I grabbed the opportunity to go to the National Archives in Kew for a short while this morning to have a look at some prize papers – papers in the archives relating to the capture of ships.

In almost all cases, these are made up of depositions and submissions to the Prize Court about who should be rewarded for the capture. In a few lucky cases, though, the bundles include log books and lists of crew members.

Because I’ve recently been thinking about whether the “Captain Hamon” in BN3 (the final document of the three commonly attributed to Bernardin Nageon l’Estang) might actually be Jacques-Félix-Emmanuel Hamelin, I wanted to see La Vénus’ prize papers. Might they include a list of ensigns and sailors? It was worth a look.

HCA 32/1752 is divided into two parts: La Vénus’ prize papers are in Part 2. But unless you really enjoy grinding your way through interminable longhand legal wrangling, I would only recommend them over (say) Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. By which I actually mean: not at all.

The Timeline Problem

But the overall process of putting together the picture of Hamelin and La Vénus has revealed what could very well be a timeline problem with the “Hamon == Hamelin” hypothesis.

19th November 1809: Hamelin and his ship La Vénus were captured by HMS Boadicea
10th December 1810: Hamelin and the other Prisoners of War were sent on the Bombay Merchant to the Port of Morlaix (near Brest)
2nd February 1811: three frigates sail from Brest – Renommée (Commodore François Roquebert), Clorinde (Captain Jacques Saint-Cricq), and Néréide (Captain Jean-François Lemaresquier)
February 1811: Hamelin arrives back in Brest.
12th February 1811: Tamatave was captured by the brig HMS Eclipse
6th May 1811: the three French frigates arrive at Mauritius
19th May 1811: Roquebert’s squadron reaches (and recaptures) Tamatave
20th May 1811: Tamatave again falls to the British (though this time for good).


Ideally, we would expect this timeline to square with BN3:

I’ve been sick since the fall of Tamatave, despite the care of my friend the commander
When I am dead, Captain Hamon will give you the little that I possess that I saved during my adventurous life at sea.

From this, it would seem that BN3 was written either after the first fall of Tamatave (12th February 1811) or – perhaps more probably – its second and final fall (20th May 1811). Yet by then, Captain Hamelin had been captured for over a year and had been returned to France. Moreover, Hamelin, despite subsequently being made a Rear Admiral by Napoleon I and having his name engraved on the Arc de Triomphe, never again returned to the Indian Ocean.

I don’t know if this timeline definitively rules out the Hamon / Hamelin hypothesis: but it’s certainly not supportive of it just yet.

More as it happens.

When I looked again at the “Le Butin” documents a few days ago, I noted that I thought BN3 (the third letter, apparently dating to not long after the Fall of Tamatave in 1810) had been written not by Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang, but by someone else entirely – someone who had ended up with Nageon de l’Estang’s Will and other documents.

Whereas Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang seems (from his letters) to have thought and acted like a pirate, this unidentified other person seems by contrast to have thought and acted like a corsair (i.e. a French privateer). I know there’s a lot of practical overlap between the two categories, but the two men’s core motivations seem to have been quite different, along with their use of language.

If we abandon the idea that the third letter (“BN3”) is in any way connected to Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang, can we use the internal evidence to identify the missing corsair who appears to have written it? It would seem that:
* he was from a family in France whose ancestral house remained but whose proud splendour had long faded;
* he had a “beloved brother” called Etienne, who had at least two sons;
* he was alive after the Fall of Tamatave in 1810 (though weak, and fearing death);
* he had (almost certainly) been on a ship under a “Captain Hamon” (Jamon?) not long before;
* his “glorious feat of arms” had been rewarded by none other than Napoleon Bonaparte, the First Consul;
* he was on the Apollon’s ill-fated last sea mission in 1798;
* at “our last battle with a large British frigate on the shores of Hindustan”, the dying Franc-Mason captain had given him “his secrets and his papers”, leading to buried treasure; and
* there were three documents about the treasures (though it would seem that we only have seen two of them).

Incidentally, I’ll return to the “last battle with a large British frigate” at a later date (I now have a strong suspicion which battle that was): but right now I’m more concerned with the Apollon.

The Apollon Crew List

After a previous spectacular success when captained by Jean Francois Hodoul, the 12-cannon Apollon (now captained by Louis Le Vaillant) was captured in 1798 by HMS Leopard. According to the prize documents in the National Archives at Kew, it had either 132 or 137 men on board.

If our missing corsair was – as BN3 suggests – on the Apollon’s last sea mission, then we should be able to see his name on the crew list. Furthermore, I think it would seem more likely that he was a sailor, ensign, or pilot than a volunteer, cook, or carpenter: and we can very probably rule out anyone with a non-French surname or any of the “noirs liberés” on board.

Hence I have image-enhanced roughly half of the crew list, numbered them, and placed them on a new page on the Cipher Foundation website.

The first two names on the crew list are very straightforward: Louis Le Vaillant and Jean Francois Hodoul, the latter of whom left the ship at the Seychelles (according to a note in the margin):

001-Louis Le Vaillant

002-Jean Francois Hodoul

However, there are plenty of other names on the crew list that I’m far less certain of, so this is very much a work in progress.

Could I therefore please ask those readers with experience of reading older French handwriting if they would contribute, by suggesting what the other crew members’ names are? I have made some obvious-looking readings to try to get the list going, but this is not something I can claim any great expertise in. Please leave your comments either on this page or on the Cipher Foundation page and I’ll integrate them into the list, crediting you on the page for your help if you like.

Incidentally, I’m simply not allowed – as normal with historical archives – to publish the raw images of the crew list from Réunion on the web. But feel free to email me (nickpelling attus nickpelling dottus commus, hopefully you can read Latin email addresses) if you are a researcher who would like to see more from a particular page etc.


