Was John Tatham, Duncan Dunbar’s nephew murdered for his inheritance?
The plot thickens in my biography, “Lion Rampart: Duncan Dunbar and the Age of Sail”!
Duncan Dunbar’s sister, Justina, married a Doctor Tatham and they had several children who in turn had offspring. One of these children migrated to Australia only to resurface many years later back in England, a widower, ill and with two young children. Another of Duncan’s nieces took these children under her wing and brought them up along with her own children – all nieces and nephews of the great hugely rich Uncle Duncan Dunbar.
One of the widower’s children, John, or Johnny as he was known, was spoilt rotten, arrogant, and over-indulged. He frequented dance halls and ballrooms around London, and then visited the United States in 1880, where he and a friend partied their hardest for several months before the friend went back to England. Johnny moved on to the raw and wild frontier town of Laramie, Wyoming, not far from the location of General Custer’s Last Stand, when his command the famed 7th Cavalry, was wiped out by Sioux warriors.
Laramie was a railroad town where ‘English Johnny’ really cut a swathe through local society. He worked as a barman in a saloon that was punctuated nightly by gunfights, brawls expensive booze and slightly less expensive women. He revelled in the madness as he tried his hardest to spend some £8000 of his inheritance from Dunbar’s estate (over $2m in today’s money ). He went north on a hunting expedition never to return, although mysteriously his companions did. No body was ever found, no death was reported and Johnny just disappeared somewhere south of Fort McKinney in Wyoming.
Research from 2021 at the Museum of Wyoming in Laramie turned up an intriguing report from 1881 that mentions “Sheriff Boswell proceeding from Laramie to Cheyenne with 2 prisoners, Jim McQuade and “English Jack’ Tatham, wanted for armed robbery in Laramie”. Was this the dissolute John slipping further down the greasy pole of life? A third report was of a John Tatham arriving in the Thames as a passenger on a ship from the US. The mystery remains. His last letter to his adoptive parents is printed in full in my book, available on Amazon https://amzn.to/3WbKqma – and analysis of this letter continues to this day!