It is a sad truth that almost all we know about the Somerton Man case was known to the police by the end of 1949. However, a shining exception to this 65-year-old evidential stasis is the set of spectrometry measurements taken by some of Derek Abbott’s students in 2013. Cunningly, their subject matter was a short hair embedded in the plaster cast of the dead man (the one in the SAPOL museum): progressively burning this hair with a laser gave them spectrometric readings of the physical chemistry going on in the Somerton Man’s body very late in his life.

On the positive side, it turned out that the hair included a root, so its timeline is almost certain to cover the interesting days right up to his death. However, it is only a very short hair, so it only really gives us hints about what was happening in roughly his final fortnight.

Intriguingly, I found out this week that a new cohort of Derek Abbott’s students has recently repeated this experiment, but with a substantially longer hair. Unfortunately this second hair did not include a root, which makes calibrating the results more difficult: and the results and analysis have not yet been released.

What of the first set of results? Of all the different isotopes the students detected and graphed, one stands out very strongly: lead. (Note that the graph is time-reversed, with the root end at the left and the older end at the right.)

Pb206-isotope-timeline

In a post a few months back, Gordon Cramer suggested that this lead might suggest a connection with the nearby Port Pirie, where there was a huge lead smelting works. Though he then went on to assert that the connection to the Somerton Man probably wasn’t to do with the lead as such, but was surely some kind of spy-related thing to do with uranium processing (which was also close to Port Pirie, and was just starting up in 1947/1948). But as always, Gordon is free to go off in any direction he chooses.

As for me, I’m far more concerned with the lead itself, and what its possible relationship with Port Pirie might be. Derek Abbott rightly cautions that we don’t really know what was considered a normal level of environmental lead in Adelaide in 1948 (and so we should be careful about what inferences we draw from the lead graph): but I often think that a small detail can tell its own story, and this unexpected lead trace might well be such an instance.

I’ve said before that I suspect that the Somerton Man was an overseas merchant seaman, quite probably a Third Officer with responsibility for lading and stencilling details on crates and boxes as they were stacked in a ship’s hold. At the same time, the primary way that lead left Port Pirie was by the ton, stacked into ships’ holds: as we shall see in a different post in a few days’ time, ships once loaded with lead then often travelled the 139 miles south to Port Adelaide where additional bales of wool and leather were taken on: and then finally the ship left South Australian waters for its final destination (wherever in the world that happened to be).

The Port Pirie Recorder from this period included a shipping news column (“Pirie Shipping News”), detailing arrivals, loadings and departures at the port. If we collate all this together solely for lead shipments in November 1948, this is what we find:

Arr Dep
8 – 10 Clan Maclean (2500 tons) – for United Kingdom via Port Adelaide (Gibbs, Bright & Co)
10 – 12 Ericbank (2250 tons) – for United Kingdom (Howard Smith Ltd)
11 – 13 Annam (1200 tons) – for Marseilles via Port Adelaide (Gibbs, Bright & Co)
15 – 17 American Producer (1200 tons) – for New York via Port Adelaide (Dalgety & Co. Ltd)
16 – 18 City of Delhi (2500 tons) – for United Kingdom (Elder, Smith & Co. Ltd)
18 – 20 Lanarkshire (1000 tons) – for United Kingdom (Gibbs, Bright & Co)
25 – 30 Corio (2800 tons) – for Sydney (Howard Smith Ltd)

So, what might the lead timeline be telling us? I think that if the Somerton Man was a Third Officer lading and marking up crates of lead, with a substantial spike roughly two weeks before his death in the night of 30th November 1948, then there would seem to be a good chance we can narrow down the number of boats he was working on to three or perhaps five: American Producer, City of Delhi, Lanarkshire, and possibly Annam or Ericbank.

Frustratingly, NAA: D458 Volume I (the ledger of “seamen engaged, discharged, deserted or died at Port Pirie”) only runs to 31st March 1948, which is a bit of a shame. However, there is a very substantial body (15.48 linear metres!) of archives for crew data in Adelaide in NAA record D3064:-

This series comprises lists of ships crews who visited Port Adelaide and outports.

The series basically comprises Form M + S 11(attachment) and supporting documentation. Currently documents are arranged in chronological order in calendar year blocks.

