A few days ago, I suggested that a person of interest to Somerton Man researchers might well be Dr Malcolm Glen Sarre, simply because his name and 118 Jetty Road address appeared (admittedly crossed out) in the production notes for the 1978 Littlemore TV documentary on the Somerton Man:

It would seem that someone on the production team thought (for whatever reason) that Dr Malcolm Sarre was the “city businessman” (as the story told to the papers of the day went) was the person whose car the Rubaiyat was found in the back of, parked in Glenelg’s Jetty Road.

And yet it was also said to have been parked outside a chemist’s. “But did it matter” (wrote Gerry Feltus in “The Unknown Man”, p.105) “if the discoverer was a doctor, chemist, dentist, jeweller, business person or a male or a female?”

118 Jetty Road?

A advertisement in the Glenelg Guardian of 24th July 1919 attests to a Mr A. C. Turner – a “Registered Surgeon Dentist” – moving his practice at “118 Jetty Road, Near Miller’s Corner”.

Then, in 5th August 1926, we hear that “Mr. HAROLD V. FRAYNE, Surgeon Dentist, has removed to 118 Jetty Road, Glenelg (next Palais Theatre)”, where he was apparently joined by Frank Smerdon in 1927.

Yet at the same time, we can see a 1926 advertisement for Mai Lyne: “BEAUTY AND HAIR SPECIALIST, 118 JETTY ROAD. Phone—744. Only personal attention. Shingling, Hair Coloring, and Water Waving a speciality” (Mai moved there in April 1926 with “all the latest MODERN TOILET APPLIANCES”).

Moreover, there’s a 1924 small ad for “OVERLAND Car. E.L., starter. perfect condition; £95 cash.—C. Bradley. 118, Jetty Road, Glenelg”: and so it turns out that 118 Jetty Road in Glenelg comprised both shops and residential accommodation.

In 27th September 1944, we can see someone there trying to buy a car: “WANTED car any make 1935-36 model, must be good order. Apply 118 Jetty rd., Glenelg. upstairs.”

Around 20th December 1946, another Smerdon dentist started at 118 Jetty Road: “Mr. John R. Smerdon, B.D.S., who successfully completed his dental course, has commenced practice at 118 Jetty Road, Glenelg. Mr. Smerdon was educated at Dominican Convent and Sacred Heart College, Glenelg.”

Finally, Dr.E.J.Swann (who was, as Byron Deveson found [The Times and Northern Advertiser, Peterborough South Australia 7th November 1947 page 3], in partnership with Dr Malcolm Glen Sarre) seems to have moved out of 118 Jetty Road in 1953.

And so it turns out that 118 Jetty Road does link doctors and dentists together… but not a chemist.

25 Jetty Road?

If we turn to pharmacists now, can we say what chemists were on Jetty Road?

According to the 1948 business map of Jetty Road that Derek Abbott once reconstructed (“Taken from 1948 SANDS McDOUGALL”), we appear to have several to choose from:
* 14 – Pier Pharmacy prop LP Nunn [– Lionel Peter Nunn, Robert W Fox Pharmacist and chiropodist –]
* 24a – Freeman Chemist
* 25 – Fisks Pharmacy D’Arcy Cock Manager [– D’Arcy Kenneth Robert Cock (born Glenelg, 21st October 1907) –]
* 62 – Mrs Bilbey aptmts AND FSMA Chemists Lean,GA mger
* 118 – Paul HD Chemist / Smerdon F Dentist / Swann Dr EJ

Yet I’m reasonably sure that Paul’s Pharmacy was located not at 118 Jetty Road (as Byron Deveson thought he had read), but on Miller’s Corner – an entire block further down Jetty Road. And so I suspect that it wasn’t really close enough to where Dr Malcolm Glen Sarre at 118 to be properly “parkable”.

Frank Smerdon aside, there were also other dentists further down Jetty Road:
* 97 – Smerdon Jno R. Dentist AND Kenniham MJ Dentist
* 106 – Jones Miss L.O.M & Thompson Dental Surgeon [– J. V. CHRISTOPHERSEN B.D.S. also worked here –]

I know that Byron has long had an eye on Mr Nunn and Mr Fox 🙂 , but to me, the Pier Pharmacy and Freeman’s Chemists are simply not ambiguous enough to keep the story going. All of which would seem to leave Fisk’s Pharmacy at 25 Jetty Road. Though this had opened several decades before, it was still running in 1950. Interestingly, this was next door to a “dentist surgeon” called C.R.Stratford, as we can see from this 1930 article:

“A new form of vandalism was experienced at Glenelg during Saturday night. The brass plate of Dr. Milo Sprod was removed from the front of the premises of Mr. W. Fisk, chemist, of Jetty road. An effort was made also to take the plate of Mr. C. R. Stratford. dentist, from premises adjoining those of Mr Fisk.”

(Dr Milo Weeks Sprod died in last 1934). Note that there was also a naturopath practitioner called Norman Russell-Smith next door at 27 Jetty Road.

A little after the war (in 4th July 1949), we also see: “Dr JOHN L. STOKES has commenced practice in partnership with Drs. Donald M. Steele and D. C Dawkins, at 25 Jetty road. Glenelg. Telephone X2581.”

And so because of the close link between doctors and chemists, it would seem that 25 Jetty Road manages to join both of those to dentists: which are (perhaps not coincidentally) the first three professions Gerry Feltus listed.

Finally, putting it all together…?

If we are looking for somewhere in Jetty Road in 1948 that could easily mix up doctors, chemists, and dentists, the address we would seem to be looking for was not 118 Jetty Road (with only a weak link to a chemist) but instead 25 Jetty Road.

I don’t yet know what this means (and I can’t begin to say how frustrated I get that after nearly seven decades we still don’t know whose car it was), but please feel free to make what you will of all the above. 🙂

…it might be, simply because his name and address appear (lightly crossed out) on p.6 of the production notes for the 1978 Littlemore television piece on the Somerton Man.

If you search for barcode 7937872 at the NAA (RecordSearch, Advanced search for items, Item barcode, Search), you get to “C673, INSIDE STORY PART 2” – The Somerton Beach Story [Box 39] (hopefully this direct link should work). Page 6, point 10 looks like this:

Gerry Feltus gave the man’s name as “Ronald Francis” (a pseudonym), and said that he was a “businessman from Jetty Road, Glenelg” (The Unknown Man, pp.104-105): his brother-in-law had found the Rubaiyat in the back of the man’s Hillman Minx and left it in the glove compartment, from where it passed into Australian cold case legend. (The original Adelaide Advertiser story referred to him as a “city businessman”).

