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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Bristol

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Myths and Legends
Princess Caraboo
© Copyright Bristol Museums & Art Gallery - (detail) Edward Bird 1772-1819 Princess Caraboo, oil on panel 1817
Bristol’s Princess Caraboo

Thursday 3 April 1817 was a strange day indeed in the village of Almondsbury, near Bristol; the events that unfolded, quickly brought the village notoriety. An extraordinary woman, wearing a black turban, a plain black dress with a high muslin collar and speaking an incomprehensible language simply appeared in the midst of the village. Apparently exhausted and starving, her entire possessions were wrapped up in a small cloth bundle.

Thinking she was a foreign beggar the villagers took her to Mr Overton, the overseer of the local poorhouse, who, mystified by her language and dress,
Twin masted sailing boat
Her supposed journey to these shores would have been arduous
decided to take her to Knole Park, the home of Samuel Worrall, the county Magistrate.

However, neither the Worralls nor their Greek manservant could understand the girl's language. Although Mrs. Worrall was fascinated by her exotic appearance, Mr. Worrall was more cautious and, using signs, asked for any papers the stranger had with her. She emptied her pockets, but all she had were a few halfpennies and a fake sixpence.

In those volatile years following the Napoleonic Wars any mysterious travellers were looked upon with deep suspicion by the authorities who considered them possible spies or political agitators. Thus, foreign beggars risked transportation in irons to Australia if caught acting suspiciously, and the possession of counterfeit money could mean the death sentence. But the girl did not seem to understand the seriousness of these offences.

Words: Brian Haughton

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