I thought I’d share with you the following email I recently received via an anonymous remailing service:

This is being written to you on behalf of a large group of Voynich theorists. Even though we disagree amongst ourselves on everything to do with the Voynich Manuscript itself (which some of us prefer to refer to as the “so-called Voynich so-called Manuscript”), the two things we do all whole-heartedly agree about are (1) how much we despise your pathetic crusade against us, and (2) how much we abhor your ridiculous insistence on primary evidence and testable hypotheses.

Be assured that when one of us does eventually manage to prove definitively that it is a Mongolian shamanic handbook, a heretical medieval suicide manual, or a stranded alien’s diary, the short term pain of finding out that the rest of us was wrong will be amply wiped out by the long term pleasure of mocking you derisively for the rest of your stupid, pointless life.

You just don’t seem to realise that proper ‘Voynich research’ is in no way historical or scientific. Don’t you understand that it is we who established the one basic ‘fact’ of the discourse long ago? The thing that we made true (by repeating it so many times that it became a fact) is that nobody knows anything definite about the Voynich Manuscript. This is the frame of reference everyone is now compelled to use, and neither you, Wikipedia, René so-called Zandbergen, or indeed anyone else can move outside it: howl at the moon all you like, you’ll achieve nothing.

So you’re just wasting your time trying to make (what you conceitedly and falsely like to think of as) ‘progress’. Anything you try to assert, we deny immediately: it’s just physics, stupid. Moreover, anything you can conceive of asserting, we have probably already denied ten times over. Assert/deny, assert/deny, assert/deny: you really bore us.

Look, can’t you get it into your thick head that we theorists pwn the Voynich big-time? The Beinecke may be the institution who owns the Voynich Manuscript, but that means diddly squat against our total pwnage. Why, when there’s no obvious shortage of rent-a-mouth academics out there, do you think Yale struggled so badly to find anyone to write anything remotely sensible in their recent so-called photofacsimile? They were wasting their time swimming against our tide, just like you’re wasting yours.

OK, we’ll admit there was a brief period during which you were marginally useful to us: that was back when having a post in Cipher Mysteries putting down one of our theories was a bit like a badge of honour. We even had special gamified medals produced, to show off which one of us had had the smarmy Cipher Mysteries treatment (how we laughed): but since you’ve stopped doing even that, we’ve all got tired of your meanderings and not-so-funny posts.

So this is just a collective email from us to say goodbye to you. Even though Voynich research is still stalled in the same cul-de-sac it ever was (which is, by our reckoning, is about a perfect a scenario as can be hoped for), we’ve all moved on from you and your stupid blog. You’re yesterday’s man, if not the day-before-yesterday’s man: not interested, la la la.

Why don’t you go research the Phaistos disk or something else unbelievably lame, and leave the Voynich to the people who really own it? Maybe you’ll find some saddo historians out there who want to read your useless drivel: we certainly don’t.

What is the difference between theories and metatheories? Given that the former can sensibly range from hand-wavy general theories (“the Voynich Manuscript was written by a mad alchemist“) to specific theories (“the Voynich Manuscript was written by a young Leonardo da Vinci, using his right hand“), the debate is more whether we can usefully differentiate between metatheories and general theories.

For me, however, the key attribute that distinguishes Voynich metatheories is that they have a certain ‘turn’ to them, a kind of pivoting self-referentiality that their proponents use to explain away just about everything difficult. For example, hoax theorists (such as Gordon Rugg) respond to almost any attempted historical objections (e.g. those surrounding the apparent paradox of using a 16th century mechanism to create an apparently 15th century manuscript) by saying that “well, obviously the hoaxer was so clever that he/she deliberately made those apparently discordant details look that way”.

They then often go on to point out that the more discordant details the hoaxer had to fake, the more obviously brilliant the hoax: and therefore the more we should admire the brilliance both of the hoax and of the man (yes, it’s normally a man) who was clever enough to notice such a brilliant hoax. And so a Voynich metatheory is a thing that arguably focuses more on explaining away that which doesn’t fit than positively accounting for anything it does sort of fit.