The man’s identity was never revealed, and his precise profession never disclosed: “But did it matter” (wrote Feltus, p.105) “if the discoverer was a doctor, chemist, dentist, jeweller, business person or a male or a female?”

Yet back in 1978, Littlemore’s production notes repeatedly describe the person who found the Rubaiyat not as a businessman but as a “doctor”.

OK, it should be clear that right now I can neither prove or disprove that this person was Dr Sarre. However, what I can say is that it would seem that the absence of any mention of his name in connection with the Somerton Man cold case is somewhat unjustified: the inclusion of his name and Jetty Road address in the production notes make him at the very least a person of interest to us.

But what is there to say about him?

Dr Malcolm Glen Sarre

Note that I don’t have hugely reliable sources for any of the following (nor any photos etc), so please feel free to leave comments with better information!

According to ancestry.com, Malcolm Glen Sarre was born 10th November 1919 in Adelaide to Reginald Sarre and Gladys Ruby Prisk: he died 4th February 2000, living in Somerton Park. On his Australian Army forms (540472), his next of kin is marked as Richard Sarre (I believe this was his brother R.R.Sarre). Dr Sarre married Mary Bailey (daughter of Mr and Mrs H.G.Bailey of Loudon Brae) on 1st November 1947. Their daughter Elizabeth Mary Sarre was born on 2nd March 1953 in Adelaide. Dr Sarre also had an uncle and aunt (Cr. J.J. and Mrs Andrew) in Devonport.

Incidentally, Dr Malcolm Sarre’s name appears briefly in a police gazette: on 9/4/1947, he had his Sunbeam Shavemaster electric razor (“value £6”) stolen from the Doctor’s Quarters in Adelaide Hospital.

But apart from a few fleeting mentions in newspaper columns (typically thanking him and his hospital staff for their efforts), Malcolm Sarre seems to have lived a private, nearly invisible life.

PS: Dr Richard Sarre

It seems highly likely that Dr Richard Sarre (who gave a 2014 talk at Holdfast Bay Rotary Club a few weeks before Professor Derek Abbott gave a talk on the Somerton Man there) is related to the late Dr Malcolm Sarre… but the precise details elude me.

Cipher Mysteries commenter ‘Chris’ has put forward an angle on the Somerton Man mystery that is quite different from the narratives that have immured so many of us for such a long time.

Chris was told that the Somerton Man died as “a result of him wanting to confess to his involvement in a murder in SA in 1943 […] he wanted to confess but the others did not want him to. He came back to SA after the war because he could not live with what had happen.”

The murder in question was that of young railwayman Clarence Keith Seckold on 7th October 1943, who was found dead on the grounds of Government House. While he had significant blunt force trauma to his head, his lower body had also been slashed and mutilated in a way that the Brisbane “Truth” (uncharacteristically finding itself short of words) described as “shocking and unusual”.

What Chris was told was that three people were involved in the killing, one of whom was directly connected to Government House. He suspects that this person may well have been Governor Charles Malcolm Barclay-Harvey, who (perhaps coincidentally) was admitted to hospital the following day, postponing all his engagements, at a time when his wife and daughter were (perhaps coincidentally) both away in Canada. Moreover, Barclay-Harvey (a well-known high-ranking Freemason, perhaps coincidentally) resigned from his post in the following April (“for health reasons”, according to Wikipedia) and returned to his 14,000-acre Scottish estate.

barclay-harvey-and-family

I say “perhaps coincidentally” a lot, because there is – as yet – not a shred of publicly available evidence to support this story.

Lady Muriel’s Horses

Malcolm Barclay-Harvey’s wife was Lady Muriel Felicia Vere Barclay-Harvey (née Bertie) (1893-1980), “Nurse and founder of the Lady Muriel Nurses’ Club; former wife of Henry Liddell-Grainger, and later wife of Sir Charles Barclay-Harvey; daughter of 12th Earl of Lindsey”, according to the National Portrait Gallery.

Chris was told that Lady Muriel owned a number of racehorses: and – oddly enough – that it was she who (allegedly) arranged with the South Australian Grandstand Bookmakers’ Association to make sure that the Somerton Man was buried properly.

[Note: it’s certainly true that Lady Muriel did own some racehorses – not only Waxwings (that she bought from Sidney Reid, according to the omniaudient Lady Kitty), and who famously won the Derby in 1940 in a record time), but also a less successful horse called Marble Hill. According to this article, she still had Waxwings in October 1946 (despite her having left Australia in 1944), but was thinking of shipping him back to the UK: and according to this article, she gave Marble Hill to Sidney Reid as a parting gift when she left Australia.]

Chris says he was told all this in 1970 by a soldier working in Army Intelligence (that most famous of oxymorons) in Northern Territory, (1970 was the year following Charles Barclay-Harvey’s death): but that though he didn’t believe it at the time, when he returned to the story nearly fifty years later (!), he was surprised to discover that many of the details did seem to check out.

Army Intelligence?

Naturally, I wondered what the connection with Army Intelligence might have been. But having gone through all the cuttings in Trove, this didn’t emerge until more than a year after Clarence Seckold’s murder, when the police announced they were looking for “a returned soldier in his early thirties”.

Their search (described by the Sydney Truth as an Australia-Wide Hunt For Insane Killer) was for a well-known Sydney criminal, who they believed was involved with four different murders: Clarence Keith Seckold (25), Francis James Davey (22), Phillip John Beattie (22), and [in Sydney] divorcee Mrs Mary Gwendoline Bakewell

The Adelaide Police were convinced that the same “sex pervert” was responsible for the gruesome deaths of Seckold and Davey: Beattie was shot at close range by a man on a bicycle – the cyclist was then seen by a Lieutenant Norman Munro. Beattie died a little while afterwards in a military hospital, before being able to give a more detailed account of his attack.

All in all, then, it is perhaps not surprising that Army Intelligence would take an interest in the case. However, what I do find odd is that the alleged connection to the Somerton Man cold case was – as I recall – never mentioned in Gerry Feltus’ book. If so, it would seem to be something that they have resolutely kept under their hats for fifty years. Perhaps it is time to ask them to take off those hats and let us have a look.

The Conspiracy of Three?

The Seckold conspiracy theory would seem to run along the following lines: (1) that Charles Barclay-Harvey was (supposedly) having some kind of after-hours dalliance or sexual activity in the park behind Government House, which (2) was observed (perhaps accidentally, perhaps not) by Clarence Seckold [there were many lurid accounts of homosexuals, ‘foxers’ and ‘gliders’ in the park from that time], leading (3) to Seckold being savagely beaten up by one/two minders/associates of Barclay-Harvey, leading (4) unfortunately to his death.

