Risdon round-up…

This page is just a round-up of all the Risdon-in-1948-related research bits that ought to go onto the blog, but that don’t (yet) merit a page of their own. Maybe the Next Big Thing will be in here, who can tell?

Risdon wharf

Wharf workers who worked at Risdon were employed full-time by the Electrolytic Zinc Company, though were paid different hourly rates if they were working on the wharves or not: a policy which brought it, in July 1948, into conflict with the Waterside Workers Federation, which instead wanted to allow casual waterside workers to be used on the Risdon wharves, and were threatening to get the Seamen’s Union to blacklist throughout the Commonwealth any ships that loaded or unloaded there. (The EZ Co had managed to get Risdon exempted from counting as a part of Hobart port for 28 years.)

This war of words continued for a long time, with the Waterside Workers Federation’s Mr. E. Roach also alleging thatdangerous practices in loading and unloading are carried on at the Electrolytic Zinc Co.’s Risdon wharf and that the company has threatened with dismissal any man who protests“, allegations that the company loudly insisted were “entirely untrue“. (I haven’t found any specific details about Roach’s claims anywhere, but perhaps a different researcher will have more luck than me in this regard.)

The Stevedoring Industry Commission under Judge Kirby had ruled in favour of EZ Co: and the matter eventually went quiet, with claims that the matter was being put to one side pending a state election also being declared false.

Zeehan Closure

Byron Deveson turned up this article from the Advocate (Burnie) 30th June 1948 page 1

ZEEHAN SMELTERS TO CLOSE DOWN NEXT WEEK

Roasting at the Electrolytic Zinc Co’s smelters at Zeehan will be discontinued in a week’s time. The last rail load of concentrates will leave Rosebery tomorrow for the Zeehan plant, and it is expected that roasting of this ore, together with supplies on hand, will take about a week. The entire output of concentrates from Rosebery will in future be despatched to Risdon, where completion of extensions to the roasting and acid plants demand great quantities of concentrates. About 50 per cent of the production-500 tons weekly-has in the past been railed to Zeehan for reduction to calcines which have then gone to Risdon for the production of zinc. The recovery of sulphur, which is lost in the atmosphere at Zeehan, is a feature of the Risdon plant. The acid produced from the sulphur is used mainly in the manufacture of super-phosphate. The Zeehan roasting plant has been in operation for the past 12 years and employs approximately 30 men. For the time being they will be engaged in cleaning up calcine dumps and in the dismantling and removal of portion of the plant. On the completion of this work they can be readily absorbed at Rosebery.

Byron concludes that from the start of July 1948 until December 1948, 500 tons a week of zinc concentrate containing lead would have been sent to Risdon: which would have placed a lot of pressure on Risdon staff to get the flash roaster and acid plant commissioned as quickly as possible.

I also turned up an article from the 21st September 1948 Mercury reporting the Electrolytic Zinc Company’s Community Council AGM, where the general superintendent W. C. Snow said that “the new flash roaster and new acid plant were almost ready to go into operation. Much work had been done overseas in preparation for the ammonium sulphate plant, and he hoped that work would start at Risdon within a few months.” This should help to narrow down the range of dates when these expensive new facilities actually started being used at Risdon.

22 Migrants

Trove has numerous copies of articles about migrants arriving in Tasmania during 1948: many of these were on assisted passage schemes from the UK and Commonwealth that were designed to give Australia’s economy an injection of vitality in the difficult post-war years, and who typically arrived on big ships such as the SS Ormonde. There were also many other ships, such as those that arrived with ex-service personnel (e.g. the SS Strathavan).

One group of migrants, however, sticks out: 40 unmarried men and 9 unmarried women who came across from Australia on the RMS Taroona, arriving on the 15th October 1948. The 16th October 1948 Mercury described them as “Displaced Persons” and noted that “[e]ighteen men would work at timber mills on the North-East Coast, 22 men at the Electrolytic Zinc Co. at Risdon, and the nine women at hospitals in Hobart.”