Omphalos

It shouldn’t require particularly deep contemplation before you notice more than a flicker of similarity between the structure of this argument and Omphalos creationism, courtesy of the naturalist Philip Henry Gosse in his 1857 book Omphalos.

“Omphalos” is the Greek word for navel: at the time of Gosse’s book, it was widely believed that Adam (in the Garden of Eden) had a navel despite not having come from a mother’s womb. The conclusion that Gosse famously drew from that is that when God made Adam, He made him complete with a navel: an argument that Gosse then triumphantly upscales to all the geological and fossil evidence that superficially seems to argue against the clearly well-proven Biblical History that showed that the Earth was created in 4004 B.C.

God, then, was something like the ultimate hoaxer: for rather than merely hoaxing some ‘ugly duckling’ unreadable book, He actually hoaxed the entirety of time and space to make it look as though the Earth was older than its ‘actual’ age (6021 years or so). As hoaxes go, you’d have to admit that this is top drawer stuff.

Of course, modern creationists have (ironically enough) evolved far more sophisticated arguments than Gosse ever did: but, frankly, I have to say that I’m not wildly interested in either Gosse or them. All that’s important for us here is that Creationism is, similarly, designed far more to explain away that which doesn’t fit the Bible than to explain that which does.

And what holds for Voynich hoax theories broadly goes for other Voynich metatheories focused on explaining all the difficult stuff away: for example, that the Voynich is glossolalia, or channelled, or some kind of otherwise inspired gibberish, or even a shipwrecked alien’s diary (I kid you not, *sigh*). Or even, with more than a half-nod in Stephen Bax’s direction, that Voynichese is composed of the scattered polyglot fragments of so many different languages that we can only recognise a tiny handful of words here and there: all of which anti-linguistic turn is also a metatheory, because it seeks not to explain the few words it grabs but to explain away the 99.9% or more of the other words it fails to account for. Foolishness.

There is, of course, already a large literature on a large field of constructivist mental endeavouring very similar to these metatheories: it is, by another name, pseudoscience. There, the whole point of pseudoscience isn’t to produce theories that can be tested (and possibly disproven), but instead to produce metatheories that are logically impervious to criticism – i.e. that use their central ‘turn’ to invalidate counterarguments.

This also has the effect of making those metatheories impervious to testing, and to refining, and to improving: and thus leaves them far more akin to something handed down in a Very Important Book Indeed. But you knew that already.

In the end, the only thing that separates Voynich metatheories from pseudoscience is that the people putting forward Voynich metatheories tend to be more interested in the postmodernist self-amusement of their ‘turn’ (a kind of awesome wonder that nobody else seems to have noticed how much their metatheory explains away) than in actually engaging with proof or disproof.

And if that’s a good thing, I’m a monkey’s uncle. Or he’s mine. 🙂

I should mention that there’s another André Nageon lurking in a gap in the Nageon de l’Estang timeline (slightly after the others that I covered in parts one to four): and he actually has quite a funky story attached to him. 🙂

André Nageon vs the Monster

There are a number of fleeting mentions of André Ambroise Nageon de l’Estang‘s time in the Seychelles in “Population et vie quotidienne aux Seychelles sous le premier empire” by Joël Eymeret, in “Revue française d’histoire d’outre-mer” Année 1984, Volume 71, Numéro 262, pp. 5-29.

But given that André Ambroise Nageon de l’Estang died in 1798, it must surely be his son about whom a particular anecdote was told. Eymeret repeats the tale, but it actually first appeared in “FRAPPAZ, Les voyages du lieutenant de vaisseau Téophile Frappasz dans les mers des Indes”, texte publié et annoté par Raymond Decary, in-8°, Tananarive, 1939, pp.108-109:

C’est ainsi qu’André Nageon passe dans la légende : Créole de haute stature et d’une force prodigieuse, faisant défricher les terres il y a environ quinze ans [c’est-à-dire en 1803] il s’éloigna un peu des travailleurs pour sonder un marais. A peine eut-il commencé son opération qu’un gros cayman, caché dans les roseaux se dressa sur sa queue, pour s’élancer sur lui. L’apercevoir, deviner son intention et le saisir à bras le corps fut pour l’intrépide M. Nageon l’affaire d’une seconde : et luttant ainsi avec son terrible adversaire, il sut maintenir l’égalité du combat jusqu’à ce que des noirs accourus à ses cris, l’eussent aidé à terrasser le monstre qu’il avait combattu avec tant de courage

…i.e. (my free translation)…

It is thus that André Nageon passes into legend: a tall [white] Creole of prodigious strength, while clearing land there about fifteen years ago [i.e. in 1803] he went a small way away from the other workers to survey a marsh. As soon as he started his work, a big cayman, hidden in the reeds, lifted itself by its tail to jump on him. Noticing it, guessing its intention and wrapping his arms around its body took the intrepid Mr. Nageon no more than a second: and it was in this manner, struggling with his terrible opponent, that he managed to keep it at bay until the blacks, having flocked to his cries, helped defeat the monster he had fought against so bravely.

But this is surely the same André Nageon de l’Estang who is mentioned as selling some land in 1815 on Henri Maurel’s site (through which all manner of genealogical goodness flows):

Le 5 Octobre 1815, Antoine [Maurel] fait l’acquisition de André NAGEON DE l’ETANG de deux parcelles de terrain à Victoria.

And so the Seychellois Nageon de l’Estang family marched forward from there to the modern day, one can only presume. 😉

One of the intriguing (yet annoyingly hard to pin down) parts about the third Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang letter BN3 (that I have argued was probably written by an as-yet-unidentified French corsair some 60 years after BN1 and BN2) is the claimed link to Napoleon Bonaparte.

As the letter-writer puts it:

Avec la bienveillance que le Premier Consul m’a témoigné après un fait d’armes glorieux, je serais parvenu

…which is to say (in English)…

With the benevolence the First Consul showed me after a glorious feat of arms, I had hoped to return [to France].

There’s actually a lot of historical timing data implicit here. Napoleon Bonaparte was Premier Consul during the period of the French Consulate (from 12th December 1799 to 18th May 1804): and it was during this period that he instituted various ways of rewarding the brave. Hence the most straightforward inference from the line in the BN3 letter would indicate that the letter-writer was honoured by Napoleon during this period (when he was Premier Consul).

However, we also know that the letter-writer was a seaman: and it wasn’t until 9th August 1801 that Napoleon started to honour bravery at sea, specifically by giving haches d’abordage d’honneur (‘boarding axes of honour’). The last ever three haches were awarded on 24th September 1803, after which date the nation’s bravest seamen were instead inducted in the Légion d’honneur by way of a thank-you-for-not-quite-dying-on-our-collective-behalf.

Just so you know, the haches themselves looked like this, and were engraved with the recipient’s personal details:

Recently, I spent some time trying to work out if the letter-writer might have been in the état-major of Capitaine Jacques Perroud (one of the last three hache d’abordage recipients – and, for what it’s worth, I’m now almost certain that he wasn’t).

But while doing so, it struck me that we might instead be able to tackle this whole problem backwards. That is, I wondered if we could build up a list of all the people who received a hache d’abordage d’honneur, because this unknown person’s name might well be on that list, right in front of us.

The 53 haches d’abordage d’honneur

And so that’s exactly what I did: and have just now posted my list of all the hache d’abordage d’honneur recipients I could find to the Cipher Foundation website. However, of the 53 supposed recipients, I was only able to find 50, despite painstakingly cross-referencing my list against several other lists.

Usefully, though, short biographies of almost all the recipients appear in the historical record (the published Fastes, etc): which means that we can eliminate as candidates all these heroic French seamen whose marine resumes fail to match other details we know about the letter-writer.

And yet… now that I’ve ground my way through the biographies of the fifty listed recipients, I can honestly say that I don’t think the corsair who wrote BN3 is included there.

