She turned up in Gloucestershire in 1817, claiming to be Princess
Caraboo from the island of Javasu - saying she had been kidnapped by pirates
before escaping and making her way to England.
And the fact that Mary Willcocks' tale was completely invented arguably
makes her story no less remarkable. The young woman who said she was a princess from a faraway island was
later proved to be a 26-year-old cobbler's daughter from Devon, whose exotic
foreign dialect had been a fictitious language.
But her place in Bristol folklore has been recognised this week with the
unveiling of a blue plaque in a street in Bedminster, the suburb where she
spent the last eleven years of her life. The supposed princess arrived in the Gloucestershire village of
Almondsbury, near Bristol, on 3 April 1817, wearing a black turban and black
dress, with her possessions wrapped up in a small bundle.
Publicity her downfall
She appeared exhausted and starving and was speaking a language nobody
in the village could understand. The villagers thought she was a foreign beggar and she was taken to the
home of Samuel Worrall, the local county magistrate. His wife was keen to find out more about her and, after taking her in to
stay, managed to work out that her name was Caraboo and she had come to
England by ship.
After various attempts to identify the language she was speaking, a
Portuguese sailor said he understood the language and translated Caraboo's
story. He said she was a princess from an island called Javasu who had been
abducted by pirates and taken on a long journey by sea which ended when she
jumped overboard in the Bristol Channel. Once the Worralls realised they had a foreign princess in their house,
they began to exploit the fact, inviting guests round to be entertained by
the exotic Caraboo and her strange language and behaviour.
Newspapers began to ran stories on her, but it was this publicity which
would bring Miss Willcocks' spell as a princess to an end. After two months, the owner of a Bristol lodging house saw a picture of
her in a newspaper and realised "Princess Caraboo" was the same young woman
who had stayed with her earlier in the year - and entertained her daughters
with an invented language.