Information contained in these documents includes names, dates and places of birth, nationalities, some information regarding desertions, restricted crew members on board, crew changes, last and next port of call for ship, animal and birds on board.

So if I’m right about the story the lead timeline seems to be telling us, then anyone who wants to be the first to see the Somerton Man’s name for themselves should go to the SA archives at great speed and have a look at the D3064 (November 1948) crew lists for these ships (they’re not available online), particularly where there’s any difference between the crew that arrived and the crew that left.

Any takers? 🙂

51 thoughts on “Port Pirie lead shipments and the Somerton Man…

  1. “I’ve said before that I suspect that the Somerton Man was an overseas merchant seaman, quite probably a Third Officer with responsibility for lading and stencilling details on crates and boxes as they were stacked in a ship’s hold.”

    Did any of the stencil paints contain lead at the time? If so, the presence of lead might have been pretty normal for him. He might have had a spike at the beginning of every journey as he did his stencilling duties, but which wore off as the voyage progressed.

  2. Gordon Cramer on November 8, 2014 at 11:05 pm said:

    Just to correct a few things for you Nick, I didn’t suggest or ascert any link to spies, I included in the post information on the fact that uranium was also processed in Port Pirie. As a matter of interest it was processed in the same plant as lead until a specialised uranium processing plant was constructed. Thousands of tonnes of lead were exported from Port Pirie as well as uranium which was a ‘companion product’ for want of a better term.

    Adding to the mix is the fact that the train from Port Augusta stopped at Port Pirie en route to Adelaide as it did on the morning of 30th November 1948. Co-incidentally, the train from Broken Hill arrived in Adelaide that same morning, Broken Hill is of course where all of the lead processed at Port Pirie was mined and then transported to Port Pirie by rail.

    Broken Hill is also renowned for its silver mining; you may want to revisit the results of the tests and see what they revealed about silver?

  3. Gordon: sorry, it was other posts and comments of yours that tried to link uranium processing with spying.

    Also, please feel free to bring forward any evidence of uranium processing going on there before 1952, because otherwise the timeline could not be made to work.

  4. Schmenuel on November 9, 2014 at 12:19 am said:

    I urge you all to focus on Jessie Harkness. She is the only way to uncover the truth, and yet you continue to postulate and hypothesise about made up scenarios which grow ever wilder. Face facts – SM died at Jessie’s hand, and you aren’t going to understand why by researching lead smelting in Whyalla or anywhere else. Why are we all so coy about ‘Mrs Thomson’, the philandering faux-Jewish big noter? The woman was hideous in every way.

  5. nice one, dome

  6. Nick: “Of all the different isotopes the students detected and graphed, one stands out very strongly: lead.”

    Didn’t have the whole table handy, did they? Be nice to know what came second and third to lead, and by how much …

  7. Unfortunately, if the information is not available online, I cannot help…But if someone else can get it and needs assistance looking through it, I’m in!

    : )

  8. Gordon Cramer on November 9, 2014 at 4:43 am said:

    I am quite certain that there would be a link between uranium processing and spying/espionage, one would indeed be naive not to be aware of that 🙂

    Can I suggest that you look up Reg Sprigg, you’ll find him on the wiki plus a reference to ASIO:

    ‘During 1940 he enlisted in the Australian Royal Engineers, and worked with Munitions from 1941 to 1942. He transferred to work with the soils division of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) until 1943.

    Sprigg next worked for the South Australian Geological Survey, which sent him to reopen the Radium Hill Uranium Field during 1944, and to map the Mount Painter uranium field. At the time, uranium was believed to be rare, and was required for the Manhattan Project.’

    Then research:

    TWENTIETH CENTURY HERITAGE SURVEY
    Stage 1 : Post Second World War
    (1946–1959)
    OVERVIEW HISTORY

    Next, look at Trove:

    http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/18058331

    http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/43773462

    For the record Mount Painter is approximately 100Ks North of Leigh Creek which was at the time a major coal mining town which was 260 K’s to Port Augusta and the rail connection to Port Pirie was a further 90 K’s . In those days ore would have been by road to Port Augusta and the rail for the final 90 K’s.

    You will need to talk with local historians and ask about the processing of early uranium finds from Mount Painter at Port Pirie in 1948 and perhaps even earlier ahead of the building of the major new processing plant.