The Army Intelligence people might well have reasoned that whereas the police were looking for a single man, the deaths could equally well have been down to two different – but closely linked – people. In which case Army Intelligence almost certainly know the identity of one (if not both) of them, but were unable to prove it or close the file.

If this is even vaguely along the right lines, arguably the right place to start would be some kind of Freedom of Information request to Army Intelligence relating to the files surrounding this case – what the files say is what they say, and I’m not yet in any kind of position to second-guess what they do say. But am I the right person to be making such a request? I’m not sure. Something to think about, anyway. =:-o

We start with some film footage of the Atlantis, taken by a doctor called Karl Höffkes who worked aboard the raider. I’m not sure, but the brief glimpse of vehicles that appears at 0:13 might well have been taken aboard the Tirranna:

According to Captain Gundersen (interviewed for the maritime hearings in Oslo in December 1940), “it turned out that” five people died in the 10th June 1940 attack by the Atlantis, as transcribed here.

– 4th engineer Einar Christensen,
– Electrician Otto Kristensen,
– Matros [?] Hilmar Engelsen,
– Machine Boy James Andersen,
– Passenger Charles Mikkelsen

On its own, this would be strong evidence that Mikkelsen died. However, we can further cross-reference this with a number of other accounts, and confirm that exactly five people died on the 10th June 1940…

Graeme Cubbin

John Richardson’s excellent ebook “Victims of Atlantis” includes many details taken from the diary of 16-year-old cadet Graeme Cubbin (who was on the SS Scientist, a ship captured by the Atlantis a few weeks before the Tirranna), including the following quotations:

When Captain Gundersen met up with Rogge he complained bitterly, saying that Norway had capitulated and made peace with Germany just a few hours earlier on that very day, and that he had quite unnecessarily killed five of his men and badly injured a dozen more. (p.51)

Also:

Quite a number of [the Norwegian crew of the Tirranna] were working their passage home from Australia. They did so in order to join up and help put a spoke in the wheel of the Nazi War machine; several had lost their families in the German bombing raids. Five of their comrades had been killed by the German gunners, another died later in the hospital of Atlantis and several lay wounded and helpless in the care of the German doctors. (pp.53-54)

Ulrich Mohr

According to Atlantis’ First Officer Ulrich Mohr (in his book “Ship 16: The Story of a German Surface Raider”):

When I climbed aboard [the Tirranna] I found her decks were literally covered in blood; it lay in pools wherever one trod. Five men were dead, but there were many wounded.

Kapitan Rogge – Atlantis Ship’s Log

Personally, I found reading Volume 1 of Captain Rogge’s Ship’s Log for the Atlantis (thankfully in English) to be shocking and humbling: it taught me more about the real nature of sea warfare than any other book I’ve read. The Kapitan’s behaviour was a model of precision, insight, care and yet cunning: he even used the Tirranna as a sighting target at night to see which one of the different sets of binoculars on board was most effective at picking out ships in the dark.

From Rogge’s log, it is amply clear that he was fully aware of the five deaths on 10th June 1940. Note that the next death wasn’t on the 11th (as reported by Captain Gundersen) – in fact, the Tirranna’s carpenter Johan Johansen had a leg amputated plus an emergency appendectomy (!) on the 11th, but died on the 15th. All in all, the Atlantis’s log seems to be an extremely reliable source document to be working with.

The account of the taking of the Tirranna starts on about page 93 and continues for many pages. After capturing the Tirranna, the Atlantis was in close contact with its prize ship for a good amount of time, so there are numerous mentions of the Tirranna throughout the log.

(p.97)
12:44 — Picket boat sent off with search party under the command of Lt.Cdr. Kamenz. They established the following:-
Motor ship “Tirranna” (built in 1938 by Schichau in Danzig) 7230 tons, carrying 3,000 tons of wheat, 72,000 sacks of flour for British Ministry of Food, 6,015 bales of wool for the British Government, 178 military vehicles and a cargo of canteen goods for the A.I.F. (Australian troops in Palestine) sailing
(p.98)
under orders from the Admiralty from Melbourne to Mombasa. The crew had not yet left the ship, as the boats were partly destroyed. The upper
deck of the ship showed signs of the long spell under fire. There was hardly a spot on the whole ship which had not been riddled with splinters. The upper bridge had been especially hard hit, likewise the boat deck, where the sandbagged radio cabin and the mess below it had been destroyed by a direct hit. Numerous casualties, dead and wounded, lay about the ship. She requested a doctor to look after the wounded and Surgeon Lt. (j.g.) Sprung went aboard shortly afterwards. He certified the death of 5 men and saw to the transport of 3 severe casualties. The crew were made to pack up their private gear and then took to the boats under the supervision of Lt. (j .£•) Breuers • To ease the boat traffic, the motor boat from the “Europa” was sent out and proved invaluable. I must say, however, that the crew has had to toil for weeks to get this boat, which came from one of Germany’s first passenger ships, fit for use at sea and in a decent condition. Boatswain’s mate Ross maneuvered very well with this rather unmanageable boat.

Under weather conditions to date the naval pinnace has proved itself invaluable for all tasks. The boat has been handled very carefully and with extremely fine seamanship by the regular steersman Boatswain’s Mate Stierle.

Surgeon Lt. Cdr. Reil and Surg. Lt. (j.g.) Sprung, the sick bay attendants and the stretcher bearers gave most excellent and devoted care to the severely wounded casualties. As the surgeon, Lt. (j.g.) Sprung had to perform difficult operations – an amputation and a brain operation. Lt . (s.g.) Strecker assisted at the operations. In all six severely wounded casualties had to receive treatment.
[…]
(p.99)
11 June — A statement made by the captain gave us the Tuesday following information:- “Tirranna” left Oslo on 18 Feb, 1940, proceeded through the North Atlantic, Mediterranean, Suez Canal to Ras Hafun, took in salt there, proceeded on 19 March to Miri (Borneo) where she took in oil (29 March) to Hakodate (Japan) on 6 April. There the ship heard news of the outbreak of war between Germany and Norway. On 17 April 1940 while he was in Hakodate the captain received orders from the Norwegian consul in Tokyo to proceed in ballast to Sydney and take in cargo there for British customers, and await further instructions. The ship stayed in Sydney from 1 till 14 May, 1940, in Melbourne from 16 to 29 May. During her stay in Melbourne the ship was fitted out with a 4.7 inch gun, (quick firer 4.7 inch, 45 cal. K.1917 Kure P.V.) (built in Japan under an English license no. 338 Sept. 1932) base, magazine, smoke floats, gun communication telephone, 1 machine gun and 3 rifles, together with ammunition, steel helmets, etc. all to the account D.E.M.S. No. 91 (Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships ).
(p.100)
According to the captain the “Tirranna” is the first armed Norwegian merchant ship to sail for the Department of Defense, Commonwealth of Australia.