Films and TV typically depict code-breakers as genius mathematicians running clever programmes on the fastest computers of their day – but for the kind of code-breaking I do, putting it into a computer is almost always the last step, not the first step.

In fact, there are close to a hundred things historical code-breakers like to try to work out first, such as:
* Who owns it?
* Who owned it in the past?
* Does it look genuine?
* Is there anything that might prove that it’s a fake?
* Was the code connected to any other documents?
* Are there references to the code in other documents?
* Is there any extra writing directly linked to the code?
* Do we know who the code-maker was?
* What was the code-maker’s situation?
* Who was supposed to be able to read the code?
* Are there any other documents written using the same letter shapes?
* Why was there any need for a code at all?
* Is it a code, or a cipher, or something in-between?
* Was each line of text written left-to-right or right-to-left?
* What language was the hidden message probably written in?
* Does the code’s text have any unusual features?
…and so on.

In short, if you ask your computer to work out what a message says in English when it’s actually written in German, it’s never going to find an answer, is it?

And the more that you can work out for certain before you try breaking the code, the greater the chance you will actually solve it.

Are Ricky McCormick’s Notes In Code?

Though I’ve covered Ricky McCormick’s mysterious notes here before, the short answer is…

No, they’re not.

When Ricky McCormick dropped out of school, he was barely able to read or write: the system had failed him completely – perhaps he was dyslexic, it’s hard to say. His parents “told investigators he sometimes jotted down nonsense he called writing“; that “the only thing he could write was his name“; and that Ricky “couldn’t spell anything, just scribble.”

The poor quality of the handwriting in his notes is completely consistent with the suggestion that he wrote them himself. And if he could barely write English, writing notes to himself in code seems extraordinarily unlikely.

So if you start off (as the Wikipedia “Ricky McCormick’s encrypted notes” page does) by assuming that Ricky McCormick’s notes are encrypted, I believe you have already doomed your code-breaking attempts to failure.

Personally, I can’t come up with even a single reason why the FBI ever thought that they might be in code (in the sense of a cryptographic code).

But we still might be able to read them…

Reading Ricky McCormick’s Notes

I think the most likely explanation for the notes is that they are written in (what is effectively) his own private language – notes to himself that nobody else needed to be able to read.

I’ve marked up the top few lines of the second note so that you can see some of the groups of letters (such as “WLD” and “NCBE”) that occur again and again:-


One mystery is why the “SE” pair occurs so often: perhaps that was related to a speech quirk he had.

Also: the bottom line of the first note has a sequence that seems to say “(194 WLD’S NCBE)”. This makes it look as though both “WLD” and “NCBE” are nouns, and that (whatever they actually are) a “WLD” can own a “NCBE”… but that’s as far as I can go.

When we read these notes, I think we’re hearing inside Ricky McCormick’s head. But until we talk with the people who knew him, know his speech patterns, know his world… we’ll probably never make sense of them.

When, as so often happens, a cipher mystery’s genuine history gets overlaid by multiple layers of wishful thinking, unpicking them all can prove extremely difficult. In many cases, those extra layers can end up offering at least as much of a barrier to research as the original artefact itself.

This is, essentially, where things stand with the historical mystery surrounding Bernardin Nageon l’Estang. Originally referred to in the newspapers of the 1920s as the “Chevalier de Nageon” or Chevalier Nageon, he has now become better known as “Le Butin”, i.e. ‘The Booty’ (a cipher for raw greed if ever there was such a thing).

The three letters famously linked to him would seem in principle to place the man at the scene of all manner of Indian Ocean corsair / privateer / pirate / sea-action / derring-do circa 1790-1810: but in close to a century of searching, nobody has yet turned up a scrap of practical evidence that he ever existed.

What on earth is going on?

Dating BN1 – The Will

The first document is, without much doubt, a Will. It leaves possessions to “my nephew the reserve officer Jean Marius [Jean-Marie Justin] Nageon de l’Estang […] My writings are deliberately difficult to read as a precaution; I would tell Justin if I were to retrieve them first.”

According to sources on Ancestry.com, Jean-Marie Justin Nageon de L’Estang was born on the 8th August 1770 in Mauritius, and died on the 9th May 1798. So it would seem that we should be able to date this to before 1798: and if we could find out when this Jean-Marie Justin became a reserve officer, we might also be able to squeeze out an earliest date for this Will. But that’s about as far as we can go with it.

Dating BN2 – Letter to Justin

This letter begins “Dear Justin” (so was almost certainly to the same Jean-Marie Justin Nageon de L’Estang mentioned in BN1), and has a French Republican date at the top: “20 floréal an VIII”, i.e. 10th May 1800. However, given that Jean-Marie Justin Nageon de l’Estang died in 1798, this immediately seems problematic.

Emmanuel Mezino skirts this issue by asserting that the date must therefore have actually been “20 floréal an III” (i.e. 10th May 1795) and was mistranscribed. It is also possible that at the time of writing, the writer didn’t yet know that his nephew Justin was dead… it’s hard to be sure either way, given that nobody seems to have actually seen these documents in decades.

BN2 says that “a true friend will give you my will and my papers”, so we can also probably use this to date BN2 to after BN1.

Dating BN3 – Letter to Etienne

The third letter brings with it an abrupt change of tone: the writer is now concerned less about concealed booty than about what retrieving that booty can do for (French) patriotism in the hands of a (French) Freemason. The writer’s meagre possessions are also in the care of a Captain Hamon (Jamon?), which seems to run counter to BN1.

The writer of the third letter also notes that “I’ve been sick since the fall of Tamatave”: this marked the Invasion of île de France, where the French finally surrendered on 3rd December 1810. So this letter BN3 would seem to have been written in early 1811 or so.

