There’s a curious paradox about the Somerton Man / Tamam Shud case: we seem to know a lot more about the Unknown Man (found dead on Somerton Beach in December 1948) than about the nurse Jessie Harkness (who died in 2007). Yet we now have apparently good evidence that the two were connected in some way.
So, today’s question is simply this: how were they connected? She was firmly on the map, while he was (and still is) completely off the map – what gossamer thread of historical happenstance linked these two individuals?
I’ve been thinking about this for some years: and despite the many stories I’ve heard proposed (spies, car criminals, loner sheep shearers, etc), right now only one back-story stands out as being particularly likely to me. Feel free to disagree with any (or indeed all) of it, but it goes something like this…
Late 1943: Jessie Harkness is a trainee nurse working at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital (RNSH), having started there the previous year. One particular patient catches her eye, a merchant seaman called Styn or Stijn: a 3rd Officer, perhaps he’s Dutch or South African, in hospital with some kind of tropical fever. Yet as he recovers, he shows himself to be strong, fit, intelligent, poetic, charming, persuasive: they start a relationship.
1944: their relationship grows, to the point that she even starts signing her name “Jessie Styn”. But there are problems: he’s possessive and perhaps a bit too ready to fight for what he wants. When he’s fully discharged from RNSH, the war is still on and he (an alien) has to leave the country. He promises to return: Harkness gives him a copy of the Rubaiyat to remember her by, though silently her heart has perhaps already moved on.
How does it all end? The evidence seems to want to tell its own sad story:-
* 1948: a train ride, probably overnight from Melbourne;
* an unexpected visit to an empty Somerton house;
* a long wait on the beach;
* a return to the house;
* a fist-fight, fierce but brief;
* an unwell Styn vomiting, perhaps even losing a dental plate;
* Styn dead, laid on his back on a small bed with his head arching backwards over the edge;
* someone (perhaps Harkness) meticulously cleaning the dead man’s shoes;
* someone else (perhaps George) carrying Styn back to Somerton Beach in the dark of night;
* a vow of silence: We Shall Not Speak Of This Again.
Once again (as with poor old Horace Charles Reynolds), all we really have to rely on is Australian shipping records. If the back-story is correct, what ship was Styn on when he arrived so unwell in Sydney in late 1943? And did he arrive in Melbourne on a ship in the days just before 30th November 1948?