Cheryl Bearden & I have managed to eke out lots more tiny details in our hunt for the elusive merchant seaman H C Reynolds, including his precise date of birth! And I’ve also exchanged some intriguing emails with the Anonymous Lady who put forward the ID card in the first place. But all in good time…

First things first: given that the three ships Reynolds worked on during his 18 months at sea were all owned by the Union Steam Ship Company (a sprawling Australasian shipping company known as the “Southern Octopus”, and at one point the largest private employer in New Zealand), I thought we might be able to find something in the USSCo’s archives. Having eventually tracked down the bulk of them to the City Archives of Wellington City Council, a very helpful archivist managed to find a short record relating to H C Reynolds in AF019:1:1 (“Pursers records [1-4] – 1879-1925“), which she noted seemed to be “the log book [listing] pursers holiday leave”. It said:-

Reynolds, H.C.:

Appt [appointed] ass [assistant] purser: Manuka 12/11/17

Jnr [Junior] Hobart Branch

50 pound Birthday 8/[2]/1900

Asig [Assigned] Koonya 15/4/18

Shore mate £75 as from 1/11/17


Hence, I think we can now be reasonably sure that the H Charles Reynolds on the ID card was born in Hobart, Tasmania on the 8th February 1900. Curiously, this is also precisely the same date of birth listed on for the Horace Charles Reynolds who was born in Triabunna, Tasmania (a mere 50 miles away): which you have to say is either an extraordinary coincidence, exactly the same person, or crossed archival wires. (I’m not offering an opinion here – I prefer to find evidence rather than inflict yet more speculation upon you.)

Unfortunately, a more detailed follow-up search of AF020:1:1 (“Record of pursers services – 1883- 1919“), AF050:3:1 (“Register of employees (shore staff), no. 1-699 – 1909-1976“) and particularly AF050:4:1 (“Register of employees (shore staff), no. 700- 1399 – 1909-1976“) which “covers the year a shore staff member joined service between the years 1917-1919” failed to find even a single mention of Reynolds. Which is, of course, a great shame. 🙁

I also recently discovered PapersPast, an online archive of New Zealand newspapers: though it doesn’t have quite as flexible a search interface as Australia’s Trove, it’s still pretty good. So, now that we know Reynolds was appointed to the Manuka on the 12th November 1917, I tried trawling through the shipping columns on the editions around that date to see if he was mentioned at all (there was often a “Personal” section that mentioned appointments etc). And indeed, in the Evening Post of 14th November 1917, the shipping column noted, plausibly enough, that:

Mr H. Reynolds has joined a vessel as assistant wireless operator in place of Mr. R. K. Lewis.

However, I was unable (as always, it would seem) to find any other obvious references to him there. Cheryl Bearden was also unable to find any reference to R K Lewis. Once again, it seems that archives are mainly characterized by their solid brick wall construction, with special internal brick walls for researchers to conveniently hit their heads against repeatedly. 🙁

I also recently found an online “Index to Vessels Arrived, 1837 – 1925” in the NSW archives, listing all the Koonya’s arrivals in Sydney, which corresponded very closely to the manifests Cheryl Bearden already found, except for a missing 8th December 1918 arrival. This turned out to be another “Chas Reynolds” signature:-

* 08 Dec 1918, Koonya, arr Sydney NSW (from Melbourne). Chas Reynolds, 18 years, born Hobart, Purser.

This inspired Cheryl to look once again at the same archives whereupon she intriguingly discovered that while H C Reynolds was filling in on the RMS Niagara, a certain “M Reynolds” was working on the Manuka:-

* 02 Apr 1918, Manuka, arr Sydney NSW (from Hobart). M Reynolds, 17 years, born Tasmania, Boy.

Now, H C Reynolds couldn’t sensibly be on two ships at the same time: so could this possibly be HCR’s younger brother, covering for HCR while HCR was away on the big mail ship? If that’s right, then we may possibly now have another Reynolds to go looking for – one hopefully not quite as elusive as HCR has proved to be so far. However, Cheryl Bearden was yet again unable to find any other reference to an “M Reynolds”, so this too would seem to be a dead end (for now). 🙁

Incidentally, one thing that has bothered me was how H C Reynolds managed to get fast-tracked to a full purser’s job at such a young age (18). There seems a good chance that he had some assistance, some insider track or external accreditation to recommend him to the management. So, I dug up a couple of additional connections between Reynolds people and USSCo, one of which might possibly offer this link:-

(1) There was a well-respected Captain Reynolds, who sailed numerous ships (such as the SS Glaucus and the labour vessel Helena) around Wellington & Adelaide. Here’s a news report from the Evening Post of Captain Reynolds arriving from Surprise Island in 1917.
(2) A company called “T A Reynolds & Co” or “T A Reynolds & Partners” in Hobart bought some ships from USSCo but then sold them back to them later that year (1896). T A Reynolds were “loosely associated with USSCo” and had the contract to build the Strahan to Zeehan Railway, according to this page.