    In your research you may also find reference to uranium ore processing in the 20’s at Dry Creek in Adelaide. Whilst some processing was undertaken at Hunters Hill in Sydney.

  9. Although I haven’t my books and notes here, I see that there is a fair bit online about the slow elimination of lead paints from most uses in Australia. I once had reason to write on the subject, and found that while the first bans against lead paints were issued by the Dairy Board, prohibiting their use in calf-pens, and lead in house paint was only finally banned in the 1970s, lead paint was (and perhaps still is) permitted for marine uses. Interestingly, in some port towns, one finds still a high incidence of lead poisoning among children who are in houses painted with such paint to as late as the mid 1980s.

  10. Sure. I’m in Ads and happy to assist. Where do I go for this stuff?

  11. Ellie Velinska on November 9, 2014 at 3:44 pm said:

    If the SM was a professional dancer (probably Irish dancing – high heels shoes – or tap) – then the black powder on his makeup brush could have been kohl, which is lead sulfide 🙂

  12. Jay: thanks very much indeed for offering, I really hope you turn up some interesting stuff there! Here’s what you need to know to make it happen…

    (1) As I guess you probably know already, the Somerville Reading Room is at The State Library of South Australia, Corner North Terrace and Kintore Avenue, Adelaide. The NAA has a page here with useful stuff, e.g. it’s open 10am–5pm Tuesday to Friday, its phone number is (08) 8204 8787, and that records are fetched down once a week on a Monday.

    (2) You’ll need to register online with the NAA (the Somerville Reading Room is shared by the NAA and the State Records of South Australia, and I believe that D3064 is held by the NAA rather than by the SRSA). The website says that: “Registered researchers are those who have registered to use the Archives’ RecordSearch database”, i.e. here. Luckily this is very quick and easy. 🙂

    (3) Not quite so quick and easy is that fact that you’ll need to pre-order the record(s) you want five days in advance. *sigh* However, you do this online with the form here, including your researcher id from step #2. I’d fill in the fields with:-

    Item title:“This series comprises lists of ships crews who visited Port Adelaide and outports.” Specifically, I would like to examine the crew lists and associated records for the ships American Producer, City of Delhi, Lanarkshire, Annam, and Ericbank for both arrival and departure at both Port Pirie and Port Adelaide during November 1948. According to the Port Pirie Recorder, these all took on cargoes of lead at Port Pirie in November 1948, and I would like to know more about their crews for a research project.
    Control Symbol: 1948
    Barcode: (not known)
    Location of Item: Adelaide
    Access Status: Not Yet Examined.
    On which date do you plan to visit? give them 5 days’ notice, and don’t pick a Monday; so, say, Tuesday 18th November?

    The downside is that the “Not Yet Examined” may slow down their response to the query: but even so, the suggested item description given makes it extremely clear what you are looking for and why, and so it really ought not to be a problem. (Famous last words!)

    (4) Then, when you visit the archive, remember to bring along some ID (e.g. passport or drivers licence) to get your reader’s card, or else they won’t let you in!

    My understanding is that it would be ok to bring a camera / mobile phone camera / tablet camera in to make a research record of what you find (though not for publication), but that you won’t be allowed to use a flash at all. (Personally, I always try to sit next to a window in archives to get good light for my photos.) Also, I tend to take far more photos than I need and then go over them at leisure at home, rather than feel really rushed at the archive.

    Feel free to drop me a line ( mailto:nickpelling@nickpelling.com ) if you run into any roadblocks here, but hopefully it should all go smoothly. Good luck! 😉

    Finally: don’t forget to leave keys, biros, pen-knives etc in a locker before you go in, and to turn off your mobile phone ringtone etc.

  13. Gordon: I’m well aware of the history of Radium Hill, my query is directly to do with whether there was actually any uranium processing going on in Port Pirie at all in 1948. That’s the missing step in your chain of logic, but all the accounts I’ve seen say that the mining was still experimental in 1947/1948, and that the commercial deal with the British wasn’t signed until 1952.

  14. bdid1dr on November 9, 2014 at 5:12 pm said:

    So, do we now have a location where lead shielding/water ponds would have been built around the uranium processing unit for developing nuclear weapons? If so, have Australian records been released for perusal of the public-at-large?

