In 1817, a mysterious young woman surfaced in Almondsbury, a small village near Bristol, England. She wore exotic clothes, including a turban, and spoke a language that was incomprehensible to the baffled locals. She also appeared to be disoriented. The woman was taken to the local magistrate, Samuel Worrall, who lived in Knole Park. Here, she insisted on sleeping on the floor and continued to utter a few words of Indo-European descent. Worrall decided that she was a beggar and took her to Bristol to be tried for vagrancy.
However, during her imprisonment, a Portuguese sailor named Manuel surfaced and said he spoke the woman’s language. He translated her incredible story, telling her hosts that she was, in fact, a princess from the island of Javasu in the Indian Ocean. She had been abducted by pirates, and escaped by jumping overboard in the stormy Bristol Channel before swimming to shore.
The Worrall family brought the Princess to their home. Her story spread quickly and she quickly catapulted to fame. Princess Caraboo was wined and dined by all the local dignitaries. Her portrait was painted, then printed in the local newspapers. She used a bow and arrow, swam naked, and prayed to her God, “Alla-Tallah”. Her authenticity was verified by a Dr. Wilkinson, who identified her language using Edmund Fry’s “Pantographia” and confirmed that the strange markings on the back of her head were the work of Oriental surgeons.
However, after reading the story of Princess Caraboo in a local newspaper, a woman recognized the phony princess as her former servant. According to the woman, this servant used to entertain her children by speaking in invented tongues. Princess Caraboo, it turned out, came from no more exotic a locale than Devonshire, England, where she was born Mary Wilcocks, the daughter of a cobbler.
The Worralls arranged for Mary to travel to Philadelphia on 28 June, 1817.
On 13 September, 1817, a letter was printed in the Bristol Journal, allegedly from Sir Hudson Lowe (the official in charge of the exiled Emperor Napoleon). The letter claimed that Princess Caraboo’s Philadelphia-bound ship had in fact gone off course due to a large storm. The princess had gone adrift in a life boat and rowed to the island of St. Helena, where she met the emperor. According to the letter, the emperor had become so fascinated in Princess Caraboo that he was applying to the Pope for a dispensation to marry her. The story was unverified, and Princess Caraboo contacted the Worralls from New York in November 1817.
Princess Caraboo returned to England in 1824. She pretended to be a widow called Mary Burgess (her cousin’s surname) before eventually marrying Richard Baker and having a daughter. Mary Baker aka Princess Caraboo died on 24 December, 1864.