The writer also mentions his “adventurous life before embarking on the Apollon” – the Apollo was built in 1796, sailed out of Boston, was then captured at Brest, was captained by Jean Francois Hodoul in 1797, but was then captured by HMS Leopard in 1798 (I’ve gone through the prize papers). The misadventure alluded to would therefore seem to be the capture of the Apollon in 1798. But there was no Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang in its final crew list.

All in all, BN3 doesn’t sound to me as though it came from the same person who wrote BN1 and BN2.

The Missing Pirate

Sifting through all this evidence, I find myself being led towards a new conclusion: that if Bernardin Nageon l’Estang was indeed the author of BN1 and BN2, it now seems very probable to me that someone else entirely wrote BN3. That is, it seems more likely to me that BN1 and BN2 were the documents owned by the “captain […] on his deathbed”, and passed to the writer of BN3 (who wasn’t Bernardin but someone else entirely). Which is not at all to say that Nageon l’Estang was the captain, but merely that the dying captain owned BN1 and BN2.

In which case, it would seem that we have perhaps identified a missing pirate: and so should be looking not for Bernardin Nageon l’Estang, but for someone
* who was on the Apollo’s ill-fated last sea mission before being captured (there is a crew list still in existence);
* whose “glorious feat of arms” had been rewarded by the First Consul (Napoleon Bonaparte);
* who had a “beloved brother” called Etienne;
* and who was still alive at the Fall of Tamatave in 1810.
It’s not an insurmountable task, I think: and now that we can state it in such bald research terms, perhaps answering it will prove to be possible…

However, as far as BN1 and BN2 goes, there is one additional problem I really need to mention…

The Indus Problem

BN1 mentions “un demi-terrain rivière La Chaux au Grand-Port, île de France, et les trésors sauvés de l’Indus, savoir“. Reading this the other day, I wondered to myself where the by-now well-worn phrase “Trésors [sauvés] de l’Indus” originally came from, just in case it was a phrase ‘out of time’ in the same way that “stampeding” seems to be a phrase out of time in the Beale Papers.

According to Google Books, “Trésors de l’Indus” was from a couplet in the first part of the well-known 1804/1805/1806 poem “La Navigation” by Joseph Esménard:-

Et du golfe arabique échangeant les trésors
De l’Indus étonné reconnaissaient les bords

So: if the use of this phrase was inspired by La Navigation, it would mean that BN1 dates to after 1805 or so. Which would consequently make both BN1 and BN2 (which refers to BN1) fakes.

Ultimately, then, the evidence seems to lead us to suspect that BN1 and BN2 could well be post-1805 fakes, while BN3 may be a genuine letter by an as-yet-unidentified seaman, who had genuinely received BN1 and BN2 from a captain on his deathbed, who (in turn) had genuinely believed them to be real (even though they weren’t).

Thus is the twisted yarn of cipher mysteries oft arrayed.

PS: Revue des Deux Mondes

Incidentally, when I searched Google Books for the phrase “trésors sauvés de l’Indus”, it appeared in an article in one of the 1935 issues of the long-running French high-culture literary review journal “Revue des Deux Mondes” (Google lists it as being on “page 343”, though this seems to be of a collection of all 24 (?) issues published in 1935).

However, Gallica’s scans of Revue des Deux Mondes only currently go up to 1930: so I’d be extremely grateful if anyone can get access to what this says at some point, rather than the version of the letters given in a 1962 book by Robert Charroux (i.e. the ones on the Cipher Foundation page), just in case Charroux happened to have misquoted them, which is always possible with treasure hunters, sadly.

If sweary, angry, nihilistic (yet oddly well-informed) Australian rock ticks your boxes, The Drones would surely be for you. Their plinky take on the Somerton Man mystery (which they call “Taman Shud”, the genuinely incorrect Aussie spelling) starts on familiar territory…

who ditched that fox-gloved snitch?
loaded him with poison like a puffer fish
why don’t anybody feel like crying
for the Somerton somebody with the hazel eyes?
he’s gone and no one even cares at all
the earth won’t answer and the sea don’t mourn
for all of the probing into whether he exists
the question’s still as open like a radar dish
late 1948
is sending a transmission but its inchoate
why did anybody feel the need to lie
‘less that’s Warsaw on the seashore
on the day he died?
don’t nobody wonder where he’s been?
no tags no wallet
and his brains dry-cleaned

…but then quickly sprawls sideways into contemporary commentary, la-di-da-di-da.

To all of which I’d say: maybe the Somerton Man was a snitch, maybe he was poisoned, maybe he was a Soviet spy, sure, feel free to subscribe to all the long-running fantasies all you like… but maybe he was instead just a working class bloke bumping along the bottom at a time of poverty and uncertainty.

At this point, many traditional rock critics would spin away to assert (something along the lines of) that the song is ‘clearly’ using the Somerton Man’s apparent exclusion from society to amp up the band’s ongoing critique of racism and of blow-hard know-nothing Aussies (including the entire political class, left and right).