I’ve also gone through many more biographies of seamen inducted into the Légion d’honneur between 24th September 1803 (the date when the final three haches were awarded) and 18th May 1804 (when Napoleon ceased to be Premier Consul), and haven’t found anything. In fact, it’s hard not to notice that nobody (apart from Capitaine Jacques Perroud) who sailed in the Indian Ocean seems to have been honoured for their bravery during this period.

So this whole research avenue is, unfortunately, starting to look like a bit of a cul-de-sac: if the letter-writer was indeed rewarded by the “Premier Consul”, then unless he was one of the supposed missing three recipients (whose names I haven’t yet identified), I can’t obviously see who he was. Which is a huge shame, but it is what it is.

A few years back, Bill Walsh sent me a (fairly early, as I recall) draft of his vaguely-Voynich-Manuscript-themed novel to have a look at. And now that a proper copy has finally landed on my doorstep, all finished and shiny, the inevitable question arises…

Is it any good?

Tales From The Black Chamber: A Supernatural Thriller

First things first: anyone who fills their bookshelves solely with High Literature can look away now. “Tales From The Black Chamber” was written more as an amuse-bouche, to the point that many of the book’s protagonists were simply light-hearted pastiches of Bill’s friends at the time. He even mentions me (p.110) as an interesting Voynich theorist (but don’t hold that against him, it’s mercifully brief).

His story races past all manner of things cryptographic and demonological, with a sassy female bibliophile main character who gets swept up (mostly unwillingly) in a world-spanning story that’s far more fin du monde than fan-fic. Even though knowing a bit about Richard Kieckhefer and the history of magic circles beforehand might help the reader a little, such research fare is certainly far from essential here. Oddly enough, I didn’t remember the story’s ending at all from when I read it the first time round (perhaps it changed along the way?), but it did wrap everything up quite satisfyingly.

So… what are the scores, George Dawes? Well, my arithmetic goes like this: Tales From The Black Chamber gets four stars, basically for being pacy, genuinely readable, not outstaying its welcome, and having characters you don’t actually want to punch after half a page. The extra half a star I’d really like to give it for The Best Gratuitous Inclusion Of A Mongolian Shaman gets cancelled out by The Worst Job Offer (And Least Plausible Job Acceptance) In History Ever Ever (Ever), along with the main characters’ hyperactive overuse of weaponry (despite the fact that this has become completely par for the course in a primarily American genre, arguably).

Even though Bill seems never to have expected it to turn out so well, I think he’s ended up doing a damn fine job: and anyone who secretly enjoys the warm buzz of reading about necromancy and the supernatural that always seems to be a mere half-step away from the Voynichian research mainstream will probably enjoy his book. Good luck, Bill, I hope it does well! 🙂

PS: doubtless some people (OK, mainly Americans) will actually rather enjoy all that gun fetishry, but it’s a big Internet out there, with plenty of space to write your own reviews if such a thing wouldst pleaseth thee greatly. If so, then go ahead, knocketh thyself out. 🙂

Put wrestling fan US President-elect Donald Trump in the ring with the Voynich Manuscript, and who would win? Actually, the two may be more evenly matched than you think…

For a start, both are surrounded by groups of people who claim to know what they mean (but almost certainly don’t), while remaining utterly unfathomable.

And as far as street cred go, both have appeared in the Marvel Universe: Trump in New Avengers Vol. 1 #47

…and the Voynich Manuscript in “Black Widow & The Avengers” #18:

Black-Widow-And-The-Avengers-Voynich

It’s also hard not to notice that the Voynich Manuscript author’s apparent obsession with (mostly) naked nymphs…

…oddly parallels Trump’s long association with (and indeed ownership of) Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and Miss Universe (just try not to mention Miss Mexico, that might not end well):

Moreover, they are both big on the East Coast (New York and New Haven respectively), where both have achieved notoriety, each in their own unique way. Also, it’s hard not to find anyone commenting on either Donald Trump or the Voynich Manuscript who doesn’t in some way use them as blank canvases, projecting what they want (or perhaps fear) to see onto them.