  15. Gordon Cramer on November 9, 2014 at 7:40 pm said:

    Nick, It was an arms race, much of the mining and processing was kept behind a cloak of secrecy and with very good reason. Whilst Radium Hill was one of the fields, the most relevant at the time was Mount Painter. The World was up against the Russians who had literally taken over the existing German uranium mining and processing plants at Jachymov in Czechoslovakia.

    No surprise therefore that details of processing at Port Pirie are hard to find, you will need to get that information the local historical society.

    At that time you should be aware that the US had ample supplies of uranium ore from Great Bear Lake Mining, Colorado and the Belgian Congo. It was ore from these locations that was used to create the ‘Gadget’.

    bdid 1dr
    Uranium mining had started in Australia in 1906 so that part of the process was far from experimental and neither was the processing of the ore which had been carried out for some years prior to WW2. The US had developed their own process specifically for producing weapons grade material as described by bdid1dr. Australian records are scant and hard to find. The best source I have found was the local knowledge of the people of Port Pirie.

    Diane
    Lead was used extensively in plumbing until it was banned in the mid 1930’s. That of course meant that many older homes would have been fitted with lead pipes and it is quite possible that the Somerton Man had stayed at an older property in the time leading up to his demise. That could account for the lead in his hair.

  16. Um Nick. If we have a hair with a root, don’t we have some dna information as well? We’re chasing lead in 1948 and nothing with dna?

  17. Misca: I already asked this question. 🙂 Apparently there was some DNA present but it was too degraded to use. 🙁

  18. Gordon Cramer on November 10, 2014 at 7:32 am said:

    Nick, As discussed, whilst the press can give us some information, much of the detail related to uranium would have been kept under wraps. As such you may be able to find ‘fragments’ of information that point to the processing of uranium at Port Pirie around 1948. Some years back I had that confirmed in a discussion with a Port Pirie resident but finding hard copy 3rd party material is very difficult. What I have found though could be quite interesting, it relates to the uranium processing plant, Springfields near Preston UK, which was established in 1948:

    “According to the UKAEA’s (UK Atomic Energy Authority) first ever Annual report in 1956, the Springfields fuel fabrication plant near Preston was completed in 1948 ‘to meet an urgent military requirement.

    It was built to fabricate uranium metal fuel for the two Windscale plutonium production piles, and for Calder Hall and Capelcross as well as for the new generation of ‘civil’ Magnox reactors.” A conversion plant to supply the Capenhurst enrichment plant was operated at Springfields from 1952. (p39).

    http://nuclearnewsaustralia.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/south-australias-history-of-involvement-in-nuclear-weapons-industry/

    This snippet indicates that the Springfield site was operating in 1948 and it would have got its uranium from somewhere and that somewhere was odds on Australia and very likely Port Pirie. As it stands it’s no more than a snippet but maybe the diggers on here can find the other half of this information by way of a shipment and more information on dates of arrival in the UK.

    The link below provides more information on nuclear fuel types with a description of uranium metal fuel as well as the material from which fuel rods were/are made, Zircaloy.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_fuel

    A few things to follow up.

  19. Lady Ruth on November 10, 2014 at 9:44 am said:

    You need his teeth.

  20. Nick – was there no radioactivity test done?

    Ellie – ancient Egyptians used a grey eye paint made of lead sulphide, I believe, but the recipe given me in India as the usual one was lamp-black moistened with spittle. 🙂

  21. Gordon, Lead continued to be used for plumbing, and for roofs until later than the 1930s, but lead has to be absorbed into the blood-stream (unless it was simply a dusty sort of coating on the hair) and to be absorbed it must be inhaled or ingested as a rule.

    Typically, calves and then children ingested the stuff because the old lead paint tasted sweet. The Dairy Board in NSW banned its use in calf-pens in the 1930s, but lead continued to be used in house-paints (the majority of which were imported from England, btw) until they too were banned in the 1970s. Various regulations reduced the proportion of lead to other materials in paint, and substituted zinc etc… but as I say this did not apply to marine coatings, especially metal exposed to the weather – at least not till the 1980s. In one rather amusing instance, a group of students was set the formal exercise (in one old Port town) of attempting to find lead paint in a college renovated in the 1990s. Apparently the contractor knew a chap who knew a chap working on the docks, and the tests returned from some rooms… well, acid wash and repainting was done in a matter of days. So a painter in the 1940s, or someone removing old paint by scraping, might well have ingested a fair bit of lead in the dust.