The 16th October 1948 Launceston Examiner ran a very much fuller story:

TIMBER mill-hands-to-be, these Europeans who arrived at Launceston on the Taroona yesterday worked at a variety of occupations before the war.

One was a judge’s associate in Latvia. Odds are that if you try to pick him, you’ll be wrong. He’s on the extreme right. Others in the group are, from left: A tailor, engine driver. carpenter, locksmith, cook and fitter and turner. Most of the 18 who arrived at Launceston to work in northern timber mills spent about four years in Germany as prisoners. The ex-judge’s associate worked in Germany as a fireman. His wife and nine year-old son are in a transit camp awaiting a ship for Australia. Those for the north were a mixed group, including one Latvian, two Czechs, three Estonians, and 12 Ukranians. Twenty-two more men and nine single women for hospital domestic work went to Hobart by train.

timber mill hands Risdon round up...

Of course, I strongly doubt that the Somerton Man will turn out to be one of these timber mill hands: but might he be one of the 22 other displaced persons who started work at the Electrolytic Zinc Company at Risdon in mid to late October 1948? It’s entirely possible, and I personally wouldn’t like to be betting against that possibility just yet.

Nicely, it turned out that Cipher Mysteries commenter Helen Ensikat has been looking at this same group completely in parallel: and she found out that the Electrolytic Zinc Company held reasonably detailed files on its migrant workers. If you want to see these for yourself, they are AA59/1/256 (held in Hobart): who knows what these will tell us?

Displaced Persons

All of which leads me swiftly on to the larger issue of displaced persons. If you search the NAA’s catalogue, you’ll find a huge amount of stuff on the policies, pamphlets and propaganda targeted at displaced persons. For example, the nurses who ended up in Tasmania seem to be covered by the file “A434, 1950/3/3363″ (16 Sep 1948 to 1950): while other documents describe the history (e.g. the Skaugum motor vessel, the Protea, and the Orontes, all bringing around 4000 to 5000 migrants per month in mid 1949) and even things like the construction and running of hostels – after all, these migrants had to live somewhere.

There were many ships that seem primarily to have brought displaced persons to Australia: for example, the Protea arrived at Melbourne on 30th September 1948, so our 22 could well have been on that ship (NAA ref: “PROTEA 21/8/1948″, held at Adelaide). Similarly the Wooster Victory (whose splendidly Wodehousean name will doubtless make Diane O’Donovan nearly choke with laughter) arrived at Sydney from Genoa on 6th September 1948 (NAA ref: “WOOSTER VICTORY 6/8/1948″, also held at Adelaide; while its nominal rolls are online here, filled to the funnels with Eastern Europeans). There was also the General Sturgess (mentioned in a file on Communist displaced persons in Australia), and the Kanimbla (arrived 11th October 1948), and doubtless numerous others.

The point of all this is that these two groups of displaced persons and migrants are towering haystacks for our Somerton Man needle to be lost in. So: not really a great place for us to try starting any search from, without some significant secondary hypothesis to work with. icon sad Risdon round up...

How the Risdon roaster might explain everything…

I’ve been exchanging more emails about Risdon with the ever-insightful Byron Deveson. At my suggestion, he bought a copy of a 10-page pamphlet entitled “A Brief Guide to the Risdon Plant of the Electrolytic Zinc Company of Australasia Ltd, March 1949″ online from an Australian bookseller: this includes maps and layouts of the buildings around the zinc works at Risdon, and also descriptions of the history and the various industrial processes involved.

One particular paragraph on page 3 leapt out at me, because it contained an unexpected fact that may change how we look at the Somerton Man case:-

“The flash-roasting furnace in which the charge is roasted when suspended in air as a dust has been in operation at Risdon for only four months.”

The pamphlet was written in March 1949: so four months before (i.e. around November 1948), an entirely new flash-roasting furnace that took powder as its input was coming online at the plant. At the Electrolytic Zinc Company’s AGM at the end of November 1948, the chairman had noted that: “The cost of the flash roaster and the new acid plant at the Risdon works had so far been about £560,000. That would give some idea of the magnitude of these additions to the Risdon plant.