But that would, of course, be utter tosh: any song with the word ‘inchoate’ is just knobbery, albeit entertaining knobbery. I like it, though: and I guess that’s all that really counts. Here’s the video (which is even more fun than the song):

Taman Shud [lyrics]

(From Feelin’ Kinda Free (Side A))

thud thud my heart pumps blood
when ever someone talks about my taman shud
who ditched that fox-gloved snitch?
loaded him with poison like a puffer fish
why don’t anybody feel like crying
for the Somerton somebody with the hazel eyes?
why don’t anybody feel like crying
for the Somerton nobody with the hazel eyes?

thud thud my heart pumping blood
when ever someone talks about my taman shud
he’s gone and no one even cares at all
the earth won’t answer and the sea don’t mourn
i don’t give a fuck about no Anzacery
i don’t care you got it interest free
i ain’t gonna fret about Lest We Forget
fuck the Murdoch press
i don’t get hung up on any carbon tax
or Ned getting strung up for being a psychopath
i ain’t really there with any class warfare
the only thing i care about’s the

thud thud my heart pumping blood
when ever someone talks about my taman shud
he’s gone and no one even cares at all
the earth won’t answer and the sea don’t mourn
for all of the probing into whether he exists
the question’s still as open like a radar dish
late 1948
is sending a transmission but its inchoate
don’t hate me for not caring ‘bout you losing your job
i think you’re gonna suit being a welfare slob
i don’t give a toss about no southern cross
or the gulag union jack
i don’t give a fuck if you can’t stop the boats
i ain’t at a loss if Simpson’s donkey votes
i don’t care about no Andrew Bolt
or even Harold Holt
it’s clear as
mud mud my taman shud
everybody mouths off
while they’re chewin’ cud

thud thud my heart pumps blood
when ever someone talks about my taman shud
why did anybody feel the need to lie
‘less that’s Warsaw on the seashore
on the day he died?
don’t nobody wonder where he’s been?
no tags no wallet
and his brains dry-cleaned
i don’t give a fuck about fuck off we’re full
i ain’t gonna send my kids to private school
i ain’t gonna grieve about no BHP
no silver spoons or mining booms
i don’t give a fuck about your brick and tile
i don’t really care if you’re a paedophile
i don’t care about no Master Chef
it’s as appetising as a whistle blower’s doom
or any French cartoon
nothing like a prune to make the death cults bloom
why you think the whole world’s gotta be like you?
fuck western supremacy
i ain’t sitting around being gallipolized
one man’s BBQ’s another’s hunger strike
why’d i give a rat’s about your tribal tatts?
you came here in a boat you fucking [—-]
my taman shud
everybody mouths off
while they’re chewin’ cud

thud thud my heart pumps blood
when ever someone talks about my taman shud.

Klaus Schmeh has just published a page on a previously unknown “Eliza” Masonic grave slab somewhere in Ohio, courtesy of Craig Bauer (Editor of Cryptologia, and who has a book on unsolved ciphers coming out next year).

Klaus’s commenters quickly worked out that it was actually the grave of Eliza Biehl (born 27th May 1862, died 2nd September 1915) buried in the Amboy Township Cemetery in Fulton, OH. It looks like this:


Klaus’s commenters quickly pointed out that the “John 3 – 16” on the left almost certainly refers to John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life“.

The right hand side is a Masonic pigpen cipher (obviously), but with a twist: it is actually enciphered from right-to-left, and so reads:


It was actually a very nice piece of tag-team code-breaking, well done to everyone involved. 🙂

I’ve mentioned one particular Masonic gravestone back in 2008: but it turns out there are plenty of others out there, a few of which Klaus covers in this post on his site.

But here’s one he missed: that of John Farmer Dakin:-


Here’s the plaintext if you’re too bone idle to work it out for yourself (it’s not hard, go on):


Full bonus marks if you notice why this might give computer solvers a minor headache. 🙂

There are also various acrostic Masonic grave markings that occasionally turn up, such as FNDOZBTKC (which stands for “Fear Not, Daughter of Zion: Behold, The King Cometh”), and AHRHPCASDE (“And He reached her parched corn, and she did eat”).

Two More Masonic Gravestones…

But the real meat-and-two-veg of cryptic Masonic gravestones are pigpen cipher inscriptions: and so here are two more for you.

The first was from Dalkeith in Midlothian, and was cracked by amateur code-breaker Stuart Morrison. However, only really the headline of the story is on the web (i.e. no solution) and the image of the ciphertext isn’t really good enough to work with (in my opinion).

Dalkeith, St. Nicholas Buccleuch parish church. Stuart Morrison, who has cracked cipher on masonic gravestone.

If someone has access to a better quality image of this, that would be a good help. 🙂

And finally, a Freemason called Henry Harrison had some pigpen on his gravestone.


Can you crack either of these? 🙂

For me, the Internet is a truly fabulous thing: in little more than a generation, its rapid growth has transformed the way that people find and communicate with each other, and has erected what is effectively a single global stage for a staggering number of people to become actors upon simultaneously.

For arguably the first time in history, we Netizens are part of a global grouping that brings people together right in their own houses. Surrendering access to this has become unthinkable: WiFi / broadband has marched right up the list of human needs to the #4 position, just behind shelter, clean water, and food.

Yet what I love so much about the Internet is not just its freedom of expression but its tolerance of diversity – any web page can be visited by people from a vast set of nationalities, ages, religions, and opinions. To my mind, it should be a given that different people have different points of view: and that we therefore all need to learn not just to tolerate those differences, but by treating them with humour, dignity and respect, celebrate and integrate them in an overwhelmingly positive way.

Diversity and History

History, though, sits awkwardly with this worldview, because it is a discipline built on two opposing strategies. On the one hand, it would be a dull historian who did not have access to his/her widening, creative side to fill evidential gaps, using empathy and pragmatic common sense to suggest imaginative ways explanations. And yet on the other, it would be a foolish historian who did not also have a narrowing, logical side that uses disproof, deep reading, attention to detail and rigorous thought to close down foolishnesses.

This widening / narrowing duality sits, to my mind, at the core of what it means to be a good historian: tempering the fire of empathic imagination with the cold steel of historical logic is what it is all about.

