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The Princess Cariboo Or The Queen Of The Isles

Bristol was, in 1812, the second commercial city of Great Britain,

having in particular an extensive East India trade. Among its

inhabitants were merchants, reckoned remarkably shrewd, and many of them

very wealthy; and quite a number of aristocratic families, who were

looked up to with the abject toad-eating kind of civility that follows

"the nobility." On the whole, Bristol was a very fashionable, rich,

cultivated, and intelligent place--considering.

One fine evening in the winter of 1812-13, the White Lion hotel, a

leading inn at Bristol, was thrown into a wonderful flutter by the

announcement that a very beautiful and fabulously wealthy lady, the

Princess Cariboo, had just arrived by ship from an oriental port. Her

agent, a swarthy and wizened little Asiatic, who spoke imperfect

English, gave this information, and ordered the most sumptuous suite of

rooms in the house. Of course, there was great activity in all manner of

preparations; and the mysterious character of this lovely but high-born

stranger caused a wonderful flutter of excitement, which grew and grew

until the fair stranger at length deigned to arrive. She came at about

ten o'clock, in great state, and with two or three coaches packed with

servants and luggage--the former of singularly dingy complexion and

fantastic vestments, and the latter of the most curious forms and

material imaginable. The eager anticipations of hosts and guests alike

were not only fully justified but even exceeded by the rare beauty of

the unknown, the oriental style and magnificence of her attire and that

of her attendants, and the enormous bulk of her baggage--a circumstance

that has no less weight at an English inn than any where else. The

stranger, too, was most liberal with her fees to the servants, which

were always in gold.

It was quickly discovered that her ladyship spoke not one word of

English, and even her agent--a dark, wild, queer little fellow,--got

along with it but indifferently, preferring all his requests in very

"broken China" indeed. The landlord thought it a splendid opportunity to

create a long bill, and got up rooms and a dinner in flaring style, with

wax candles, a mob of waiters, ringing of bells, and immense ceremony.

But the lady, like a real princess, while well enough pleased and very

gracious, took all this as a matter of course, and preferred her own

cook, a flat-faced, pug-nosed, yellow-breeched and almond-eyed Oriental,

with a pigtail dangling from his scalp, which was shaved clean,

excepting at the back of the head. This gentleman ran about in the

kitchen-yard with queer little brass utensils, wherein he concocted

sundry diabolical preparations--as they seemed to the English servants

to be,--of herbs, rice, curry powder, etc., etc., for the repast of his

mistress. For the next three or four days, the White Lion was in a

state bordering upon frenzy, at the singular deportment of the

"Princess" and her numerous attendants. The former arrayed herself in

the most astonishing combinations of apparel that had ever been seen by

the good gossips of Bristol, and the latter indulged in gymnastic antics

and vocal chantings that almost deafened the neighborhood. There was a

peculiar nasal ballad in which they were fond of indulging, that

commenced about midnight and kept up until well nigh morning, that drove

the neighbors almost beside themselves. It sounded like a concert by a

committee of infuriated cats, and wound up with protracted whining

notes, commencing in a whimper, and then with a sudden jerk, bursting

into a loud, monotonous howl. Yet, withal, these attendants, who slept

on mats, in the rooms adjacent to that of their mistress, and fed upon

the preparations of her own cuisine, were, in the main, very civil and

inoffensive, and seemed to look upon the Princess with the utmost awe.

The "agent," or "secretary," or "prime-minister," or whatever he might

be called, was very mysterious as to the objects, purposes, history, and

antecedents of her Highness, and the quidnuncs were in despair until,

one morning, the "Bristol Mirror," then a leading paper, came out with a

flaring announcement, expressing the pleasure it felt in acquainting the

public with the fact, that a very eminent and interesting foreign

personage had arrived from her home in the remotest East to proffer His

Majesty, George III, the unobstructed commerce and friendship of her

realm, which was as remarkable for its untold wealth as for its

marvelous beauty. The lady was described as a befitting representative

of the loveliness and opulence of this new Golconda and Ophir in one,

since her matchless wealth and munificence were approached only by her

ravishing personal charms. The other papers took up the topic, and were

even more extravagant. "Felix Farley's Journal" gave a long narrative of

her wanderings and extraordinary adventures in the uttermost East, as

gleaned, of course, from her garrulous agent. The island of her chief

residence was described as being of vast extent and fertility, immensely

rich and populous, and possessing many rare and beautiful arts unknown

to the nations of Europe. The princess had become desperately enamored

of a certain young Englishman of high rank, who had been shipwrecked on

her coast, but had afterward escaped, and as she learned, safely reached

a port in China, and thence departed for Europe. The Princess had

hereupon set out upon her journeyings over the world in search of him.