  22. Gordon Cramer on November 10, 2014 at 6:19 pm said:

    Diane, Would water drawn through lead pipes carry lead and thus you would ingest it?

  23. Gordon, it is possible. Some peculiarities of the old Romans are attributed to lead – not so much the plain water, as the result of adding to acids such as wine, water which had been gained that way. However, we don’t only find lead pipes, but ceramic (and from the pre-Roman period). I have seen some lead pipe from buildings no older than the 1950s, but to be honest, they’re fairly rare. This partly because the lead had been needed for the war, and partly because it was so expensive that zinc-coated steel pipes were cheaper for cold water plumbing, and copper pipes were mandatory for hot water systems of all sorts. So one’s first thought, given conditions in Australia at that time, would usually be that lead contamination had come from disintegrating lead paint, or constant work around e.g. the docks. I think the latest example I found of lead pipe in the suburbs of Sydney was attached to the exterior of a building erected in the late nineteenth century. Of course, industry was often another matter because of extremely high temperatures, and legislation tended to be left to the separate state governments.

    I suppose the point is that the presence of lead in his hair isn’t any particular proof that he had to do with spies or nuclear tests or uranium. He may have had a bit of work as a painter and docker.

  24. Gordon Cramer on November 11, 2014 at 8:26 pm said:

    Diane, I would agree to a point, the issue is that there is a spike that was regarded as unusual. Add that to the autopsy information that states his hands were not those of a manual worker and we have something to consider. The graphs also show higher levels of silver, for me this suggests Broken Hill where both lead and silver were processed.

    You may note that in my post I didn’t actually suggest espionage activities but associated lead and uranium to Port Pirie and that they were ‘companion’ products that could have been shipped together. I also believe that uranium was processed and shipped from Port Pirie ahead of the building of the 1952 plant this was based on a discussion with a Port Pirie resident. This may be borne out by the information about Springfields in the UK and the start of operations in 1948.

    Where I used to live, our house and many others had lead flashing to seal roof tiles, in fact you could still buy rolls of lead to carry out repairs into the 70s and possibly later.

    To put the spy/espionage aspects into perspective, everyone should realise that the period following the end of WW2 was filled with espionage activities and not only in Adelaide. The Russians were making full on, concerted efforts to infiltrate at all levels of Australian Government, the undertook subversive activities intended to disrupt industry particularly in defence by any means possible via cells which included trade union organisers. They would deliberately cause unrest amongst the workforce as per the Fishermen’s Bend example in another recent post which included interestingly a man called Keane. In that particular post I discussed aircraft manufacture across the States including Adelaide and the efforts of a Mr. Rice to apply pressure on one of the committee members to include as much ‘shop floor gossip’ that could cause unrest and dissent as he wanted. It wasn’t about the ‘nice Lady from the canteen’ as Nick put it, it was about something far more serious.

    Adelaide itself was a hot bed of espionage activities with the manufacture of advanced aircraft and parts at Islington Railway Workshops, Kelvinators and General Motors, rocket testing at Salisbury, munitions manufacture and stockpiling, Woomera underway despite numerous strike actions, and uranium mining in numerous locations of the State. This was a War of ideologies and the prize for Communism could have been Australia.

    In the midst of all this, a man’s body turns up on a beach at Somerton, he had apparently been poisoned, he had been stripped of identification and a book with what appeared to be code written on it turns up and is tied to him.

    What is the natural reaction to that event given all of the other activities going on in South Australia? We would have to be naive beyond belief not to seriously consider espionage being involved.

  25. Gordon,
    You may well be right, but I wouldn’t think it right not to mention that silver and lead often occur together, and that a painter and/or sign-writer (as I think someone suggested he was) would have worked not only with paints, but with silver leaf/foil in those days.

    Still and all, your inferences may be the more sound. I shan’t insist otherwise. 🙂

  26. My personal view is that all a man had to do in the 40’s to get an increased lead spectrometric reading was get out of bed and breathe.
    This, of course, is an unqualified view and one open to argument, which is precisely why I’ve placed it here, in the vortex of cryptic thought, the domesphere.