He took on the main part of the cargo in Sydney, the remainder of the lorries in Melbourne. From there the ship was despatched on 30 May to Mombasa. The captain went on to state that he received his course instructions for Mombasa in Melbourne. He had destroyed them on meeting, the auxiliary cruiser i.e. he had torn them up and put the fragments in the waste paper basket. After the waste paper basket had been emptied carefully, we were able to piece the instructions perfectly together again (see appendix). Also the Naval Control Officer in Melbourne had
assured him he could go to sleep quite happily until he reached Mombasa, there were no German warships in the Indian Ocean, However, there were mines off Cape Agulhas, which had been laid by the “Graf Spee”.
[…]
(p.101)
The captain thought that he might be shot on board the auxiliary cruiser. He bitterly reproached himself for his conduct and its consequences – above all for the five dead.

So, All That Is Missing Is…

Naturally, there’s one last thing we don’t have, because the list of the names of the Tirranna’s crew and passengers is in an appendix in the original (German) Atlantis ship’s log, which (unfortunately for us) the American translators apparently thought not to include.

So… can anyone help find the original Kriegsmarine document (presumably Volume 2)? I couldn’t find any reference to it, but given that it was translated, it must be somewhere out there, surely?

Alternatively, the crew list and the list of the five dead might be included in Rogge’s own book (which went through at least ten editions in German, and was translated into English). The bibliographic reference given on the German Wikipedia page is:

Wolfgang Frank, Bernhard Rogge: “Schiff 16. Tatsachenbericht. Die Kaperfahrten des schweren Hilfskreuzers Atlantis auf den 7 Weltmeeren.” Genehmigte Taschenbuchausgabe. 10. Auflage. Heyne, München 1982, ISBN 3-453-00039-0, 251 S

Does anyone have a copy of this? Alternatively, the English translation was published as “Ship 16: The Story of a German Surface Raider” (which sadly doesn’t have as gloriously pedantic a title as the German original) [and yes, I’ve ordered myself a copy of this too, *sigh*].

Though Byron Deveson’s current working hypothesis (that Charles Mikkelsen was the Somerton Man) has many features to commend it (not least of which would seem to be that two completely separate people identified Mikkelsen as SM at the time), it does struggle with the very public report of Mikkelsen’s death aboard the M/V Tirranna on 10th June 1940, more than eight years before the Somerton Man’s death.

Now that we have (I believe) almost entirely ruled out the scenario where there were two people both called Charles Mikkelsen trying to emigrate to Australia at the same time, there would seem to be two remaining major alternative scenarios to consider:

#1: The Imposter Scenario

What if the person identifying himself as “Charles Mikkelsen” on the Tirranna was actually an imposter?

The two problems with this are (a) it’s extraordinarily unlikely, and (b) it’s extraordinarily hard to test. But I thought I’d mention it anyway.

#2: The Deserter Scenario

What if Charles Mikkelsen managed to get off the Tirranna before it was sank by the British submarine HMS Tuna, either in Sydney (from where it left on 15th May 1940) or in a midway stop en route to Mombasa?

The first good thing about this scenario is that, as we previously saw, Mikkelsen had previously deserted at least two three different ships (in *1924*, 1937 and 1940): so this is a scenario for which he arguably has ‘form’. The other ‘good’ thing supporting (or rather ‘not opposing’) this scenario is that any document on the Tirranna went to the bottom of the sea a little later in 1940, when it was sunk by HMS Tuna: so there remains a chance that his reported death on 10th June 1940 was somehow inferred rather than actually known.

However, the two main bad things about this scenario are (a) that we have documentary evidence that the Boarding Inspector confirmed that Mikkelsen was on board while the ship was in port in Sydney; and (b) we don’t have anything at all that stands against the report of his death.

What Can We Do?

To my mind, one good avenue of attack is social – that is, trying to find Mikkelsen’s New Zealander fiancée and seeing if we can trace his post-1940 history through her. Mikkelsen mentions her in a number of places, but she doesn’t appear in any family tree (so they probably were never married): and she may indeed never have travelled over to Australia. Sending him a “Dear John” copy of the Rubaiyat in the post may be as close as she got. 🙂

A second good avenue of attack is by trying to better understand the last few days of the M/V Tirranna. What archival evidence is out there? And how good is Google Translate with Norwegian? As a great philosopher balder than me likes to say, only one way to find out

The M/V Tirranna

Allen C. Green Series H91.109/469
(Image Source: Allen C. Green Series H91.109/469, State Library of Victoria)

The M/V Tirranna was built in 1938 in Danzig: here is its entry in the 1940 Lloyds Shipping Register (which I found scanned on the Tirranna wrecksite.eu page):

tirranna-lloyds-1940

The Tirranna left Melbourne on 30th May 1940, bound for the United Kingdom. It had a crew of 60 Norwegians and 12 passengers: according to this news article, “[w]hen the Tirranna left Melbourne she was carrying as passengers a number of Norwegians who were returning to Europe with the intention of joining the Norwegian forces to continue the fight for their country”.

According to this article, “most of those aboard joined the ship in Sydney. One was Mr. S. Rasmussen, who was with the Australian Motorists Petrol Co Ltd. He was on the Norwegian navy’s reserve list, with the rank of lieut-commander.” Another passenger on board the Tirranna was (according to this article) “Mr. Birger Bjornebye, who left in the Tirranna to join the fighting forces in Norway … [who was a] sales representative of Mr S. Lie’s firm.”

Another page notes that the Tirranna “…had a full general cargo and a large shipment of ambulances for the British forces”, which elsewhere is listed as “wheat, flour, wool, 178 military vehicles and general cargo”.

It seems that the idea was for the Tirranna to proceed to Mombasa, and then – when the coast was clear, so to speak 🙂 – proceed from there onwards to the Suez Canal, a vital asset which the British maintained control of throughout WW2.

The M/V Tirranna Timeline

Extremely helpfully, the National Archives of Norway have the following document, courtesy of this page:

tirranna-itinerary

From this and other details on this page, we can reconstruct the M/V Tirranna‘s timeline:

* 1st May 1940 – Arrived Sydney (from Kobe, Japan)
* 13th May 1940 – Departed Sydney
* 15th May 1940 – Arrived Melbourne
Note: while in Melbourne, weaponry was fitted to the Tirranna and five crew members were trained how to use it
* 30th May 1940 – Departed Melbourne
* 10th June 1940 – Encountered the German Raider Atlantis south-east of Mauritius

Perhaps The Pendulum Swings Once More?

