Hardy researcher Byron Deveson has been prospecting in the Aussie archives for traces of a Norwegian by the name of Charles Mikkelsen, a name long linked (though so far not completely satisfactorily) to the Somerton Man.
As a result of Byron’s efforts, it now (I think) seems reasonably likely that Charles Mikkelsen was the Scandinavian ‘Carl Thompsen’ who Keith Mangnoson remembered working with in “Renmark” in “1939”, and who Mangnoson believed was the Somerton Man.
(Of course, whether or not Mikkelsen/Thompsen actually was the Somerton Man remains another question entirely).
But there is an elephant in the room. To be precise, a very large and very dead elephant.
A Fishy Story?
The sticking point is that Charles Mikkelsen died at sea in 1940 in an unfortunate but well-documented way, when the boat he was on (the SS Tirranna) was captured by the German raider Atlantis…
According to this page (and indeed many others), Mikkelsen died on 10th June 1940, the day that the Atlantis shot at, chased and captured the Tirranna. Later that year, the Tirranna was sent back to Europe as a prize ship full of war prisoners, but was sunk by the British submarine HMS Tuna (N94) with a large loss of life.
Hence what would seem to make the link to Charles Mikkelsen a fishy story is that our Scandinavian candidate appears to have died more than eight years too early to be the Somerton Man.
However, things are never quite that simple in the Tamam Shud research quagmire…
An Australian Paper Trail
What also piqued Byron Deveson’s interest was a claim of a direct link to Charles Mikkelsen that turned up some years later:
In 1953 an unnamed woman living in Cheltenham (a suburb of Adelaide) identified SM as Charles Mikkelsen whom she had known “about 21 years ago” (ie 1932) when he was employed at Jensen’s guest house at American River (Kangaroo Island). She stated that when she had last heard of Mikkelsen he was staying at a Somerton guest house. “Det.-Sgt. R. L. Leane and Det. L. Brown have been told Mikkelsen often quoted the last verse, which ended with the words “Tamam Shud,” from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.” (News, Adelaide, 23 April 1953 page 9). The un-named Cheltenham woman said that Mikkelsen spoke fluent English and she said Mikkelsen was aged about 30 (ie. 30 in 1932) when she met him at Kangaroo Island, and he spoke English fluently. Mikkelsen was later employed as gardener to Sir John Brookman and was last heard of while boarding at Somerton.”
As a result, Byron decided to look more closely at Charles Mikkelsen: and he recently struck on a glinty archival seam relating to his stay in Australia from 24th August 1937 (when the SS Svenor put Mikkelsen ashore on Thursday Island with appendicitis) to his departure from its shores on the 30th of May 1940 (aboard the SS Tirranna, where he died eleven days later).
In the last few days, Pete Bowes has published excerpts from many of the documents Byron dug up in a series of posts (here, here, here, here, and indeed here).
Mikkelsen claimed that he had previously stayed in Australia between 1924 and 1930 (having jumped ship in Port Adelaide from the Norwegian steamer Bessa), before travelling back to Norway for a little over a year, returning in early 1932: and then went off in a Norwegian tanker in April 1935, before returning in August 1937.
According to NAA Item barcode 5511023, Charles Mikkelsen was (when he passed through port clearance at Port Adelaide on 9th January 1932 on the Tancred) a seaman 5 feet 10 inches in height, fair hair and blue eyes, with no identifying marks. He gave his birthday as 17th July 1902 in Bassjordan, Norway: and was single.
Interestingly, the Tancred was due to arrive at Number 2 Quay at Port Pirie on 5th January 1932 “to load 2,000 tons of lead. At Port Adelaide the Tancred will discharge general cargo and timber, and will load 2,000 tons of barley before sailing for Continental ports.” So there’s also a link to lead you perhaps weren’t expecting. 🙂
(Incidentally, a Charles Mikkelsen arrived in New York from Sydney on the 13th Nov 1924 on the “Eastern Sea”: he was a 22 year old Norwegian, and was 5’8″ tall [according to Ancestry.com].)
I have to say that it’s a confused affair: there would seem to be at least three files for Charles Mikkelsen: C.38/468, C.40/2000, and C.40/2192. Though the authorities of the day eventually decided that these various Mikkelsens were one and the same person, it’s easy to see how they might possibly have been wrong.
A New Zealand Paper Trail
To extend the timeline a little further backwards, I decided to find out more about what connected Mikkelsen to New Zealand: and it didn’t take long to discover what had happened just before his arrival in Australia.
It all started with the M/T Herborg (a few more details here (or here if you prefer to read Norwegian).
The Herborg had visited Auckland in May 1932, though sadly I found no passenger list for the Herborg in the NZ archives. Five years later, according to this page, the Herborg was expected from Singapore in March 1937, which is when Charles Mikkelsen got to Auckland.
Several months later, on the 31st July 1937, we catch our first archival glimpse:
Seaman to be deported accused intended to marry
“If you have nothing against the Scandinavian race, I would bo much obliged if you could allow me to stay in New Zealand, as I intend to get married shortly,” said Charles Mikkelsen, a Norwegian seaman, aged 34, when he appeared before Mr. F. H. Levien, S.M., in the Police Court yesterday, admitting charges of deserting from the steamer Herberg at Auckland on March 17 and landing as a prohibited immigrant. The Collector of Customs. Mr. J. Mcintosh, said accused was refused permission by the captain of the Herberg to sign off at Auckland, after which he made application to become a permanent citizen of New Zealand. He was told the formalities he would be required to comply with, but he took the law into his own hands, and left his ship. Nothing more was heard of him until he was arrested at Frankton on July 22, after having been engaged in farm work in the Waikato. A deportation order was made by the magistrate, under which accused might be held in custody for not more than six months, pending arrangements being made for him to be placed on board a suitable Norwegian ship. The magistrate told accused the only method to adopt to land in New Zealand would be to comply with the immigration regulations.
A quick trawl through Papers Past reveals plenty of references to Mikkelsens in Morrinsville (Eastern Waikato) playing golf etc , so it seems tolerably likely to me that Mikkelsen had some family out there farming. Perhaps Byron Deveson already knows this?
So… What’s Going On, Then?
If you’ve been paying a little bit of attention, you probably already know what I’m going to conclude.
In this case, I strongly suspect the authorities got it wrong: and that there were almost certainly two different people, both called Charles Mikkelsen.
The first Charles Mikkelsen had the reference “C.38/468”, because the “38” is very probably the last two digits of the year that he first applied for Australian citizenship: 1938. We can therefore probably identify this Charles Mikkelsen with the man who jumped ship in Auckland in March 1937, worked on a farm in Waikato (probably with family near Morrinsville), before being arrested in Frankton on 22nd July 1937, and being told he would be put on a ship bound for Norway within six months. My guess is that he then faked appendicitis to get set down on Thursday Island, thus starting his Australian odyssey.
The second Charles Mikkelsen had the references “C.40/2000” / “C.40/2192”, and it would seem that he was most likely the one who died on the Tirranna in 1940. But… it’s a mess, and that’s the truth.
As a result, it may very well be that one of these two Charles Mikkelsens was the Somerton Man: but it will take a fair bit more digging to properly disentangle the two men’s archival strands from the knot that they have ended up in before we are in a position to make a genuinely clear-headed assessment either way.
Luckily I have every faith that Byron Deveson is the best man for such a job. Good luck, Byron! 🙂