  27. Dear Nick,
    having now *blush* actually *read* that spectro data I wonder if anyone else has mentioned to you yet a certain William Justin Kroll of Luxembourg?

  28. Gordon Cramer on November 12, 2014 at 8:38 pm said:

    Dianne, Please don’t think I was being dismissive of your comments, far from it. What I was trying, somewhat ham fistedly, to point out was that given the finding of a body minus identification. and that person apparently having been poisoned and a book with code written secretly (the writing was actually indentations which says that it was done on a separate piece of paper) Then add the whole environment of the time and then the finding of a spike in lead in his hair and of course your oblique reference to titanium. You would start to think long and hard about where that lead came from and your immediate thoughts would be related to the most likely sources.

    That’s not to say that you wouldn’t consider paint and pipes and a bunch of other things which contained lead in significant, ingestible, quantities.

    What we don’t have is a set of sample data from that period that we could measure against.

  29. Gordon,
    I’m far more embarrassed about not having read the report sooner than I did.

    Of the substances mentioned, it is true that titanium had been used in paints for centuries before the Somerton man died, but its other uses were still not widely known in the immediate post-war period, and for that reason, as well as natural association with the other substances mentioned, I thought Kroll’s name might offer a useful starting point. Not a particular interest of mine, but one likes to help. 🙂

  30. B Deveson on November 13, 2014 at 1:50 am said:

    Diane, yes, the titanium might come from titanium white pigment which was present in paints in the late 1940s. And paint could be the source of the lead and strontium as well, and possibly the aluminium. The strontium MS data were quickly removed so there may have been some problem with them. SM’s strontium levels were about three and a half times that of the controls from memory. But I am not fully convinced that paint dust is the answer and I am waiting for the finished report on the hair MS data.
    There is a silver spike in the MS data but the students apparently did not find raised zinc levels (or arsenic levels, which seems to rule out lead arsenate spray, or Paris Green paint pigment and insecticide), and the absence of a zinc anomaly casts some doubt on either Broken Hill ore or concentrates, or paint, being the cause of the lead and other anomalies in the MS data.
    By my calculations SM was suffering from severe lead poisoning and his last significant exposure to lead was a month or so before his death (from the shape of the lead MS graph and the known elimination pharmacokinetics of lead). The lead graph also indicates that SM had a very high levels of lead in his bones, and this suggests that he had very heavy exposure to lead for a significant time (years). Of course, all of this is based on the second hair MS data agreeing with the first, and there not being any technical difficulties with the MS analysis.
    Pete, contrary to common knowledge, lead plumbing has probably never caused a single case of lead poisoning – not even in Romans. Lead poisoning in Australia was fairly rare by 1948 and mostly confined to men who had worked underground in the lead mines before WW1, or worked in some jobs at the Port Pirie lead smelter prior toWW2. Much of the material published on lead poisoning in academic journals is garbage. For a long time the area has been a happy hunting ground for those seeking to bolster their publications list.

  31. B Deveson on November 13, 2014 at 2:12 am said:

    Gordon,
    we do not have data for lead in hair going back to 1948, but we do have some data for blood in the 1940s. And we do have quite a bit of data for bone which allows us to work out the probable hair levels in the 1940s because lead stays in bone with an elimination half life of 30-40 years. But, this doesn’t matter because, if the MS data are correct (and they are still only preliminary), by my calculations SM was suffering from severe, near fatal, lead poisoning.
    And lead poisoning explains the swollen spleen and the splenic pigment, and the kidney damage caused by lead poisoning could also increase the elimination time of digitalis (leading to what is called accumulation; where the digitalis is coming in faster than it can be eliminated by the liver and kidneys). So, a normal dose of digitalis could have been fatal. So far it all hangs together nicely. But it could get assaulted in the future by a brutal gang of facts. We will see.

