Druce Portland Affair
by Jackie Speel, 1 May 2010. Updated 9 October
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 around 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, according to an associate, he became wealthy 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 that 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
from this. 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.)
An illustration in an article entitled Smithfield Club
Prizes showing the uncarting of the cattle at the Baker
Street Bazaar, published in a supplement to the
Illustrated London News, 13 December 1856
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
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
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
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 a crystal ball in keeping records, 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 him, 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.
She 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.
Purported to be a photograph of the
duke of Portland in a false beard, while posing as Druce,
as published in the pamphlet, Which is the Duke?
The claim was hard to prove because the duke himself was
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 placed in an asylum.
The court case
As a result of Anna Maria Druce's research, 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. She 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 involved members 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
the 'funeral with fifty carriages', however, may have had a slight
factual basis - there were regular auctions of carriages and other
vehicles at the Baker Street Bazaar: and there may 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 may 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
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
The two firms financing the case ceased operating,
the investors losing their money. The Director of Public Prosecutions
investigated the possibility of 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. He returned to running his
business, dying in 1913. Mrs Anna Maria Druce and Robert Caldwell
died within a fortnight of each other early in 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 website.
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.