As far as Charles Mikkelsen goes, understanding this timeline opens up the very direct possibility that the second (Deserter) scenario might easily be in play.

This is because even though we have archival confirmation that Mikkelsen was on board the Tirranna in Sydney, he could surely have jumped ship in Melbourne: the Tirranna was in port for a whole fortnight having the gun fitted. Perhaps nobody noticed Mikkelsen wasn’t on board until after the surrender when they compared the original passenger list with who was left?

So the next place to look is the maritime hearings that “were held in Oslo, Norway on Dec. 21-1940 with Captain Gundersen and 1st Mate Holst appearing”, part of which is transcribed here. According to Captain Gundersen’s (reconstructed) log, after he had surrendered the ship:

“It then turned out that following 5 men were killed:
– 4th engineer Einar Christensen,
– Electrician Otto Kristensen,
– Matros [?] Hilmar Engelsen,
– Machine Boy James Andersen,
– Passenger Charles Mikkelsen”

But once again, was Mikkelsen killed or merely missing? “It turned out” is such a vague turn of phrase, we simply can’t tell… yet. With a little luck, maybe we will, though.

In many ways, this hunt for Charles Mikkelsen is a perfect example of a cipher mystery, in that it has that characteristically fine balance between equivocal evidence (which seems to speak two opposing stories simultaneously) and the surprising difficulty of uncovering the tiniest of evidences that would collapse the two stories into the binary divide of true and merely hopeful. If you don’t see it as a pendulum, you’re probably not looking closely enough. 🙂

So… Where To Look Now?

I continue to be intrigued by the possibility that we might be able – by some means – to identify Mikkelsen’s fiancée in New Zealand. It may be that someone in his family may have the tiniest of clues as to her identity, that we may collectively be able to amplify up into an identification: in those days, letter-writing was just as pervasive as texting is now, so a mention in a letter may well be all we need. Though I doubt they married (and suspect that they may have split up by the time Mikkelsen got on the boat to go back to Norway, even if he did possibly change his mind), she might well have known if he had lived beyond 10th June 1940.

For those who read Norwegian, the 1943 book “Tusen norske skip” edited by female war reporter Lise Lindbæk (or her Wikipedia entry) may offer some clues: luckily, there’s an English translation (entitled “Norway’s New Saga of the Sea: The Story of Her Merchant Marine in World War II”). I should be no surprise that I’ve just ordered a copy and look forward to reading it.

Finally, I estimate that there’s a 80% or better chance that someone who was on board the Tirranna is still alive: of the (supposed) sixty crew and 12 passengers, only 48 are listed online, of whom 36 survived. Here’s the list (“[I]” means injured):

Captain – Edvard Hauff Gundersen
1st Mate – Thorolf Holst [I]
2nd Mate – Nils A. Nilsen
3rd Mate – Sven Bjørneby
Radio Operator – Johnny Haaland
Boatswain – Ole Paulsen [I]
Able Seaman – Kristian Christensen [I]
Able Seaman – Robert Fuglevik
Able Seaman – Floor Andersen
Ordinary Seaman – Alf Sverre Hansen
Deckboy – Einar Olsen [I]
Deckboy – Johan Jacobsen
1st Engineer – Johannes Knudsrød
3rd Engineer – Rolf Andersen
Mechanic – Erling Olsen
Mechanic – Leonard Hilland
Mechanic – Thomas Berg
Mechanic – Leif Henriksen
Mechanic – David Johansen
Mechanic – Kjell L. Gundersen
Oiler – Ragnar Andersen
Steward – Frithjof Gundersen
Cook – Olaf Eliassen
Galley Boy – Einar Jacobsen
Mess Boy – Haakon Sørensen
Saloon Boy – John Rønning
Saloon Girl – Jenny Jensen
Passenger – Odd Nyrud
Passenger – Peder Grodeland
Passenger – Karl Fause
Passenger – Sigurd Vaage Rasmussen
Passenger – Thor Haugen
Passenger – Leif Bartho
Passenger – Birger Bjørnsby [I]
Passenger – Trond Larsen
Passenger – Ole Herman Andersen

I doubt that anyone has yet tried to trace these Tirranna survivors specifically to ask about Charles Mikkelsen. So perhaps we should… 🙂

The primary set of documents covering Charles Mikkelsen’s life is in the NAA, with barcode 31817302. This is mainly comprised of single-page memos bouncing between various government departments during 1937 to 1940 as they processed his application for Australian citizenship. The NAA also has a two-page document from 1932 relating to Mikkelsen’s arrival on the Tancred (barcode 5511023).

Note that some online family trees (such as here) give his birthplace as “Vardø”, but I don’t know how to reconcile that with the “Bassjordan” (?) he gave on his passport.

I used the above sources (along with other archival sources where possible) to build up a timeline for what he was doing. Entries in the following that are only a page number refer to the NAA 31817302 (1937-1940) item.

Charles Mikkelsen Timeline

17th July 1902 – Born in “Bassjordan”, Norway. (1932 p.1)

Jan / Feb 1924 – Norwegian steamship Bessa – deserted at Port Adelaide. Went up country to Clare, returned to Adelaide some months later. (p.30) He worked “clearing of land in S. Aus.” (p.34)

“Late 1925” [Mikkelsen probably meant “Late 1924”] – American steamer Eastern Sea – signed on in Sydney.

13th Nov 1924 – American steamer Eastern Sea – Charles Mikkelsen arrived in New York from Sydney. He was 5’8″ tall (Ancestry.com).

12th May 1926 – Discharged from Eastern Sea (1932 p.2, pencil)

July 1930 – Norwegian oil tanker Turicum – signed on at Melbourne (1932 p.1)

12th July 1930 – Turicum – left Melbourne (1932 p.2) and returned to Norway (p.34)

9th January 1932 – Norwegian steamer Tancred – landed in Adelaide. Last address on passport: “Löberg – Villa, Solheim, Bergen” (1932 p.1)

11th January 1932 – Norwegian steamer Tancred – Signed off in Adelaide. Passport stamped by Customs in Port Adelaide. Valid for “Australia via Holland Belgium for emigration”. Valid until 11th December 1932. 170cm tall (i.e. 5’8″).