  32. Gordon – Thanks for sharing your information on Reg Sprigg. Lots of interesting stuff there!

    : )

  33. B Deveson on November 13, 2014 at 3:44 am said:

    The screwdriver found in SM’s suitcase is usually described as “a small screwdriver” (for example, Feltus page 155, and most other places) but this screwdriver was described as “an electrician’s screwdriver” in the The Advertiser. 18th January 1949 page 1.
    In the Coronial Inquest documents, page 23, the screwdriver is just described as a “small screwdriver” (1949 Inquest page 23). I suspect that the change in the description was a deliberate removal of information, probably to help police cross check any identifications of SM. Keeping important information to one side is an important tool in police SOP. It allows witnesses stories to be checked for veracity.

    An electricians screwdriver is pretty obvious (it has an insulated blade) so I believe that the description was correct. I note that the screwdriver has always been described as “small” and this indicates that it is the type of insulated screwdriver used by electronic technicians, rather than the larger insulated screwdrivers used by electricians. So, SM could have been an electronic technician, or maybe just somebody who owned an electronic device that needed adjustments from time to time? But, there weren’t many electronic instruments around in 1948 that a private individual would have owned. But, a small insulated screwdriver would be an essential tool for anyone using a 1948 style geiger counter, particularly the back-yard manufactured geiger counters that were available in the 1940s and used under the rough conditions inherent in prospecting out back of beyond. I have owned geiger counters and professionally prospected for uranium (scintillometers have replaced geiger counters now). There is a photograph in The Advertiser 18th March 1949 page 3, showing a technician adjusting a geiger counter with a screwdriver.

    The most likely reason for a business trip to Alice Springs or Darwin for Mr Duffield in 1948 would be something like uranium prospecting. It was all the talk of the town and the Government bounty for the discovery of uranium was soon increased to twenty five thousand pounds. If Mr Duffield was involved in prospecting for uranium he would have needed a geiger counter. So, I decided to check the newspapers to see who might have advertised a geiger counter for hire in Adelaide, or who might have later sold a geiger counter. I did find one case where a Glenelg phone number advertised a geiger counter for sale. But, so far I haven’t been able to trace this phone number to an address or a name. Somebody in Glenelg seems to have been involved in prospecting for uranium, and it would be interesting to find out who this was. News (Adelaide) 17th March 1954 page 33. Wanted to loan. Geiger counter one day. X 3648.

  34. Gordon Cramer on November 13, 2014 at 8:45 am said:

    Diane, Thanks for that information, I wondered about Titanium use at that time and whether it was too early for nuclear waste disposal vessels?

    Misca, Yes, quite a deal of information on Mr. Sprigg, interesting character.

    Byron, Not sure how quick I was in getting on to the earlier data, I noticed the Strontium info and may have it. If so I’ll post it. That’s an interesting phone number, I’ll check it again but from memory it either is or is similar to the Radio shop on Jetty Rd Glenelg. Could be wrong.

  35. Nick, would you mind running us through your cargo-hand crate mark-up routine, using the baby brush and unidentifiable black powder? A job spec, so to speak.
    Just imagine you’re hiring for the job, give us a little background on your theory.
    Thanks.

  36. Pete: I’ve been trying for a few weeks to find a good description of this from the time, though without success so far. Let me know if you have any good ideas of where to look. But that’s all basically what the police thought when they guessed he was a Third Officer merchant seaman, nothing cleverer than that.

  37. WE have a copy on line of a patent application by Kroll. Its title is:
    PROCESS FOR THE PRODUCTION OF ALLOYS 0f LEAD WITH ALKALINE EARTH METALS.

    Application filed in the US on December 20. 1926, Serial No. 156,072, and in Germany December 29, 1925.

    In it, Kroll explains the problems with earlier methods including

    mention of why “the workmen are exposed to the danger of poisoning by lead fumes”.

  38. Gordon Cramer on November 13, 2014 at 7:24 pm said:

    Pete, The ‘intaglio’ method of copper plate etching is done using a ‘ground’ a waxy compound which contains a soot like powder spread over the copper plate. The black powder, no doubt amongst other things, could be from that process. The knife found amongst his possessions bears a resemblance to an ‘echoppe’ a tool with a slanted oval section used for ‘swelling out’ the lines drawn into the ‘ground’. This would fit with what could be SM’s occupation based on the wear marks on the fingerprints of his first and second fingers and thumb. Apologies for butting in on the conversation 🙂

  39. Gordon Cramer on November 13, 2014 at 7:29 pm said:

    Diane, Hadn’t seen or known of that issue, not a chemist. It states that ‘earlier methods’ caused the problem, would they still have been in use by 1948 and under what circumstances?