Byron Deveson’s opinion (and I do hope he won’t mind being quoted on this): “The fluidised bed calciner could pump out lots of fumes while it was being commissioned. The air coming out of the roaster has to be scrubbed very thoroughly, and there would be lots of it and malfunctions during the commissioning phase are quite likely.

Moreover, according to page 7 of the March 1949 pamphlet:

“A contact sulphuric acid plant began operating at Risdon in December 1948 …”

This leads Byron to the further conclusion that “it is quite likely that the roaster gases that were discharged from the cyclones were probably vented into the atmosphere for several months before the acid plant was completed. And the lead dust particles would have not been noticeable but the lead concentration could have been quite high.

The Somerton Man is now looking to me likely to have been the victim of industrial lead poisoning incident at Risdon in the period after the flash roaster was initially put into commission (October / November 1948) but before the acid plant started operation (December 1948). If this is correct, the most productive place to be looking for answers should be in the Eletrolytic Zinc Company’s staff records archives (which still exists and is held in Hobart).

Essentially, if the Somerton Man had been working there in November 1948, he certainly wasn’t being paid during December 1948: that should be sufficient to narrow the search down to two or three people. Pretty good odds! icon smile How the Risdon roaster might explain everything...

Introducing the Block Paradigm for Voynich Manuscript research (Part 1)…

How are we ever going to resolve the mystery of the Voynich Manuscript?

Even sixty years ago, it was abundantly clear to William Friedman (widely believed to be the greatest ever codebreaker) that the Voynich’s cipher/language was of a different type to anything that had previously been encountered, and that normal cryptanalytical tools would be of little use in revealing its secrets. If Voynichese was ‘gettable’, Friedman and then Brigadier John Tiltman (who I personally place right up there with Friedman) would surely have got it, or would have begun to get it: but neither did. Yet high quality scans, several decades of study and the Internet’s million eyeballs have not yet yielded insights significantly beyond what Friedman and Tiltman managed.

And so we fast forward to 2014, where researchers continue to adopt one of two basic paradigms: (a) that Voynichese uses an unknown cipher, and so we must grind through an endless series of statistical tests that must surely eventually isolate an answer, and (b) that Voynichese is written in an unknown language, and so we must extract a set of individual word cribs to identify the language’s family etc.

After a lot of consideration, my opinion is that the Voynich Manuscript laughs in the face of both approaches: and that if you’re using either (or indeed both) of them, you’re almost certainly wasting your time. Moreover, by spamming people with the results of your research, you’re wasting their time too.

Please understand that I’m not saying that these two paradigms are worthless in all circumstances: rather, I’m saying as flatly and directly as I can that though they do have great value in other contexts, they are essentially worthless when applied to the Voynich Manuscript. They have not worked, do not work and never will work for it: hopefully that’s a clear enough position statement.

So… if they don’t work, what’s the alternative? Ay, there’s the rub.

The Block Paradigm

With all the above in mind, it became apparent to me a while back that what was actually missing was an entire paradigm, by which I mean a complete and systematic way of thinking about what we are trying to do with Voynich research, with what tools, and for what purpose. Hence I’ve spent most of this year trying to work out what that new paradigm should be, and to find a good way of communicating it.

(This has basically been why Cipher Mysteries has been so quiet as far as the Voynich Manuscript goes.)

My working title for this new way of thinking about the Voynich Manuscript is the “Block Paradigm”, because as its target it seeks to identify not a letter, a word or even a language, but a block of text. That is, the idea is to use three stages:
(1) identify blocks of the plaintext that stand some chance of appearing in other manuscripts;
(2) find possible matches for them in other manuscripts; and then finally
(3) attempt to reverse-engineer the way that the two blocks map to each other.