On the Internet, though, History struggles to express this duality comfortably. Blogs and uncritical forums offer safe sandboxes for historical imaginations to run wild, proposing all manner of alt.history, counterfactual history, pseudohistory and pseudoscience: but without the narrowing faculty to counterbalance this widening, what gets posted can quickly degenerate into a one-sided caricature of History, rather than anything approaching a useful asset in getting to the truth of what happened.

In short, the “History” I see written on the Internet relating to the things I research and know about brooks no disagreement, let alone accepts any criticism: its authors see the whole idea of narrowing as an insult to their right to personal expression, and as such treat any form of questioning as if it were a personal attack on them, and in turn often respond disrespectfully and abusively.

“Internet History”, really?

But History is not a fiction to be written how you like. It is evidence-driven hypotheses about the past behaviour of real people who just happen, in most (but certainly not all) cases, to now be dead. My opinion – which sadly seems to be shared by few others – is that these real people have as much right to respect as living people, even if by dying they have inadvertently foregone their legal right to sue.

What all too often gets described as “Internet History”, then, is something formed into the general ‘shape’ of History but without logic (and hence without balance), and without respect for the dead (or even the living).

Even though the authors of these pages would like to pass them off as History, the point I am trying to make is that this is the one thing that they are not – for without logic, without balance, and without respect, I think they have moved sideways into a completely different area altogether.

The problem is that we lack a word to describe this other area: it’s not History, and it’s not even “faction” (fiction threaded around a densely factual backdrop) because the authors typically do not consider it fictional at all. What should we call it? “Junk History” (a term used ironically to describe Gavin Menzies’ Chinese fantasy concoctions) is just about as close as I personally can get.


You may well have your own words. 😐

The Difference…

My suspicion is that the explanatory diversity of Internet historical theories that spring up is misread by many as an parallel expression of the cultural diversity of the Internet: and that we should (so the theory goes) therefore just leave them be – let a thousand (diverse) flowers bloom, no matter how wonky or twisted their stems.

However, the explanatory diversity of different proposed “Histories” (where usually at most one of them can be right, hence they are all in competition with each other) is not at all similar to cultural diversity (where each culture has found its own way of living simultaneously with all the other cultures).

What is missing from “Internet History” is (a) the ability to disagree with people amicably; (b) the ability to accept that there is a greater-than-90% chance that any given theory is wrong; and (c) the ability to face up to evidential problems in any given theory.

In short:
* It’s OK to be different – diversity isn’t an optional extra, it’s part of the whole Internet package.
* It’s OK to disagree – it’s a natural consequence of being different.
* It’s also OK to be proved wrong – better that than waste years of your life on something which was broken from the start, surely?

A new person of interest to Somerton Man researchers is Margaret Alison Bean (formerly Miss Alison Verco, and more usually referred to in the newspapers of the day as Mrs. Arnold Bean). She was a popular South Australian socialite, often mentioned by Australian newspaper social columnists such as “Lady Kitty”.

Here’s a picture of her at Joy Denbigh-Russell’s secret wedding in 1940 (she’s third from the left, in what the Daily Telegraph described as “a black angora frock and silver fox cape, and a small black velvet toque. Her corsage posy was of white hyacinths“):


The Time Line

The time period we are interested in is from Alison Verco’s wedding to Arnold Bean (Chief Inspector of Mines in Malaya) on 11th April 1947 through to her death on 5th July 1949.

9th July 1947
From Sydney comes news of Mrs. Arnold Bean, formerly Alison Verco, who has arrived from her home in Kuala Lumpur, Federated Malay States, on a visit. She plans to stay in Sydney until her husband arrives a little later to join her for long leave. Mrs. Bean is hoping also to visit Adelaide to see her many friends here.

17th July 1947
MRS. ARNOLD BEAN, formerly Miss Alison Vercoe, of Adelaide, is visiting Sydney from her home at Kuala Lumpur in Malaya; she expects her husband to join her in September.
She lunched at Prince’s this week with Mrs. Max Clark.

27th July 1947
IT’S grand to see Mrs. Arnold Bean again. She was the popular Alison Vercoe, of Adelaide, and since her marriage has been living in Malaya. Her husband will arrive in Sydney sometime in September.

4th August 1947
During a visit to Sydney to meet Mrs. Arnold Bean, formerly Alison Verco who has arrived from Kuala Lumpur, Federated Malay States, Dr. and Mrs. Ronald Verco stayed at the Hotel Australia.

31st October 1947
MR. and Mrs. Arnold Bean (she was formerly Miss Alison Verco, of Adelaide) arrived in Adelaide this week, and are staying at the Berkeley Hotel. On Monday week, Mr. and Mrs. Bean will leave to spend two months’ holiday with Mrs. H. O’H. Giles, at Victor Harbor. Mrs. Giles is Mrs. Bean’s sister.

By 30th December 1947, the couple were in Adelaide, having holidayed in Victor Harbor.

Yet on 24th January 1948, the news headline was that she was “Now Out Of Hospital“, and “living for the next few weeks in the home of her sister, Mrs. Alec McLachlan, at Pennington terace, North Adelaide. Iveagh Perry has come down from Southport, Queensland, and is staying with Mrs. Bean.”

When the McLachlan family returned from Victor Harbor a month later around 21st February 1948, the Beans moved to “Glenelg to stay with Mrs. H. P. McLachlan for a fortnight”.

20th March 1948
Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Bean, who have been staying with Mr. and Mrs. Hew O’Halloran Giles at Medindie since their return from Glenelg, will motor to Sydney tomorrow. They will spend a fortnight there while waiting to sail for their home in Kuala Lumpur, Federated Malay States.

20th March 1948
TOMORROW Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Bean will leave for Melbourne, en route for Sydney and eventually Penang. Mrs. Bean, who was formerly Alison Verco, has been in South Australia for several months.
The first part of the vacation was spent in the family house at Victor Harbor, and later she visited members of her family in town.

