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 twenty-six year-old cobbler's daughter
from Devon, whose exotic foreign dialect had been a fictitious
But her place in Bristol folklore was recognised
in 2007 with the unveiling of a blue plaque in a street in
Bedminster, the suburb in which 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, she 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 it and
he translated Caraboo's story. He said that 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
that 'Princess Caraboo' was the same young woman who had stayed
with her earlier in the year - and had entertained her daughters
with an invented language.