As such, the Block Paradigm is entirely neutral about whether Voynichese is a cipher, a shorthand or an unusual language (or any combination of the three): the purpose of the first two stages is to get us to the point that researchers can attempt to do the reverse-engineering third stage for a given block with reasonable confidence that they may have something that could well be the plaintext.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to introduce and discuss a number of candidate blocks from the Voynich Manuscript. Right now, I only have a possible matching plaintext block for one of them (and that’s a particularly complicated block that I’ve been working with for some years), so this is only really the start of what I hope will be a broadly collaborative and productive process.

I’ll start with a candidate block that has already been discussed by Voynich researchers, though not nearly as fully as I think it deserves.

The Poem Block

On 26 Apr 1996, Gabriel Landini posted to the Voynich mailing list:-

Folio 76R has a full body of text, that is, the page is almost completely filled with text. I can guess 4 paragraphs. However if we go to folio 81R, then the text looks like if it was written as a poem. Some lines longer than others and there is no drawing that is restricting the line lengths. I wonder if the pages like 81r are songs, hymns or prayers…

Rene Zandbergen replied (on 29 Apr 1996):

If I remember well […] f81r is unique is this respect. To me, it gives the impression as if a drawing was intended for the right margin, but it has been omitted. This is at variance with the generally accepted theory that all drawings were done first and the text filled in later. Another special feature of this page is that there seems to be a connection of the drawing in the left margin, through the binding gutter, to the opposite ‘page’ (which would be f78v if my above assumption for 81r is correct). […]

The ‘poem’ idea fits well with Currier’s observation that the line seems to be a functional entity. This again is strange in view of the fact that in many cases the text is clearly organised in paragraphs, i.e. several full lines followed by one short line and sometimes a somewhat larger gap between this and the next line. The length of each last paragraph line seems to be anything from one word to a full line. Note that when it is one word, it is sometimes centered on the line.

With the benefit of better scans and 18 further years of study, let’s look again at this possible ‘poem’ on f81r and annotate what we see:-

voynich f81r poem block annotated 262x300 Introducing the Block Paradigm for Voynich Manuscript research (Part 1)...

I’ve marked the two horizontal Neal keys (at the top of the two main sections of text) in red, some extraneous-looking text appended to the final line (possibly a date, or a signature?) in green, two almost identical gallows-initial words in blue, and various unusual features of the text in purple.

The text itself seems to have a line structure of 7 / 8 / 8 / 8 lines (as per the ornate line-initial gallows-initial words): so if this is a poem, my prediction is that the poem was originally 8 / 8 / 8 / 8 lines but that an entire line got omitted by mistake during the copying. (Copying ciphers by hand is surprisingly hard to get right).

As for the likely subject matter of the poem, that too isn’t too hard to predict: given that it is sandwiched between two drawings of naked nymphs in baths, it would surely shock nobody if the poem turned out to be about water or baths.

I would also expect the poem to be in Latin or Italian (OK, Tuscan), because those were (as I recall) the languages typically used for balneological poems pre-1450.

So what might the poem actually be? You might think it could be a section grabbed from Peter of Eboli’s famous early medieval Latin poem “De Balneis Puteolanis”: but that, according to C. M. Kauffmann’s “The Baths of Pozzuoli” (p.14) consists of thirty-seven sections (an introduction, thirty-five sections each covering a different bath, and a dedicatory section at the end), each section having precisely twelve hexameters. Hence I suspect we can eliminate De Balneis Puteolanis as a candidate simply because it has a different verse length – we’re looking for eight or sixteen line sections, but it is based around twelve-line sections.

All of which is where my preliminary account of this poem block comes to a halt: I simply don’t know the balneological literature well enough to take this any further forward. Were there any pre-1450 balneological poems written with eight or sixteen lines per section? I believe that this question should probably be the starting point for researching this particular block; but what do you think?

Risdon, zinc, and known unknowns…

Byron Deveson and I have independently been reading up on the Electrolytic Zinc Company: newspaper summaries of its annual accounts for 1947-1948 (here also) show that it employed 1709 staff at Risdon plus a further 432 at its Rosebery mining operation. It was in the process of expanding its wharf at Risdon, but was generally hampered by staff shortages.