21st August 1948
Mrs. Arnold Bean, formerly Alison Verco, will arrive next month from Singapore on a short visit.

13th November 1948
TOP — On their way to lunch yesterday (from left) Evelyn Scarfe, her Melbourne guest Miss Thelma Halbert, Mrs. Linden Wood, and Mrs. Arnold Bean, of Singapore, (formerly Alison Verco, of Adelaide).

26th November 1948
Mrs. Arnold Bean will leave on Tuesday to fly to Singapore, where she will change planes and go on to Kuala
Lumpur to join her husband. Mrs. Bean, who was Miss Alison Verco, of Adelaide, has been staying with Miss Evelyn Scarfe at Glenelg. She hopes to return to SA next September with her husband.

30th November 1948
Visiting Adelaide from Sydney are Mrs. Charles Lloyd Jones and Mrs. B. M. Stranger. Lunching at the South Australian Hotel with Mrs. Arnold Bean, they showed smart, new styles.

1st December 1948
Mrs. Arnold Bean, who has been staying with her sister Mrs. Hew O’Halloran Giles at Medindie during the later part of her visit to Adelaide, left by plane yesterday for Sydney on her return home to Malaya.

11th March 1949
News comes from Malaya that Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Bean, of Kuala Lumpur, went to Hongkong recently for a holiday. Mrs. Bean was Miss Alison Verco, of Adelaide and Sydney.

12th April 1949
Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Bean, of Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, have arrived in Adelaide. They are in Mr. and Mrs. John Skipper’s flat, at North Adelaide, for a fortnight.

And then she died:

5th July 1949
BEAN.- On July 5, Margaret Alison, beloved wife of Arnold Bean, of 2 Palm street, Medindie.

6th July 1949
BEAN.- On July 5, Margaret Alison, beloved wife of Arnold Bean, of 2 Palm street, Medindie.

7th July 1949
BEAN.- On July 5, Margaret Alison, beloved wife of Arnold Bean, of 2 Palm street, Medindie.

17th November 1949
MARGARET ALISON BEAN Late of 2 Palm Street, Medindie in the State of South Australia. Married Woman, Deceased.- After fourteen clear days Arnold Bean of 2 Palm street Medindie aforesaid, retired mining engineer, the executor to whom probate of deceased’s will, dated 13th June 1949 was granted by the Supreme Court of South Australia in its Testamentary Causes jurisdiction, on 16th August, 1949, will APPLY to the Supreme Coutt of Victoria that its SEAL may be AFFIXED to an Exemplification of the said Probate.

J. COLIN STEDMAN solicitor 339 Collins street, Melbourne.

I recently found this page from last year (2015) on Quire 13 (Q13) of the Voynich Manuscript, where the writer asks if anyone knows how the late Glen Claston got to his (2009) idea that the quire was originally written in two halves.

I still have the emails Tim sent me (both dated 7th March 2009), so I thought it would be nice to share them here (only very lightly edited)…

Glen Claston on Quire 13 (Part 1)

[Block quotes here are from my reply to him]

Basic VMS rule – “Major topics always start with a page of text – okay, at least almost always, except when they don’t”.

76r is the only full page of text, so it should be the beginning.
76v is medical, and there is only one other medical bifolio to line up with.
80r – medical, and when placed against 76v, the little guy pitching star dust at the top right of 76v works with the line of women on 80r.
80v- the last purely medical page, so all medical pages are now in order with the text page first.

This leaves 79r/v and 83r/83v on the back of this section with the topic of Galenic humors/astral fluxes. The only bifolio that fits in between these that of 77r/77v/82r/82v. Put in that order we transition from medical to biological to Galenic humors.

Per John Grove, 78v and 81r are the center of the quire, identified by the connected drawing across the pages. I agree with that assessment, but the only problem here is that the two remaining bifolios do not deal with topics related to the other three bifolios, and therefore appear to form a separate quire. This has nothing to do with the order of binding, it has everything to do with the flow of connected thought coming from a rational mind.

By my judgment, two sections were originally composed, set completely apart from another, and later interleaved. I would have to call them Q13a and Q13b. Here is the order:

Q13a – medical – biological – Galenic

76r/76v – bifolio 2 > medical
80r/80v – bifolio 5 – flipped > medical
77r/77v – bifolio 3 > biological
82r/82v – bifolio 3 > Galenic
79r/79v – bifolio 5 – flipped > Galenic
83r/83v -bifolio 2 > Galenic

Q13b – Balneological

84r/84v – bifolio 1 – flipped > balneological
78r/78v – bifolio 4 > balneological
81r/81v – bifolio 4 > balneological
75r/75v – bifolio 1 – flipped > balneological

There are a couple clues that say Q13b was written after Q13a, but I’d have to do some research to make this claim firm. A scatter plot of these pages from my transcription would be desirable to see if the text separates along the same lines as the visuals do.

Anyway, I’ll look at it a bit more, but spending a few minutes on it and refreshing my memory, this is where I sit on the nature of Q13.

Glen Claston on Quire 13 (Part 2)

Thanks for the notes on Q13. First thing is that I completely agree there is definitely a difference in kind between Q13a and Q13b. For a start, Q13a has nymphs doing weird stuff in just about every margin (apart from the text-only page), while Q13b just has nymphs in bath-type scenarios.

In short, Q13b does indeed look like a two-bifolio bath quire, while Q13a looks like a three-bifolio weird-stuff-with-pipes quire (not sure if I can quite get all the way to “medical” from where I currently am, but we’re motoring in the same kind of direction). So, good call, very well done! 🙂

As far as the page order goes, Q13b seems locked down, so we can put that to one side for now. For Q13a, f76r looks to me like the first page as well (as it would), so I’m very cool with that: but what of the final two bifolios?