“March 1935” – employed for about a month as a painter in the renovation of Customs House in Newcastle NSW. (p.30)

10th April 1935 – Norwegian tanker Herborg – Charles Mikkelsen signed on as a seaman in Newcastle. (p.30)

15th March 1937 – steamer Herborg from Singapore – expected in Auckland. (New Zealand Herald).

17th March 1937 – steamer Herborg – Charles Mikkelsen deserted at Auckland. Ran away. Did “farm work in the Waikato” for some months. (New Zealand Herald)

22nd July 1937 – arrested at Frankton. Was to be held no more than six months while awaiting a suitable Norwegian ship to be deported on. (Same New Zealand Herald article as 17th March 1937 entry).

[7th August 1937 – Norwegian tanker SS Svenor – arrived in Auckland from Balikpapan at 12:50pm. (Sydney Morning Herald and Papers Past).]

14th August 1937 – Norwegian tanker SS Svenor – completed discharge of petrol from Balikpapan and departed for that port. (Auckland Star)

24th August 1937 – SS Svenor – Charles Mikkelsen put ashore on Thursday Island with suspected appendicitis, and immediately admitted to Torres Strait Hospital. (p.37)

10th September 1937 – Discharged from hospital. (p.37)

25th September 1937 – SS Taiping – Departed Thursday Island.

3rd October 1937 – SS Taiping – Arrived in Sydney, stayed in Sailor’s Home. (p.34)

(About three weeks later) – took a job at Dalcross Private Hospital in Killara (p.34, p.30)

“February 1938” – the date that Mikkelsen’s still-unnamed fiancée intended to come across from New Zealand to get married to him (p.35)

16th February 1938 – Charles Mikkelsen was granted leave to stay in Australia, contingent on paying a £1 Landing permit. (p.22)

[28th March 1939 – SS Anten – ship arrived in Melbourne from Vancouver. (Burnie Advocate)]

(Earlier in 1939?) – SS Anten – joined vessel in Australia. (p.7)

11th August 1939 – SS Anten – signed off vessel at Newcastle. (Note that the Anten then got caught up in a port dispute over war bonuses allowance: and was then captured by Germans in November 1939). (Adelaide Advertiser and Port Pirie Recorder)

5th December 1939 – Anglo Maersk – signed on to the vessel’s articles in Melbourne. (p.11)

20th March 1940 – Anglo Maersk – absent on departure for Balik Papan (p.10) [on the east coast of Borneo]

30th May 1940 – M/V Tirranna – departed for Mombasa. (p.2)

10th June 1940 – M/V Tirranna – attacked by German raider Atlantis. Charles Mikkelsen (passenger) and four crew-members killed in the attack.

My Revised Opinion

It now seems to me that even though Mikkelsen’s account is somewhat convoluted on the surface, it does check out OK. So, alas, I now don’t believe that there were two Charles Mikkelsens both trying to emigrate to Australia at the same time: in the end, my conclusion from the documents taken as a whole is that the historical record is clearly telling us a very linear story about a single Charles Mikkelsen.

Moreover: even though I could easily accept that Charles Mikkelsen was the man Keith Mangnoson had worked with in the second half of 1939, and that Charles Mikkelsen was also probably the man the “unnamed woman living in Cheltenham” had met in 1930, I struggle extremely hard to reconcile the possibility that he was the Somerton Man with his apparent death in 1940 at the hands of the raider Atlantis.

I can easily see how Byron Deveson considers him an excellent candidate: but all the same, dying twice is something I can’t believe of Mikkelsen. Even so, perhaps some other evidence will surface – and I admit that I’ll still be very interested if the identity of Mikkelsen’s fiancée in New Zealand turns up – and prove me wrong. We shall see…

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

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.

HMS-Tuna-N94

(Picture source).

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).

herborg

(Picture source)

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:

NORWEGIAN DESERTER

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! 🙂

Trawling through the New Zealand shipping records for departures from New Zealand to Sydney for 1947-1948, it turns out that there were quite a few more to consider than just the Wahine. And so I went through them all. Though I filtered names out where I could (based on age), I included names where no age was given – but hopefully most of those will be easily cross-off-able.

What may be most interesting for some researchers is that the Marine Phoenix travelled from San Francisco to Sydney via New Zealand: and so, in one fell swoop, would seem to have the capacity to possibly join the American clues (Juicy Fruit + tailoring) and the New Zealand clue (Whitcombe and Tombs’ Rubaiyat) to the dead man in Australia.

MarinePhoenixPostCardFront

According to this very interesting page:

She was launched on the 9th. of August in 1945 by the Kaiser Shipyard at Vancouver Washington. 12,420 tons, 523 feet long with a 71.2 foot beam. One funnel, engine aft with a single screw and a speed of 17 knots. Built with accommodation for 3,800 troops.

The ship was thus too late to play any part in WW2.

Troopships were operated by Army Transportation Service with civilian crews, by the US Navy, or by the War Shipping Administration. The ship was managed by the Moore- McCormack Line for the US Maritime Commission.

Her maiden voyage on the 12th. of December 1945 was from Seattle to Nagoya Japan. She seems to have carried troops from Japan to Tacoma WA over the period 5th. of January/ 17th. of January 1946.

My report states she was laid up in Suisim Bay at San Francisco in 1947, but you thought your family sailed in her in 1948, perhaps that was, in fact in 1947, before the ship was laid up.

Anyway, here are a whole sackful of Eastern European names culled from these lists, make of them all what you will: I’ve carried out simple NAA searches where I can, but many of you can doubtless proceed much further if you so wish. 🙂

“Marine Phoenix” to Sydney, 26 May 1947

* Mr Herech Gildener (42) + Mrs Henryka Gildener (42) + Miss Renata Gildener (11) + Edyta Gildener (1) – Poland
* Mr Wolf Lewenkopf (47) + Mrs Mirla Lewenkop (37) – Poland
* Mr David Litman (52) – Poland

Hersch Gildener and David Litman are both listed in the NAA, but I couldn’t see the Lewenkop[f]s there at all.

“Marine Phoenix” to Sydney, 28 Jul 1947

* Mr Alush Emin (52) – Albania
* Mr Ludwik Menasohn (45) + Mrs Augusta Menasohn (37) – Poland
* Mr Jozef Perlen (52) + Stefanica Perlen (30) + Hyvka S. Perlen (39) + Ludwik Perlen (9) – Poland

Alush Emin is in the NAA (1947-1972), Ludwik Menasche [corrected spelling] likewise (1947-1947), and Josef Perlen (1947-1955). The Menasches appear in a paywalled 1968 Sydney Morning Herald, so we can rule them out. Jozef Perlen seems to have been born in 1903: his pre-war address is given here.