Yet perhaps this hard-to-pin-downness and malleability (qualities eerily like those of the Voynich), ultimately, formed the core secret of Trump’s success at the presidential polls: given such a long series of mixed and often contradictory messages, people – like so many Voynich theorists – heard what they wanted or hoped to hear, who can say?

And finally, both arguably achieved their biggest public goals in November 2016: on the 1st, the Voynich Manuscript was published by Yale University Press in a sumptuous (if largely uncritical) edition…

…while on the 8th, The Donald defeated The Wicked Witch. Just like a fairy tale, right? (Which is, of course, not the same as a happy ending – the Brothers Grimm were often as grim as their name.)

To my eyes, perhaps the most unsettling comparison between Donald Trump and the Voynich Manuscript is that November 2016 also marked the end of a quest for them both: a quest for respectability, to become part of the Establishment… but on their own terms. By which I mean that they are both (I think) now starting to re-cast and reinvent the whole idea of what the Establishment means in 2017 and beyond.

Will it be long before swathes of politicians remould their ever-fickle personae in Trump’s image, or before history textbooks start to use the Voynich Manuscript as didactic material? Right now, I’m not sure I’m massively comfortable about either of these paths, to be honest: but perhaps both are now somehow inevitable.

Me, I’m neither a fan nor a critic of Donald Trump: yet I can’t help but be struck how his quest for the Presidency was effectively won via a prolonged gladiatorial beauty contest, much like a peculiar merger of both his love of wrestling (a televisual theatre of pre-teen anger) and Miss (Whatever) pageants (a televisual theatre of sexless beauty).

And I can’t help wondering if – like Voynich researchers, ever reaching for the apparently unattainable – it will turn out that he was more driven by winning the ultimate competition for political power than the idea of actually holding the reins (and the burdensome moral responsibilities) of high office. Similarly, would the Voynich Manuscript still hold its particular appeal if we could read it, if its quest for meaning was finally over?

I was mooching round the British Academy’s website a little earlier (I was trying to find the Neil Ker Memorial Fund, which I had forgotten the name of), when I noticed its page on British Academy Conferences – this is where ‘any’ UK citizen can propose a conference on any subject (as long as they’re prepared to run it themselves, and don’t mind being turned down with no reason being given).

And so the (as yet hypothetical) question naturally follows: if I was organizing a British Academy-hosted conference on the Voynich Manuscript, how would I approach the challenge? What should that kind of Voynich Manuscript conference look like?

What Isn’t Worth Looking At

It’s easy enough to list all the things I wouldn’t want to let onto the podium:
* Voynich theories [– too boring for words –]
* Voynich metatheories [– too sad for words –]
* Voynich iconography / iconology [– too free-floating for words –]
* Voynich linguistics [– sorry, but it’s just not written in an obscure language –]
* Voynich cryptology [– sorry, but it’s just not written in any obviously categorisable cipher –]

Some may be surprised that I would exclude both Voynich linguistics and Voynich cryptology. The simple reason for this is that I very strongly believe that we still don’t know enough about the Voynich’s basics to do meaningful analysis about either. For example, the existence of “Neal Key”-like behaviour offers a strong counter-argument not only against any kind of simple-minded linguistic take, but also against any kind of straightforward substitution cipher argument derived from a reading of cryptographic history.

The only reference to fifteenth century non-syllabic transposition ciphers I know of is a brief passage in Alberti’s book which I read as a reported speech account of a debate between Alberti and a transposition cipher practitioner. There is (unless you know better) not even one pre-1500 non-syllabic transposition cipher cryptogram still extant.

And so Voynich research is still in a position where neither linguistic approaches nor historical cryptological approaches have any ‘moral high ground’ to argue their respective cases. The Voynich Manuscript laughs pityingly at both camps’ feeble efforts.

So… what would I want attendees to be discussing, then?

The Joy Of The Concrete

As per my recent list of 100 Voynich (research) problems, there remains – despite all the excellent work that has been done since the Beinecke first released digital scans in 2004 – a huge amount of fundamental stuff that we still don’t know about the Voynich Manuscript.