All very interesting, but sadly not even close to helpful as yet. Ah well, I’ll keep on chipping away at the mountain…

Finally, as I mentioned at the top I’ve exchanged some intriguing emails with the Anonymous Lady, who (I think it fair to say) has quite a lot on her mind, with the Unknown Man merely one of many things she is trying to resolve. She’s the person who owns the H C Reynolds ID card, and it was also her who sent that off to Professor Maciej Henneberg. As far as many of the open questions on the ID card go, she noted that:

“The underside corner of the photo was signed and matched that shown on the front. Initially I tried to remove the photo to see if any other information was there,but it was stuck down so hard it would not budge. I thought something this old would give way easily. Glues used in 1918 would be inferior to what’s around now surely? Also HCR photo has the appearance of a dimple or cleft on the chin. I almost did’nt send it due to that, however Maciej found on examination that it was only a mark on the photo. I don’t know if it was placed there deliberately. The back of the I.D.,where it states “Port of……….is empty. His status…Division 1 …….2 ……..3 is unmarked and is unsigned by the Immigration Inspector. If the I.D. was dodgy though, why not just fill it in?”

In a separate email, she mentioned that her father had somehow implied that Reynolds was some kind of artist. Interestingly, I discovered a pavement artist called Ernest Reynolds in some old Australian newspapers, who seemed a curious mix of talent, chutzpah and delusion: he called himself “King of the Pavement Artists”, and traced his lineage back on his father’s side to none other than Joshua Reynolds. There’s even a 1908 interview with him reproduced on a blog here.

In 1933, the same Ernest Reynolds also claimed to have invented a car that could travel at 100 miles an hour over poor ground [I checked AusPat, but he appears not to have patented this]. Also in 1933, he was living in Cassidy Street, Kalgoorlie, way over in Western Australia.

Really, you couldn’t make this stuff up. More as it happens…

8 thoughts on “H C Reynolds – we now have a date of birth!

  1. Diane O'Donovan on March 14, 2012 at 2:28 pm said:

    I repeat that if I can assist with archives in NSW, do email.

    Else, I’m taking a break from the Voynich blogs and forums; the real research is getting more demanding. Enjoy dragon-day.

  2. Chayse on March 23, 2012 at 7:24 am said:

    Hi Nick,

    I’ve recently stumbled across the mystery of Tamam Shud and find myself intrigued, unable to stop reading up on the subject. I’ve been following your last few posts, and I wish to point out / ask two things. They may be obvious but I have not seen the following mentioned anywhere:

    A) Is there a foreseeable way using the internet to see if there are any records of missing persons reported post November 1948 – or even some time before this – with the name of H.C. Reynolds (or any of its proposed variants) in Australia / Tasmania or the UK? To me it sounds like an unrealistic and far too ambitious task, but you never know…

    B) I noted that you said somewhere you wouldn’t be surprised if some of the handwriting on the ID card was the work of Reynolds himself… would it be worth comparing (even unprofessionally) some of this handwriting with what was on the ‘encryption’ paper found on The Somerton Man’s body? Would there even be enough reasonable lettering to make a comparison at all?

    I apologize if these are silly suggestions, I’m late to the party but eager to put my 20 cents in…

  3. Chayse: Australian police at the time followed up many missing persons reports, but none came to anything. The handwriting on the ID card and the handwriting on the note don’t look hugely similar to my eyes, but I’m not hugely concerned at this stage because the note is still unexplained. Far better, I think, to doggedly pursue questions that we know to be answerable (who was H C Reynolds? Who were his parents? Where did he live? What happened to him? etc) rather than questions that may well never be answered (what does the note say?) 🙂

  4. piperbyrne on April 3, 2012 at 1:02 am said:

    I have been interested in this case for some time and the focus for me has been on the code. In searching through various well known codes I came across a range of Commercial Codes including Bentley’s Complete Commercial Codes and 6 others.

    On looking through the Bentley’s code, it’s available online, there was an immediate ‘strike’ for the letter group ABABD found in the first line, not a hugely impressive translation it simply converts to the letter A. However, working through the rest of the code the group PANEP (Converted: TELEGRAPH) appears and in the third line of the actual code is the group PANET P. I am not sure of the significance of this information, more work to be done.

    I thought I would put this out there to see whether in fact Commercial codes had been considered. As an aside, the history is that the use of telegraph in those times was extremely expensive of the order of $100 a line I believe hence the creation of Commercial Code books and services.

    Here’s the link to the Commercial Code Resource : Most books referred to appear to be available online.

  5. stuart fidge on July 14, 2012 at 9:40 am said:

    can anybody tell me which suburb in adelaide the woman who’s father had the photo of reynolds grew up in? was it glenelg or nearby? thanks!

  6. Hello Nick. I found your interesting blog by chance while searching E.Reynolds, the pavement artist, for a blog post of my own. You found a couple of references that I had not yet discovered, so thanks. But where did that sketch of Reynolds at work come from? Thanks again.

  7. Pingback: The swagman artist | pavement graffiti

  8. Emily Iden on February 5, 2016 at 1:38 am said:

    Does anyone know of a picture of this H.C. Reynolds so we could compare the Somerton man with H.C. Reynolds?? In articles I have read they have similar facial features, I really would like to see a picture of Reynolds.


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