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The Druce Case

The 'Druce case', which ran from 1897 to 1908, attracted popular national interest, but had a special significance for people in Nottinghamshire. Detailed evidence about it survives in the Portland (London) archive at the University.

The case began with an allegation that the 5th Duke of Portland (1800-1879) led a double life as Thomas Charles Druce, co-owner of a London upholstery business called the Baker Street Bazaar, and that Druce’s death in 1864 was faked. The claimants, Druce’s descendants, hoped to win a share of the ducal estates.

In 1903 George Hollamby Druce from Australia, son by Druce’s first marriage, set up a limited liability company selling shares to finance his legal claim. This led in 1906 to the Druce v. Howard de Walden case, against the daughters of the 4th Duke of Portland who were the current owners of the Portland estates.

 

Three contemporary pamphlets about the Druce case

Pamphlets relating to the Druce case, 1898-1907 [Pl L1/12/2/12; Pl L1/12/3/1 & Pl L1/12/3/4]

 

The Druce claimants publicised their cause by issuing pamphlets. Amongst the earliest was 'The Great Druce-Portland Mystery', issued by Mrs Anna Maria Druce in 1898. Further pamphlets appeared in 1906 and 1907 at the height of the intrigue. 

 

Front cover of 'The Sketch' with an illustration showing the opening of Druce's coffin

Front cover of The Sketch magazine, 1 January 1908 [Pl L1/12/1/203]

 

On 30 December 1907, amid tight security and enormous public interest, the coffin of T.C. Druce was exhumed. On discovery of his body, the main case was dismissed as 'frivolous and vexatious'.

Although perjury cases were then brought against the main witnesses, G.H. Druce himself escaped prosecution. 

 

Two photographs of Druce, one with beard, one without.

Photographs of T.C. Druce, 1860s [Pl L1/2/4/41 & Pl L1/2/4/43]

 

The two photographs of T.C. Druce shown above were printed together in the pamphlet ‘Which is the Duke?’ The clean-shaven man on the right was allegedly the 5th Duke of Portland; the other photograph was said to be of the Duke in a false beard, while living in disguise as T.C. Druce.  

One of the difficulties in disproving the claim was the lack of visual records of the Duke of Portland, a recluse who had shunned public contact. A photograph of a bust was finally submitted as evidence of his appearance.  

 

Bust showing the real 5th Duke of Portland

Marble bust of the 5th Duke of Portland (1880) by Sir E. Boehm, c.1906 [Pl L1/2/4/44-48]

 

Next: A Sense of Place

 

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