  40. “Pete: I’ve been trying for a few weeks to find a good description of this from the time, though without success so far. Let me know if you have any good ideas of where to look.”
    Try this bloke, he’s had a bit of outside work in his career.

    http://tomsbytwo.com/2014/11/13/telling-a-somerton-man-by-the-trade-he-keeps/

  41. Gordon,
    I expect that the older methods would have remained in use anywhere that the war-time patent-holders failed to share the good news about the newer ones.

  42. Bravecourageheart on November 14, 2014 at 6:12 pm said:

    Jessie Thomson knew how and why SM died – she and Prosper disposed of the carcass. Anyone interested in looking into that instead of suspect analysis results? Didn’t think so.

  43. Gordon,
    Metal engraving requires tool steel, and that knife looks like a cut down dining knife – no way the steel would be hard enough to engrave metal. Waxed thread suggests leather work, or the work of stitching up bales and bags. For all we know, the black dust was just a bit of residue on an imperfectly cleaned brush.

  44. Gordon Cramer on November 15, 2014 at 7:11 pm said:

    Diane, Not quite, The method suggested was etching on to copper plate, ‘intaglio’ style. What is scratched off with the tool or knife is the waxy ‘ground’ which exposes the metal and in turn that metal is etched according to the pattern drawn by acid. So the knife edge would barely touch the metal.

    Google for ‘POW etchings’ and you’ll find numerous examples of rough cut works done in prison camps where tools wouldn’t have been available.

    If you Google ‘ww2 POW engravings’ you’ll find numerous examples of metal engraved by other than speciality tools, quite possibly a sharp knife, because the tools simply weren’t available.

    Another form of ‘engraving’ would be wood cuts and again there are numrous examples of hand worked woodcuts to be found on the web.

    If you were to engrave directly onto hard metal like steel then you would be right but it does depend on the metal, copper or aluminium being soft would be less resistant to score or engraving marks.

    Waxed thread was and is used in bookbinding to draw together the ‘signatures’. I use that myself. The grade used for stitching up bales and bags would be an entirely different type to the Barbour’s waxed thread found and associated with SM.

    I think Mr. Cowan may have known what the black powder was, I can’t imagine a Chemist of his stature not being able to identify it.

  45. Gordon, Yes, I was speaking about engraving in the strict sense. In any case the knife might have served to shape something softer: I see that there are pencils in the picture too. As for Mr. Cowan, he may have been one of those meticulous minds which distinguishes clearly between knowledge and conjecture. (as I conjecture).

  46. “The Somerton Man was an overseas merchant seaman, quite probably a Third Officer with responsibility for lading and stencilling details on crates and boxes as they were stacked in a ship’s hold.”
    Nick, as much as I admire you for being a ferocious fact gatherer, and one who decries those who travel on unsupported theories, may I ask, most humbly, how do you know he was an overseas (1)?, ‘merchant’ (2)?, seaman (3)? responsible for lading and stencilling (4 &5)?? on crates and boxes (6&7)?? as they were stacked (8)? in a ship’s hold (9)?
    This is a lot of specific information Nick, and all of it without any evidence, it’s just guesswork.

  47. Pete: errrm, you missed out the “I suspect that” bit immediately preceding the quotation. 🙂

    You call this ‘guesswork’, and in one sense you’re absolutely right: but the big difference is simply that I’m trying to shape those guesses into testable hypotheses, ones that should be able to be proven right or wrong.

  48. How/Why is it that this woman (Jessica) has no birth certificate? Why hasn’t her family produced as much? Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Given all the hoopla around her, why not present a simple document showing who she is/was? Even DA, with his determination to show who SM might have been, hasn’t made a peep about Jessica’s family or her birth certificate which appears to be unavailable. He’s family now – isn’t he? Strange.

  49. Sounds like a two horse race, with both of us playing under the same rules, we should give it a name –

  50. Nick, can you think what a 3rd officer might do with a navigational loupe?
    We have another clue old salt, they were used to read nautical maps ..
    as always, it’s my pleasure Nicko, happy Christmas

  51. Look for a boat being loaded a month(?) before SM died, he may have just started with the line, and never got back to the boat before it sailed.

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