Here’s an Electrolytic Zinc job advert from 06 November 1948:

AN OPPORTUNITY FOR STEADY EMPLOYMENT IS OFFERED BY ELECTROLYTIC ZINC COMPANY OF AUSTRALASIA LIMITED, RISDON.
LEADBURNERS: Present rate of pay, £10/13/ per week.
FITTERS AND TURNERS. Present rate of pay, £9/5/ per week.
GENERAL LABOURERS: Present rate of pay, £6/16/ per week. Day work.
PLANT OPERATIVES-SHIFT WORKERS: Present average weekly earnings of shift workers working 40 hours per week on 7-day rotation range from £8/10/6 per week to £9/7/6 per week, according to class of work.
TRAIN SERVICE TO WORKS FOR ALL SHIFTS. Fare, 6d. per week.
40 HOURS PER WEEK: Day Work, 7.45 a.m. to 4.20 p.m., Mondays to Fridays. Shift Work: Day Shift, 7.45 a.m. to 3.45 p.m. Afternoon Shift, 3.45 p.m. to 11.45 p.m. Night Shift, 11.45 p.m. to 7.45 a.m.
PAID ANNUAL HOLIDAYS: 10 days, plus 10 statutory holidays per annum.
AMENITIES: Insurance Scheme, covering sickness and death. Health, medical and dental services. Cribtime store sells tobacco, confectionery, clothing, footwear, etc. Apply to Registrar personally, or by telephone W1111, or by letter to the Company, Box 634B, G.P.O., Hobart.

As Byron Deveson noted in a comment a few days ago, the Incharran and Era steamships traversed well-worn grooves, keeping the Electrolytic Zinc Company’s Risdon works supplied with zinc concentrates (both from Broken Hill via Newcastle in NSW, and from the company’s Rosebery mines on the other side of Tasmania), and then passing the lead-rich residues of its zinc extraction process onward to the huge lead smelting works in Port Pirie. At Port Pirie, the ships would then get loaded with calcines and drums of acid before returning to Tasmania. (Note that Risdon is treated as an output of Hobart.) And so it went on.

?? Oct 1948 – Newcastle (NSW)
— load roasted zinc ore concentrates (mined in Broken Hill?)
?? Oct 1948 – arrived Hobart
01 Nov 1948 – departed Hobart
02 Nov 1948 – arrived Burnie
— load zinc concentrates (mined in Rosebery?)
04 Nov 1948 – departed Burnie
05 Nov 1948 – arrived Hobart / Risdon
— unload zinc concentrates
— load zinc residues
10 Nov 1948 – departed Hobart / Risdon
14 Nov 1948 – arrived Port Pirie
— unload 1000 tons of zinc residues and 58 empty drums
— load 4100 tons of calcines and 58 drums of acid, plus five tons of general cargo
?? Nov 1948 – departed Port Pirie
?? Nov 1948 – arrived Hobart / Risdon
— unload calcines etc
— load 1,000 tons of zinc residues
24 Nov 1948 – departed Hobart / Risdon
29 Nov 1948 – arrived Port Pirie
02 Dec 1948 – departed Port Pirie (for Port Adelaide) “in ballast”
03 Dec 1948 – arrived Port Adelaide
09 Dec 1948 – departed Port Adelaide (for Risdon)

Note that on 17 Nov 1948, the Incharran, Moonta and Cheltenham vessels were (along with various buildings in Port Pirie) bedecked with flags to register people’s delight at the birth of a son to Princess Elizabeth and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh.

And finally: I’ve just started putting together a list of Somerton Man “known unknowns”. Which is just a clunky way of saying ‘a page full of things I know (pretty much) exist, which I haven’t yet seen, but which I’d like to’. Please feel free to suggest other things that should be on there, or ways to see any of those things (and so remove them from the list)!

A brief history of the Incharran…

Huge thanks go out to Cipher Mysteries reader Poul Gjol for responding so quickly to my request for the 3-volume Log Of Logs by posting up a link to where scans of all three Log(s) Of Logs can be downloaded.

