Princess Caraboo: A Bizarre Case of Fake Identity

“One puzzling question is how the Portuguese sailor understood Princess Caraboo’s gibberish.”

She looked quite ill. A humble cobbler near Bristol, England, found a disoriented young woman on April 3, 1817. She was walking erratically on the road. Her clothes were dirty but unusually exotic, and she sported a turban wrapped around her head. The cobbler asked the strange woman if she needed assistance, but she responded in an unfamiliar language the cobbler could not understand. Nobody knew who this woman was, but they would quickly grow to know her as Princess Caraboo.

Princess Caraboo

“Princess Caraboo” Drawn by N. Branwhite

Not knowing what to do with her, the cobbler took her to the nearby Overseer of the Poor, Samuel Worrall. Worrall didn’t know what to make of her either. The sole comprehensive thing the young woman did was to point at a picture of a pineapple and say “ananas” which is the word for pineapple in several languages. With this limited vocabulary, they were not able to make out any details about the identity of the woman. They did, however, eventually learn that her name was Caraboo.

For lack a better option, Worrall turned her over to the authorities who put her in prison. During her time there, a Portuguese sailor said that he understood her language and that he could translate it. And indeed, he relayed her very dramatic story to the authorities. Caraboo claimed to be a princess from a small island in the Indian Ocean. Pirates had captured Princess Caraboo and took her on a long voyage. When they got to the Bristol Channel she bravely jumped ship and swam to the English shore.

The Identity of Princess Caraboo

The authorities quickly removed Princess Caraboo from the prison and took her back to the Worrall home. Mrs. Worrall took charge of the young princess and immediately showed her off to the local gentry. This was a big boost to the Worrall’s ranking among the area’s elite.

Princess Caraboo had odd habits for 19th century England. She was skilled at archery, knew how to fence, swam naked in nearby lakes, prayed to “Allah Tallah” with one hand covering her eyes, and only used cups and plates she had washed herself. She also had portraits made, and this would be her undoing.

When one of her portraits appeared in a local newspaper, a reader easily identified Princess Caraboo as Mary Baker (née Willcocks), a young Devonshire woman who had worked as a servant at several homes in the area. Mrs. Worrall found it hard to believe she had been duped. Princess Caraboo’s strange language had been completely made up (one puzzling question is how the Portuguese sailor understood her gibberish).

End of the Charade

Embarrassed, Mrs. Worrall shipped Princess Caraboo off to Philadelphia in June of 1817. She tried to continue her royal identity, but nobody was buying it. In 1821 she returned to England and, as far as we know, never attempted her impersonation again. Princess Caraboo eventually worked in the very un-royal occupation of selling leeches to hospitals. As Mary Baker once again, she married in 1828 and gave birth to a daughter the following year.

Mary died at the end of 1864 and was buried in an unmarked grave.

Sources:
Mysterious People, pulled 9/29/11
Hoaxipedia, pulled 9/29/11
Wikipedia, “Princess Caraboo” pulled 9/29/11

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Doug MacGowan

Doug MacGowan lives on the San Francisco peninsula with his wife, a dog, and far too many cats. He has published five books on the topic of historic true crime. In his free time he enjoys reading.

Historic Mysteries