“Largs Bay” to Sydney, 04 Sep 1947

* Mr V Mischenko (42) Police Officer + Mrs V Mischenko (31) Domestic Duties + Master D V Mischenko (7) Student – Siberia
* Mr B Zarimba (38) Electrical Engineer – Russia

Vladimir Mischenko (born 24th July 1904, NAA files 1930-1947, but also document dated 1952), “B Zarimba” (“Zaremba”?) not found on NAA.

“Marine Phoenix” to Sydney, 06 Nov 1947

* Mr O Hanker (?) – Poland
* Mr J Pakula – Poland
* Mr J Zylber – Poland

According to the NAA, Oscar Hanner was born on 24th January 1922 (so would be too young for us); Jozef Zylber’s file is 1947-1972; while Jozef Pakula’s file is 1947-1947 (barcode 8781463 – note that there are two Jozef Pakulas as well as a Jozek Pakula listed).

“Annam” to Sydney, 19 Nov 1947

* Joe Lateiner (51) Hairdresser – Poland

No sign of Joe Lateiner: lots of hits for the pianist Jacob Lateiner, though.

“Rangitiki” to Sydney, 30 Nov 1947

* Mr M Sumic (47) Orchardist – Yugoslav
* Mr P Braun (43) Manufacturer – Czechoslavakian

No sign of either of these men in the NAA. Howeverm Trove has an advert for grapes on 26th February 1939:

GRAPES for Sale, White and Red Muscat. Passenger train 6/6 freight paid, M. Sumic, Swan View.

There appear to be plenty of Sumich family members in Swan View.

“Marine Phoenix” to Sydney, 29 Dec 1947

* Mr Solomon Berglas – Poland
* Mr Leon Bilczewski + Mrs Leon Bilczewski + Master Jacob Bilczewski (1) – Poland
* Mr David Fromberg + Mrs David Fromberg + Miss Miriam Fromberg + Master Grzegorz Fromberg (8) – Poland
* Mr Lew Frydman + Mrs Lew Frydman – Poland

NAA has a Salomon Berglas “[Austrian – arrived Sydney per Oronsay, 5 February 1940]” (file 1940-1947); NAA barcode 4309696 refers to “[Application for admission of Leon, Luba and Jakob BILCZEWSKI to Australia]”; but no sign of the Frombergs or the Frydmans.

Archives New Zealand has made seven million historical passenger records available online through an arrangement with Utah-based familysearch.org . The transcriptions were made by network of generous volunteers (though I have to say that the quality of the transcriptions varies, where a fair few of the pages I looked at were only partially complete).

And so, following on from my previous post, I thought I’d see if any male Balts or Poles aged 40 to 60 travelled on the Wahine from New Zealand to Australia in 1947 or 1948. This turned out to be an extremely short list:

Poles on the Wahine

* 09May1947 - N Szuchmacher - 47 - Printer
* 21Nov1947 - M Zable...... - 41 - Engineer (travelled with wife + two sons)
* 05Dec1947 - M Wilniewezyb - 35 - Priest
* 18Dec1947 - N Naum....... - 52 - Manufacturer
* 31Dec1947 - S Bilgorri... - 50 - Tailor

I included Father Michal Wilniewczyc because I have a nice photograph of him on the 5th December 1947. This was the very day that the much-loved priest left the Pahiatua Polish Children’s Camp in New Zealand, where 733 Polish orphans and half-orphans had been taken in 1944. Which is a story for another post entirely. 🙂

Michal Wilniewczyc 05Dec1947 about to travel on the Wahine

What of the others? N Szchumacher (spelt correctly) would seem to be the “Nojach Szuchmacher” referred to in a single document in the NAA from 1946, where he is a nominee for “RYBAJZEN Jozef [aka Aizen]”, who had apparently applied for naturalization in 1943. This “Nojach Szuchmacher” was without any real doubt the Noah Schumacher who (according to the NAA) arrived at Sydney on the Wahine on 13th May 1947. If it is correct that Schumacher’s file runs through to 1955 (as it appears to), we can probably rule him out as a candidate for the Somerton Man.

“N Naum” would appear to be Norman Naum (born 18th May 1895, died 12th May 1959, buried in Karori Cemetery in Nea Zealand), so I think we can rule him out too.

The Zable family – “Mrs H Zables” (Tailoress, 41), Master B. Zable (2), and Master A. Zable (8 months), both born in New Zealand – I traced through to their naturalization application in New Zealand: Zable, Myer (Zabludowski, Mejer); Zable (Zabludowski), Hodes Mrs. All of which (eventually) let me determine that Myer Zable was a poet and that he died on 31st July 1992 in Melbourne. So we can rule him out, too.

Finally: the tailor “S Bilgorri” would appear to be Solomon Bilgorri of 31 Fouberts Place, Regents St, London W1 (very close to Carnaby Street, naturally), who travelled from London to New Zealand on the Rangitata, departing 14th Feb 1947. Might Solomon Bilgorri have been the Somerton Man? The father of Harry ‘Sonny’ Bilgorri (the famous East End tailor popular among London gangsters) was also called Solomon Bilgorri (though he was born in 6th July 1893 and died on 14th June 1973, it says here), but I suspect these were two different people… though it’s hard to be sure. (‘Bilgorri’ itself was simply the name of a town in Poland.)

A small remark in the 2013 TV documentary on the Somerton Man seems to have escaped everybody’s attention. I covered the documentary here at the time, but arguably the most interesting bit begins exactly five minutes into the video (transcript as follows):

Kate Thomson: And… there was home life, and there was outside life; but I grew up very much that there’s a barrier between the two, and the two you don’t integrate.

Charles Wooley (voiceover): Today, Kate remembers a mother who was loving, but secretive – so secretive, she now believes that her mother was a Soviet spy.

Kate Thomson: She certainly said once she was teaching English to newly arrived migrants, and at the time there’d been a small group coming from Russia into Australia, and as she said to me, “Ah, I’m surprised that I can still quite understand Russian”.

Charles Wooley (as interviewer): She dropped that bombshell!

Kate Thomson (reported speech): “Yeah, so when did you learn Russian?” “Well, that’s for me to know.

At first sight, this would seem to achieve nothing apart from hosing a tankerful of petrol onto the already-long-burning conspiracy fires raging beneath the Somerton Man’s pyre-like heap of evidence. But in fact, if you carefully link what Kate Thomson is saying with the history of post-war migrants to Australia, a quite different picture emerges…

Postwar Migrants

I mentioned Ramunas Tarvydas’ (1997) “From Amber Coast to Apple Isle” here back in 2015 when I was first looking at the Electrolytic Zinc Co. of Australia’s mining operations in Rosebury and Risdon (both in Tasmania).