In order to facilitate her enterprise, and softened by the deep

affection she felt for the son of Albion, she had determined to break

through the usages of her country, and form an alliance with that of her


Such were the statements everywhere put in circulation; and when the

Longbows of the place got full hold of it, Gulliver, Peter Wilkins, and

Sinbad the Sailor were completely eclipsed. Diamonds as big as hen's

eggs, and pearls the size of hazelnuts, were said to be the commonest

buttons and ornaments the Princess wore, and her silks and shawls were

set beyond all price.

The announcement of this romantic and mysterious history, this boundless

wealth, this interesting mission from majesty to majesty in person and

the reality which every one could see of so much grace and beauty,

supplied all that was wanting to set the upper-tendom of the place in a

blaze. It was hardly etiquette for a royal visitor to receive much

company before having been presented at Court; but as this princely lady

came from a point so far outside of the pale of Christendom, and all its

formalities, it was deemed not out of place, to show her befitting

attentions; and the ice once broken, there was no arresting the flood.

The aristocracy of Bristol vied with each other in seeing who should be

first and most extravagant in their demonstrations. The street in front

of the "White Lion" was day after day blocked up, with elegant

equipages, and her reception-rooms thronged with "fair women and brave

men." Milliners and mantuamakers pressed upon the lovely and mysterious

Princess Cariboo the most exquisite hats, dresses, and laces, just to

acquaint her with the fashionable style and solicit her distinguished

patronage; dry-goodsmen sent her rare patterns of their costliest and

richest stuffs, perfumers their most exquisite toilet-cases, filled with

odors sweet; jewellers, their most superb sets of gems; and florists and

visitors nearly suffocated her with the scarcest and most delicate

exotics. Pictures, sketches, and engravings, oil-paintings, and

portraits on ivory of her rapturous admirers, poured in from all sides,

and her own fine form and features were reproduced by a score of

artists. Daily she was feted, and nightly serenaded, until the Princess

Cariboo became the furore of the United Kingdom. Magnificent

entertainments were given her in private mansions; and at length, to cap

the climax, Mr. Worrall, the Recorder of Bristol, managed, by his

influence, to bring about for her a grand municipal reception in the

town-hall, and people from far and near thronged to it in thousands.

In the meantime the papers were gravely trying to make out whether the

Cariboo country meant some remote portion of Japan, or the Island of

Borneo, or some comparatively unfamiliar archipelago in the remotest

East, and the "Mirror" was publishing type expressly cut for the purpose

of representing the characters of the language in which the Princess

spoke and wrote. They were certainly very uncouth, and pretended sages,

who knew very well that there was no one to contradict them, declared

that they were "ancient Coptic!"

Upon reading the sequel of the story, one is irresistibly reminded of

the ancient Roman inscription discovered by one of Dickens' characters,

which some irreverent rogue subsequently declared to be nothing more nor

less than "Bil Stumps His Mark."

All this went on for about a fortnight, until the whole town and a good

deal of the surrounding country had made complete fools of themselves,

and only the "naughty little boys" in the streets held out against the

prevailing mania, probably because they were not admitted to the sport.

Their salutations took the form of an inharmonious thoroughfare-ballad,

the chorus of which terminated with:

"Boo! hoo! hoo!

And who's the Princess Cariboo?"

yelled out at the top of their voices.

At length one day, the luggage of her Highness was embarked upon a small

vessel to be taken round by water to London, while she announced,

through her "agent," her intention to reach the capital by


Of course, the most superb traveling-carriages and teams were placed at

her disposal; but, courteously declining all these offers, she set out

in the night-time with a hired establishment, attended by her retinue.

Days and weeks rolled on, and yet no announcement came of the arrival of

her Highness at London or at any of the intervening cities after the

first two or three towns eastward of Bristol. Inquiry began to be made,

and, after long and patient but unavailing search, it became apparent to

divers and sundry dignitaries in the old town that somebody had been

very particularly "sold."

The landlord at the "White Lion" who had accepted the agent's order for

L1,000 on a Calcutta firm in London; poor Mr. Worrall, who had been

Master of Ceremonies at the town hall affair, and had spent large sums

of money; and the tradespeople and others who sent their finest goods,

all felt that they had "heard something drop." The Princess Cariboo had

disappeared as mysteriously as she came.

For years, the people of Bristol were unmercifully ridiculed throughout

the entire Kingdom on account of this affair, and burlesque songs and

plays immortalized its incidents for successive seasons.

One of these insisted that the Princess was no other than an actress of

more notoriety than note, humbly born in the immediate vicinity of the

old city, where she practiced this gigantic hoax, and that she had been

assisted in it by a set of dissolute young noblemen and actors, who

furnished the money she had spent, got up the oriental dresses,

published the fibs, and fomented the excitement. At all events, the net

profit to her and her confederates in the affair must have been some


Within a few months, and since the first publication of the above

paragraphs, the English newspapers have recorded the death of the

"Princess Cariboo," who it appears afterward married in her own rank in

life and spent a considerable number of years of usefulness in the leech

trade--an occupation not without a metaphorical likeness to her early

and more ambitious exploit.

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