Unfortunately, this quickly reveals that the Incharran’s logs are nowhere to be seen there: but as normal, this merely means that once again I’m starting six feet to one side of where I actually need to be. Instead, the right place to begin is by putting together a brief history of the Incharran, as culled from everybody’s favourite instant online Antipodean historical resource… Trove.

EMPIRELABRADOR1944asINCHARRAN 300x178 A brief history of the Incharran...

(Photo: Alex Wood)

1944 – The Empire Labrador

The Adelaide Advertiser (OK, the Tizer) ran a short piece on the Incharran and its sister ship the Inchmark not long after the two arrived in Australia in mid-November 1947:-

One of six identical ships specially built in the closing stages of the war to handle heavy lifts, the British steamer Incharran is now on her first visit to Port Adelaide with timber from Cairns. She has 659 tons of timber and 113 tons of plywood. As originally rigged, the Incharran had an 80-ton “jumbo” derrick on the mainmast and a derrick capable at taking a 50-ton lift on the foremast. These, together with the heavy-duty winches, have been removed, but the outsize tubular steel masts and heavy wire stays are still fitted. Launched as the Empire Labrador in 1944. the Incharran is an oil-burning steamer of 3,539 tons owned by Williamson & Co. of Hongkong. Like the Inchmark, owned by the same firm, which is now at No 11 berth, the Incharran carries a Chinese crew. Both ships are under charter to the Australian Shipping Board.

So the Empire Labrador was an Empire Malta class ship, and it was built in West Hartlepool by the British Government to a design that broadly copied high-capacity Scandinavian cargo ships of the day.

It’s official number was 180077, its IMO number was 5151830, and it was launched on 19th August 1944, just in case you ever feel like celebrating its birthday. There’s also a list here of the convoys it was in from then until the end of WW2.

1949 – Incharran (Williamson & Co Ltd)

Technically speaking, it was the Inch Steamship Company (a subsidiary of Williamson & Co Ltd in Hong Kong) that bought the Empire Labrador, and renamed it in its house style to “Incharran”. Before long it was taken out to Cairns in Australia in November 1947, where it had a fairly inauspicious start to life Down Under: it was discovered to be carrying 14,250 contraband cigarettes “of English and American brands” being smuggled from Hong Kong.

Before long, it seems to have been quickly re-chartered by Howard Smith Ltd (perhaps from the Australian Shipping Board?), which almost immediately put it to work batting back and forth between Risdon and Port Pirie, much as we have seen. In late 1949, it may well be that the lead-related work for it at Risdon / Port Pirie petered out, because it started to ship coal instead.

Life after Australia

Its last day in Australia was 12th January 1950, when it left Sydney for Hong Kong. From then onwards, the Incharran found itself hard at work along the Chinese coast, where it often found itself under attack from Chinese Nationalists, particularly near the Straits of Formosa (modern day Taiwan). It also ran aground in 1952 about 400 miles north of Hong Kong, and had to be salvaged from that difficult situation by ships including the British destroyer HMS Cossack.

1955 – sold to Indo-China Steam Navigation Co Ltd, renamed “Ho Sang”
1968 – sold to Golden River Shipping Corporation, renamed “Golden Sun”
1970 – scrapped.

Captain George LeFevre

The ship’s Master from 1947 continuously to at least 1953 was Captain George LeFevre.

I haven’t found out much about him: but I did find an 18th October 1932 article from the Adelaide Chronicle about a ‘Captain G. Lefevre’ who was in charge of “the Chinese-owned steamer Helikon flying the British flag” when it was taken over by Chinese pirates: very likely the same man. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser of 21st October 1932 has a much fuller account (detailed, though a bit slow to load).

He might also be the “Captain Lefevre” mentioned in NAA control record C1937/7600 in series SP42/1: that person arrived in Sydney on the CAPITAINE ILLIAQUER on 30th October 1937 to join the crew of the NOTOU.