You suggest that f76v faced f80r because of the top-right man apparently throwing stuff over to the people at the top of f80r, and that that would place f76v, f80r, f80v (three similar “medical” pages) in order in a block. Conversely, I suggested that f76v faced f77r because of the wiggly lines in both drawings (Curse p.64); because that would make the “rainbows” on f82v face the similarly arched pipe on f83r; and because they are currently adjacent (though that’s by far the weakest of the three reasons, admittedly).

But actually, I’m pretty comfortable with both orderings, because I suspect we’re pretty much bumped right up against the limits of what it is possible to infer from these drawings (in the absence of further evidence). All the same, splitting Q13 into /a and /b does make it very easy to narrow down what to go looking for in the codicology (basically, contact transfer from the very earliest layers of ink and paint) that might support or refute these basic ideas.

Incidentally, looking at f83v as the back page of Q13a does make me wonder whether this was quire X of the manuscript, as the big (and rather incongruous) drawing 1/4 of the way down does happen to have a giant ‘X’ visually embedded in its design. Just a thought! 🙂

I sort of anticipated your comment that you can’t tell medical from anything else at this point, I know I didn’t bring you up to speed on how and why I’m making such distinctions. It’s really a rather lengthy presentation of evidentiary procedure, something I’m having to write up in bits and pieces because I hate concentrating on it too long. Basically it started with looking at drawings such as the “four seasons”, or the “four winds” drawing on f86v3, and realizing that there is an underlying methodology of symbolism to the drawings that opens doors to the other drawings. For instance, if I were to ask a modern to draw a cloud, we’d probably all now draw a cloud similarly, since we all know the standard representation. But this guy didn’t have many standard guidelines that I can find. The four winds were commonly depicted as bellows, and the basic bellows structure is evident here as well, but the bellows are also drawn as cloud-like structures. The winds are evident and can be discerned, with the warm southern wind, the icy northern wind, and the eastern and western winds that bring snow and rain. So we can then determine what a cloud looks like in this guy’s mind, and what a bellows or strong gust/influence looks like. We know what ice looks like, we know what rain looks like.

The next part, and the lengthy part, was going back to Galenic books and matching the symbolism in the writings to the symbolism of the drawings. It’s just one of those things that when you start to nail one thing down, another and another follows, until you can finally understand the imagery to some degree. I never had much use for art appreciation classes, and I don’t think they were meant to do this kind of forensic discovery, but I think this is along those lines.

The three “medical” pages I’m keeping together all have medical instrumentation and treatments depicted in the drawings, with the same color scheme and sometimes multiple examples of the same device, so these clearly stay together as one single line of thinking. There’s the fumary treatment and syringe (douche bladder) on 76v, on 80r the suppository tool, the tweezers, the herb balls (or pessaries), and that ring thing I’ve been asking about, which I’m doing research on right now and think may also be an early vaginal pessary. The last purely medical page, 80v, has the syringe, the ring and at least two examples of aromatic baths. This page also has a drawing of some kind of hair or scalp treatment. These three pages are very heavily medical in their imagery, and since they are all on the same topic of treatments, they should be together.

The biologicals aren’t really about human biology, they represent the Galenic medicine view of the influences of humors on the internal organs. The artist depicts humors differently from astral influences, and astral influences differently from meteorological influences. Smoke is drawn differently from a cloud, and astrological bellows (forces) are drawn differently from wind bellows. This works not just for one drawing but across the spectrum of drawings, which I really like. If I were to write about this on the list it would go unheeded, but only in understanding the nature of the representations made by the author can one understand what he’s drawing, and once that level of understanding is reached, this all starts to have parallels in other medical writings, when no other approach finds enough parallels to be credible. But then again, had I actually started out with some degree in medieval codicology or something like Panovsky had, it wouldn’t have taken nearly this long to reach conclusions he’d already reached through brief examination, eh? 🙂

As another aside, looking at f84r and f75v as the outer two pages of Q13b, I don’t really get any kind of outer-side-of-the-quire feel from them. So I strongly suspect that there was once an additional outer bifolio to this (otherwise very small) quire which has got lost along the way.

Yes, it does seem to be incomplete.

Additionally, seeing Q13 as having been formed by merging two smaller quires would perhaps help explain another odd thing. If the two pharma wide bifolios (Q15’s f88-f89 and Q19’s f100-f101) originally sat side-by-side (100-101-88-89, as per the apparent progression of the jars), then that would be another example of two small quires sitting adjacent to each other, but having subsequently been turned into conventional nested quires in order to be bound.

My suspicion there is that the absence of original quire numbers on Q19 and Q20 could simply be because (a) as the final quire, Q20 was never actually numbered, and (b) when the quire numbers were first added, there might well not have been a Q19 at all – the bifolios in Q19 might well have been bound up inside other quires completely.

I think the next section I need to re-examine for my notes is the pharmaceutical section. I too have some unanswered questions about this section.

If you look at all the different handwritings used for the quire numbers (Curse p.17 is quite handy for this), do you get any kind of feeling that bifolios were on the move both before, during, and after the quire numbers were added?