The problem with not knowing how pages, paragraphs, lines, words, and even letters were constructed at a really basic level is that this makes it extremely difficult to know whether our transcriptions are a help or a hindrance. What order were lines written? (Philip Neal points to evidence that some line interleaving may have taken place in at least Q20.) What order were strokes in letters written? (Back in 2006 in “Curse”, I pointed to evidence that on some pages, the terminal EVA ‘n’ stroke of ‘daiin’ may have been added as a separate pass). And so forth.

Hence the core stuff I would want conference attendees to focus on is purely that-which-is-concrete: things that can be seen, highlighted, measured, cross-referenced, scanned, indexed, counted, etc. What were the original gatherings and their nesting orders? What happened to those gatherings to turn them into quires? What construction stages can we solidly identify? (There must be close to twenty of them, is my current best estimate). Can we order (or even date) these construction stages? What, ultimately, was the alpha state of the manuscript?

But this isn’t just a matter of assembling some codicological dream-team (even though many of the most basic unanswered questions are clearly codicological in nature). There’s also the tricky matter of the Currier Hands and the f116v marginalia (which would require a great deal of palaeographical expertise to untangle): and also the taxing matter of the differences between the various Currier languages, which is something closer to meta-linguistics than linguistics per se.

In all cases, the central include-it/don’t-include-it criterion would be whether any given analysis would advance our knowledge of the Voynich without having to assume any given historical narrative or theory far beyond the basic radiocarbon dating.

Never mind being carbon-neutral, could such a conference be theory-neutral? My hope is that it could, but I do appreciate that this is something many Voynich researchers could easily find difficult to work to, or to achieve.

Linguistics vs meta-linguistics

I think it’s fair to say that the long-term relationship between Voynich research and Voynich linguistic research has not been greatly productive. Given that the mainstream Voynich research position has for more than fifty years been that Voynichese is simply not a “language” in any straightforward sense of the term, it is dispiriting to see Stephen Bax continually raking over the same barren concrete surface, ever-announcing to the world that the few motes of dust he has accumulated do in fact do actually form the basis of some über-obscure hybridized historical linguistic system over and above mere statistical chance.

Would out-and-out linguistics researchers such as Stephen Bax be welcome at such a conference? With the putative roles reversed, Bax has certainly made it clear online that mainstream Voynich researchers (errrm… particularly me, it would seem) would be distinctly unwelcome at any Voynich-themed seminar he would organize.

But what annoys me so much about Bax isn’t that what he puts forward is just plain wrong (even though it is), but that by mistakenly telling all and sundry that the challenge of Voynichese is one where its beginning, middle and end all fall inside a purely linguistic domain, he utterly misrepresents the specific difficulties it poses.

Rather, what Voynichese does present to researchers is an overlapping combination of linguistics (e.g. actual language content), meta-linguistics (content transformation, e.g. abbreviations, codes, and transposition), and misdirection (e.g. substitution and steganography). Hence the primary difficulty we face with Voynichese is more one of determining its internal boundaries: what is misdirection, what is language, and what is meta-linguistics? If Voynich linguistic researchers could successfully accept that this question is the real one we need to answer before trying to push forward, then perhaps we could all start to work together in a reasonably productive way.

So I have to say I’m hugely encouraged that at least one Voynich linguistics researcher out there (Emma May Smith) has recently started looking in a genuinely agnostic way at all the difficult stuff that confounds those who try to stick to fairly simple-minded linguistics accounts. If only more linguistics researchers followed her example. *sigh*

Raman Imaging

There is a final twist: in the ideal world of my imagination, the conference stage would be part-laboratory too, with a live link between a Raman imaging device in New Haven looking at a series of pages of the Voynich Manuscript, sometimes through a microscope. The conference attendees would be able to discuss and propose different tests live, so that they could see “under the skin” (sometimes literally) of the manuscript.

But once you throw that into the mix, would this even qualify as a “conference” any more? Or would it actually be closer to some kind of Reality TV historical research happening, in a way that’s so acutely of-the-moment that it hasn’t even got its own annoying hashtag yet?

