Sources / Further Reading
There is much information in the various
newspapers of the time of which some are more readily accessible
than others. Various sides produced documentation to bring their
various cases to the general reading public.
A number of documents can be found at The
National Archives and other repositories: a number of autograph
letters by Inspector Dew can be found in the documents, along with
cuttings, and copies of publications.
Online books include, in the more formal
section, The Portland Romance, Ancestry Online, Historical
Directories while a listing of the records of the duke of Portland
can be found on the University of Nottingham web site.
Other sources are of varying usefulness - and
there is a tendency in some cases to conflate various members of the
family. Anna Maria Druce's relationship to T C Druce is sometimes
unclear, and George Hollamby Druce is sometimes confused with his
father, George Druce.
A new book published in 2014 was The Dead
Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary
Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue, written in the style
of a detective story.
Text copyright © Jackie Speel. An original feature for the History Files.