Ah yes, well it just so happens that I’ve had your book handy just for such discussions. See, I’m not entirely ignoring you! 🙂

Basic differences of opinion, Q5 comes out in Jon Grove’s filter has having the same black ink component as that of Q6, when what you call Quire Hand 1 has no black ink component. Q19 and Q20 are definitely afterthoughts of someone, but because of ink and hand differences, we are in agreement that the quire marks are not all in the same hand. Some are probably added by binders in the same style, and I think I can probably match up the quire marks of this nature with the ink and hand of the particular binder. As we’ve seen with Q8 though, the quire marks (at least some of them) existed before the foliation, so this makes me think that the basic order was established before the two major binding sessions. I *think* (suspect without evidence) that the first three quire marks may be from the author himself, placed there in the first three herbal quires before the herbal-b’s were added, and no other quire marks are his, they were added by binders because the first three quires had quire marks, and the addition would have added a look of consistency to the bound book. I’ve always been of the opinion that if it was bound at all while in possession of the author, this would have been one of those loose bindings so common to workbooks, and nothing at all permanent. Just a thought. Speaking of quire marks, what scenario did you come up with to explain Q5 extended to Q3? It’s probably in your books somewhere, but please refresh my memory.

I think you understand what lies beneath that drives my quest for knowledge, I think you share this. I get so frustrated with people who say “we can’t know”, and usually invoke this phrase in defense of their own positions. I don’t think we can know everything, even after the book is read, since I think we both know there are substantial missing parts that will never be discovered. I think however that careful, educated examination and a rational approach can yield enough information that what we don’t know will be little.

A central pillar of Mormon history is the so-called “Anthon Transcript”, which I have described in reasonable detail on the Cipher Foundations website: this was shown to Professor Charles Anthon in February 1828.

Yet there is a key problem: the description of it given by Anthon in letters dating 1834 and 1841 differs markedly from the image of a “Caractors” page (a document presumably still deep within the LDS’ X-Files-like archive) that is often described as being the “Anthon Transcript”.

In 2012, a better quality image of the same Caractors pages taken around 1884 was discovered in Clay County Museum in Missouri: and this image shows that the full piece of paper then had “The Book of Generation Adam” written on it, which would date it to not earlier than (and probably very close to) 1830.

This implies clearly and unambiguously that there is now no good reason for anyone to think that this “Caractors” sheet is related to the “Anthon Transcript”, simply because it would appear to have been written some two years after Charles Anthon was shown the Anthon Transcript. So there is no logical way that the two items can be the same thing: sorry but they just can’t, and that’s that.


I therefore see no possible theological objection if anyone tries to decrypt the letters on the Caractors sheet: and given that we now have a far higher quality image to work with than we ever did with the original Caractors image, there’s no obvious reason not to give it a go.

So if anyone wants to try, I’ve created a worksheet you can print out and work with (by inserting blank space between the seven lines of text) – just click on the following image to get a reasonable resolution (a higher quality source image would be even nicer, if anyone happens to be passing Clay County Museum in Missouri with a digital camera *hint* *hint*):-


I should caution that it’s hard to be sure what is going on in this page. Though it at first looks like the ungainly mixture of semi-fast shorthand and foolhardily slow-to-write extras (that Isaac Pitman derided as “arbitraries”) that was typical of English shorthands deriving from Jeremiah Rich’s system (e.g. Addy’s etc) and which were still popular circa 1800, further examination makes it clear to me that it’s actually a bit of an improvised mess. As such, its shorthand-like symbols now seems more likely to me to be shapes in a mildly homophonic cipher alphabet than actually shorthand per se.

As always, there’s room for a certain amount of overlap between the two types of writing: but probably not enough to stop anyone from actually breaking it using broadly the same kind of cryptological toolkit.

The Last Sixteen Words

Interestingly, the last three lines (where the text gets smaller and smaller) seem to be written far more systematically than the first four lines. Indeed, there also appears to be a regular use of dashes or hyphens, very possibly as word separators. If you use this to turn the last two-and-a-half lines into a series of sixteen words, this is what you get (click on the following for a much higher resolution image):


Decrypting The Caractors

There is plenty of old-fashioned codebreaking meat to get your cryptological teeth into here: though I’m still trying to resolve the numerous ambiguous / miscopied letter-shape issues, I thought it would be good to give a work-in-progress update on where I’ve got to, in case this inspires someone to crack this (as Marco Ponzi did for the Paris 7272 cipher here the other day).

Word #10 is almost identical to Word #6 (though with a letter inserted), which makes the pair of words look like “ONE / ONCE” or some similar phrase (no doubt there are lists of similar ABC / ABDC pairs on the Internet somewhere, please tell me if you know where they are).

The presence of the “6L6” shape in word #1 and word #4 makes it look as though the similar (but slightly malformed) shape in word #15 was the same shape in the original but miscopied: this makes it look to me that much of what we are up against here is miscopying of a simple-ish cipher rather than a genuinely complicated cipher. As such, I suspect that the first letter of word #4 is ther same backwards-crossed-C-C character in words #14 and #15 (and which is the first letter of the top line on the whole page).

Word #12 looks like it may well be a name: but without higher quality scans, I suspect it will be difficult to parse the symbols definitively (some may well be pairs, so it is hard to be sure how many letters we are looking at).

Word #14 and word #15 also offers a cryptographic oddity that might yield a way in: if we use letters to denote patterns rather than actual letters, the two consecutive words would seem to be ABCDE and FGEHAC. Given that there’s a high chance that the plaintext of this page is in some way related to the Bible, I suspect a keenly observant codebreaker with a side interest in Biblical studies might possibly be able to crack these two words alone.

Finally, for those we are interested by the possible connection between the various Whitmers and the Caractors document that has been suggested in recent years, I found a 1989 article that mentioned where the Whitmer family had been to church: “In Fayette [near Seneca Lake, NY], the Whitmers drew closer to God by working the soil and worshipping at Zion’s Church, a German-speaking Presbyterian church“. So there is also a (small) possibility that the plaintext of what we are looking at here might possibly be German. I just thought I’d mention this in passing. 🙂

Good luck!