Put that way, should I be thinking in terms not of the British Academy, but of Channel 4 and Smithsonian TV?

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’s well known that f1r (the very first page of the Voynich Manuscript) has an erased ownership mark. Under UV light, you can see that it says (something along the lines of) “Jacobj à Tepenece / Prag” (Photo Credit: © ORF):

For everyone who isn’t heavily invested in some kind of hoax-centric Voynich Manuscript meta-theory, the presence of Jacob Tepenecz’s mark on the first page would seem to be a pretty good indication that he was an early Voynich owner. Combining that with the mention of Emperor Rudolf II in the Marci letter would suggest that the Emperor himself was quite likely also an early Voynich owner (though no direct evidence of that has yet been found).

What’s almost completely unknown is that the Voynich Manuscript seems to me to have probably also had a second ownership mark: only this time, the erasers physically excised the whole bottom section of the foldout page containing it.

The Voynich owner’s mark on f102?

The two-panel recto (front) of f102 looks like this…

…while the two-panel verso (back) of f102 looks like this:

Note that the folio number at the top rght of the left verso panel was obviously added while the panel was folded back: and that the number at the bottom right of the right verso panel is a quire number. Let’s look a little more closely at the recto side of the excision:

Here we can (I think) clearly see that this section was cut out after the plant drawings had been added to the page, and also after the paint had been added to them. And as for the verso side of the cut:

Looking closely at both sides, I think you can also see the difference in quality of cut between the original bifolio cut edge (bottom right, beneath the ’19’ quire mark) and the later excision’s edge: the former is nice and clean, while the latter is ragged, as if that cut was done with a cutting tool that was not quite as sharp.

Dating the Layers

Given that the paints used here are untidy (and, truth be told, a bit nasty), it would seem reasonable to infer that these were probably added by Jorge Stolfi’s putative “heavy painter” very late in the Voynich Manuscript’s life: say, not too far from 1600 or so. All of which would seem to imply that this section of vellum was removed after that date.

And given that the f1r ownership mark was erased some time after 1609, I think it would be reasonable to conclude that this section of the bifolio was probably excised at the same time. While it’s possible that Baresch cut this out when he was (apparently) cutting out various single pages from different sections to send to Kircher, my judgement is that that’s a far less likely scenario.

Missing pages and heavy paint aside, the only other thing in the manuscript that seems to have been messed around with in any significant way is the ownership mark on f1r: hence it seems likely to me that f102v had also had some kind of ownership mark added to it in the blank space next to the ’19’ mark, that was removed at the same time.

And that in turn suggests to me that this quire mark was not ’19’ (as in ‘the number after 18’), but that it was instead a fifteenth century ‘1-9’ (i.e. ‘prim-us‘). Which in turn suggests to me that this quire and the other pharma quire were a pair of freestanding quires / gatherings in a separate book, that was merged in with all the other quires. As I wrote in Curse in 2006, there seems strong visual evidence (from the sequence of jars that progress from simple to complex) that what is now Q17 originally came after Q19.

Furthermore, there seems to be evidence of stitching holes on the exposed (and somewhat worn and discoloured) fold of f102: the presence of these holes and discoloration suggests to me that f102 may originally have been folded and nested rather differently to what we see now.

This also suggests to me that Q20’s quire number was probably added by a different (and later) hand to the hand that added the Q19 quire number, but one trying to ape the style of the Q19 quire mark hand. I therefore predict that these will turn out to have been written in very different inks.

Reading the Invisible

At this point, you might ask: so what? Even if this was indeed an ownership mark that was excised, what does it matter? Who cares?

Well: what’s interesting is that I think there is a small chance that we will be able – with just the right imaging technique – to see traces of whatever was written on f102v1 faintly imprinted on f102r2. Alternatively, we might be able to detect the faintest of contact transfers carried across onto the facing page (i.e. f103r).

In both cases, these would probably be far too subtle to see with the naked eye: but if we are determined enough to find a way of looking at precisely the right piece of vellum in precisely the right way, who can tell what we’ll find there?

…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.