Originally posted on The History Girls.
I’ve always been fascinated by the real life story of Caraboo – a warrior princess from the tropical island of Javasu, captured by pirates, taken half way around the world before she escaped from them by jumping ship in the Bristol Channel and swimming to shore. Homeless in a foreign country she was taken in as a house guest by the Worrall family of Knole Park, Almondsbury, in 1817. There she spent weeks speaking in an incomprehensible language, hunting with a bow and arrows, swimming naked in the lake, climbing trees and praying to a pagan god.
This strange, exotic beauty was a sensation, charming everyone she met until she was recognised and exposed. In reality she was Mary Willcox, a cobbler’s daughter from Witheridge in Devon.
The story of Princess Caraboo is an intriguing one not least because no one really knows what Mary’s motivation was. As Catherine Johnson points out in her author’s note this wasn’t a con trick as such – Mary Willcox didn’t profit financially from it. She was never prosecuted for fraud – in fact Mrs Worrall obviously cared deeply about Mary, paying for her fare to America after her identity was revealed and treasuring the letters Mary sent back.
So why did Mary Willcox do it?…