Princess Caraboo of Javasu

If you are worried that your knowledge of geography is lacking because you don’t know where Javasu is, don’t be concerned.  It’s completely made up.  It is the product of an elaborate fiction of a young woman in 19th century England.  This is the amazing story of a girl who faked her way to royalty and how she almost got away with it.

On the evening of April 3, 1817, a strange young woman appeared at the cottage of the local cobbler in the small village of Almondsbury near Bristol.  She indicated to the cobbler’s wife she wanted to sleep there and wandered in uninvited and laid down on the sofa.  The young woman was dressed strangely in a black dress and turban with all her possessions wrapped in a small bundle.  She was a petite young woman in her early twenties and was extremely attractive with dark hair and eyes.  Strangely, she seemed to not understand anything that was said to her and responded in a tongue no one understood.  Not knowing what to do, the cobbler’s wife went to Knole Park, the home of Samuel Worrall, the Magistrate of the County.  It was known that one of the Worrall’s servants spoke many languages, so they hoped that possibly he could understand her.  Unfortunately, none of the languages he tried could be understood by the young lady.  They took her to the local inn and put her up for the night, then took her to St. Peter’s Hospital for the poor and vagrant.  No one could understand her and she could understand no one.  She refused to eat and would not sleep.  Mrs. Worrall naturally pitied the young woman, and removed her from the hospital and took her home to Knole Park.  She figured out through mime that the young lady’s name was Caraboo.

Two weeks later, a Portuguese traveler recently returned from Malaysia heard of the story of Caraboo and paid a visit to the Worrall’s.  He met the young lady and claimed he understood her language.  He chatted animatedly with Caraboo and her story came out.  Caraboo was the daughter of a Chinese noble and a Malaysian mother living in a beautiful mansion on the island of Javasu.  Her mother had been murdered by cannibals when Caraboo was young, and Caraboo was in turn kidnapped from her garden by the evil pirate, Chee-min.  Her father swam after the pirate’s boat and she fought the pirates, but it was to no avail even though their combined efforts killed two of the men.  Caraboo was sold as a slave to another sea captain who was making for England.  When the vessel she was on hit Bristol Channel, she decided to swim for it.  When she made land, she wandered for six weeks until being taken in by the Worrals.  The enchanted Mrs. Worrall proclaimed her a princess and gave her every comfort.  She stayed with them for two months and regaled them with tales of her life in Javasu and the exotic customs and language.  As time passed, the stories got more and more theatrical and her fame spread.  Caraboo would elaborately pray to her god “Allah Tallah” before eating and swim naked in the lake.  People flocked to see her.

The notoriety seemed to be too much, and Caraboo left the Worrall’s and traveled to Bath.  However, while she was there someone recognized her.  A woman named Mrs. Neale recognized a description of Caraboo as a young woman who had been a servant at her house.  There she had entertained the children of the house by speaking a nonsense language that sounded a lot like the one Caraboo was speaking.  Mrs. Neale identified Caraboo as Mary Baker, the daughter of a cobbler in Witheridge, Devonshire.  Caraboo had been exposed.

Reluctantly, the entire story came out, and it was no less outlandish than the one she made up.  Young Mary had left home to be servant at the age of 16, but left when she was not given a raise.  Bouncing from job to job, she ended up on the streets begging.  Making her way to London, she found a job as a maid with a wealthy family, but eventually lost that job as well.  From there, she cut her hair short and worked as a man ending up in a highwayman’s gang.  However, she was a terrible robber as she couldn’t fire a pistol, and they kicked her out.  Mary bounced around a few more times until she married and had a baby son, who she gave up for adoption because she could not care for him.  She went back to take possession of her son a few years later, and found he had died in an orphanage.  Mary attempted to gain passage to America by pretending to be a foreigner, and that was how she landed with the Worralls.  No one is sure this is really the truth, but her name at least was corroborated by her very confused father.  He said that Mary had not been “right in her mind” since a bout of rheumatic fever at age 15.  It had been easy for Mary to make up the character of Caraboo as people would show her pictures in books of other cultures not realizing she could read the text.  She would pick and choose the bits she liked and repeat them back.

Instead of becoming a pariah, Mary was held up as a working class hero who pulled the wool over the eyes of the aristocracy.  Mrs. Worrall paid for her passage to America as she was still charmed by Mary.  There were claims that before she left Europe she ran into Napoleon, who begged her to be his bride and join him in exile on St. Helena.  The story was passed around so often, it’s been enshrined as fact.  She made it to Philadelphia and put on a show at the Washington Hall.  She appeared as “Princess Caraboo” and danced and spoke in her own language.  Unfortunately, Americans did not flock to see the show and it was considered a disaster.  She attempted to give more shows both in America and England, but the interest was not there.  Mary ended her life selling leeches to the Infirmary Hospital in Bristol.  She died on Christmas Eve 1864 at the edge of 75.  She was buried in an unmarked grave in the Hebron Road cemetery in Bristol.  A quiet end for the princess of Javasu.

ER