But Tarvydas’ book starts by describing how the very first wave of post-war Balts (i.e. Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians) came to Australia, from their arrival by boat in Fremantle to being allocated work.

The migration scheme had been set up by Arthur Calwell, the Minister for Immigration: because Australia had to “populate or perish” (p.6), migration from the enormous numbers of displaced persons (“DP”s) throughout Europe was – though as politically sensitive an issue then as now – the only real option to try to lift the overall economy.

Tarvydas states that “the initial intake for Australia was restricted to single men and women between the ages of 18 and 40” (p.7). Calwell also put in place a selection policy that favoured those immigrants who happened to be “white-skinned, with blue eyes and blond hair”. Not something that modern historians would look on with any great admiration, let’s say. 🙁

The first group of migrants was known as “the First Transport or Transport I […] 729 men and 114 women” (p.7): these “First Swallows” arrived at Fremantle on 28th November 1947. Four days later, the Balts were put on the HMAS Kanimbla (an Aussie troop-carrier), arriving at Melbourne on 7th December 1947, whereupon they were taken to Bonegilla camp.

Tarvydas asserts that many of the Balts in the first waves “were political refugees rather than immigrants motivated by economics” (p.17): all the same, I’m fairly sure neither account captures the entire picture. Even so, though the USAT General Stuart Heintzelman was supposed to have carried only labourers and similar workers on its first migration run from Europe to Australia, this was clearly not the case. Many of the Balts on board had had professional careers: for example, a lady (Mrs Augustauskas) who had formerly been a pharmacist in Lithuania was initially given a cleaning job at Calvary Hospital (though she later “resat her examinations and became a fully qualified pharmacist” (p.18)).

And so the problem is…

Now that you can see the external history a little more clearly and specifically, do you see the problem with Kate Thomson’s “Soviet Spy” interpretation of what her mother Jo Thomson told her?

The Balts – who made up a very large part of the early waves of immigration into Australia – did not primarily speak Russian. And at that time (and for decades afterwards) there were no waves of Russian-speaking migrants washing onto Aussie shores.

It therefore seems highly likely to me that the migrants Jo Thomson would have been helping to learn English were Balts or possibly Poles, because they were “coming from [what had become annexed into] Russia into Australia”.

Adelaide Migrants

Postwar, the Commonwealth Migration Office was based in Adelaide. And at the beginning of 1948, it was decided that a camp should be built for migrants not too far from Adelaide: this was Woodside, but it was only opened in 1949 (so is out of our date range).

The first sight Adelaideans had of these post-war migrants was in January 1948, when a group of 65 young Balts who had been allocated to work for the Water Supply Department building a new pipeline from Happy Valley Reservoir were accommodated in tents in a paddock in Bedford Park, just south of Adelaide. The press took lots of admiring photos of the strapping young migrants:

baltic-muscles

But (just as Tarvydas says), they weren’t an obviously good fit for the work that was on offer. A spokesman for the Engineering and Water Supply Department noted: “The Balts are not very keen on pick and shovel work. Most of them are young intellectuals — musicians, draftsmen, surveyors, electricians, medical attendants, engineers, and students. Not one was a laborer by occupation. They were picked from the wrong section of the community from our point of view. We want laborers.”

Moreover, it quickly became clear that four weeks of English language classes at Bonegilla hadn’t really been enough: even an op-ed piece of the day thought that the authorities should do something about it (Why oh why? cont. p.94). The young lad Olaf Aerfeldt who was the Bedford Park Balt’s unofficial interpreter had only got there by chance, flipping a coin to choice between Australia and South America (pp.42-46): but they needed to learn English. And – as you can clearly see from this photo – they were anxious to learn, but had no lessons:

anxious-to-learn

At this point, several local people – Mrs and Mrs Lyall Fricker, Peter McDonald and L. A. Tepper – stepped forward to offer their services as volunteer teachers. Though things seemed to have improved somewhat by May 1949.

Finally: I’ll leave the story of how 280 Polish ex-servicemen were discharged in Adelaide on 30th September 1947 for another day: they formed arguably the very first large wave of migrants from mainland Europe, predating the “First Swallows” by a few months. But who’s counting?

And so…

To my eyes, there seems to have probably been only a relatively small window when Jo Thomson would have been helping Adelaide migrants to learn English: late 1947 (when they started to arrive) to early 1950 (when the flow of big migration boats stopped). And there were basically no Russians at that time: mainly Balts and Poles.

If some of the migrants who had formerly lived in Bedford Park were asked if they remembered Nurse Thomson, what would they say? It would be interesting to find out, I think: it might give us a better idea of how that side of her life worked. It probably wouldn’t stop the crackling conspiracy fires (though these may well continue burning, regardless of whatever happens to be uncovered in the future), but it would be good to know, right?

Adelaide Railway Station (Again)

One last thing: while trawling through Trove, I found an Adelaide News article from 20th November 1948 about Balt women working in Adelaide Railway Station that I thought I’d share with you:

balt-waitresses

[Mrs Natalia Aerfeldt at top, Mrs Vera Plume at bottom left, and Mrs Anna Kirkmann at bottom right]

Three newly arrived Balt women working in the refreshment service at Adelaide Railway Station have husbands training as railway porters here.
A 17-year-old son of one couple is a youth cleaner in the department.
Mrs. Anna Kirkmann, who serves in the dining room, was a bank manager’s private secretary in [Estonia] before the war, and later worked for Unrra.
She arrived here with her husband, Paul Kirkmann, on Thursday as members of a party of 55 Balts.
Other railway family groups besides the Kirkmanns are Mr. Janis Plume, Mrs. Vera Plume, and their son, Roberts, who are
Latvians, and Mr. Bronius Lukavicius and Mrs. Jule Lukavicius, who are Lithuanians.
Mrs. Kirkmann is living with her brother at Glenelg. The married men and Roberts are at the railways hostel at Islington. The other women are in refreshment service quarters at Adelaide Station.
Balts with the railways total nearly 400. Seventy men are porters and cleaners; 100 are being trained for that work, and the remainder are divided between south-east gauge broadening and metropolitan maintenance work.
Mrs. Natalia Aerfeldt, also in this week’s party, is the mother of Olaf Aerfeldt, interpreter at the waterworks camp at Bedford Park. Olaf’s father has gone to Globe Timber Mills, Port Adelaide.

And so there you have it – even by late November 1948, Baltic migrants were working in Adelaide Railway Station, embedding themselves right into the very texture of the Somerton Man’s story.

Who’s to say that he himself wasn’t a migrant?