And finally… the ever-reliable Port Pirie Recorder ran a story on 28th March 1949 about two Chinese crew-members (Hsu Ming Hsien and Chan San) from the Incharran, one of whom was so drunk and annoyed about not being sold a milk-based drink in a fruit shop that he attacked the shopkeeper and “broke his finger slightly”. Hsu was fined £1 with 6/3 costs on two counts, while Chan was fined 10/ with 7/6 costs for having been drunk, and £1 with 6/ costs on each of the other charges: the Master paid the fines on their behalf.

Has anyone got access to the Log of Logs?

More of a request than a post: may I ask if anyone happens to have handy access to the three-volume Log of Logs?

(If you don’t already know what it is, it’s an astonishing reference work that collates references to Australian and New Zealand ships’ logs in collections all over the world – archives, museums, personal collections, everywhere.)

I am, of course, interested in digging up the logs for the Incharran that was doggedly plying the lead trade between Risdon (in Tasmania) and Port Pirie (in South Australia) in 1948. There were other merchant ships with the same name afterwards (and probably before), but that’s the particular one I really, really want to know about.

There ~appears~ to be a Big Fat Archive of merchant ships’ logs in Hobart (NAA P1196, control symbol “ALMKUK-WAUMEA”), that I found by going through all the Tasmania links here, and my guess is that the Incharran’s logs – if they’re anywhere – would probably be there. But the Log of Logs will know, it always does (pretty much), hence this request. icon smile Has anyone got access to the Log of Logs?

Note also that this page has a great description of the different types of Australian shipping forms, and also what you’re likely to find in different archives. Recommended!

Good lead vs bad lead…

Byron Deveson – and if anybody deserves an Inspector-Morse-like middle name of ‘Indefatigable’ it is surely him – recently left a series of comments on Cipher Mysteries about lead, which answered a number of questions that have been bothering me for a while. His most interesting comment began thus:-

I think that the focus should be on ships loading lead concentrates, lead ore, and “ore concentrates” “residues” and “calcines”. And also roasted zinc concentrates.The Port Pirie smelter produced lead ingots and I do not believe that anyone could mishandle these in such a way as to receive the massive dose of lead that SM appears to have received. Lead concentrates, lead ore, ore concentrates, residues and calcine, could possibly be the cause. Or roasted zinc concentrates. Lead concentrates at the time would have generally been a very fine, dusty powder, and the same for some ores and residues. If this fine powder was inhaled it could cause lead poisoning.

All of which means that while Port Pirie seems to be the right place, because of the huge lead smelting works not particularly far from where the dead man was found, so far I very likely have been looking at quite the wrong category of ships. The substantial international trade in lead ingots may be the one garnering all the kudos in the Port Pirie Recorder, but handling those ingots seems unlikely to have yielded terminally precipitous levels in the Somerton Man’s various internal lead compartments.

As so often with these archival research, the fact that this is a bright lamp post doesn’t mean it is necessarily where we should be looking beneath.

But the Port Pirie Recorder does list all the ships in and out of the port, including passenger ships and colliers (specialist coal ships). Without boring you with endless links to Trove, the non-ingot lead activity in the port from 20 October onwards looks like this:-

18 Oct – Ambassador, arrived from Melbourne
25 Oct – Ambassador, departed with 3,000 tons of concentrates

20 Oct – Era, arrived from Tasmania, with 1,047 tons of residues, 200 tons of zinc slabs, and 40 tons of general cargo.
26 Oct – Era, departed with 4,133 tons of calcines and general cargo

18 Nov – Incharran, arrived from Risdon, with 1,000 tons of residues and 58 empty drums
18 Nov – Incharran, left for Risdon with 4,100 tons of calcines, 58 drums of acid, and five tons of general cargo

22 Nov – Aeon, arrived from Port Kembla, arrived with 4,610 tons of coke and 74 tons of general cargo
02 Dec – Aeon, departed for Sydney and Port Kembla, loading lead, copper matte and speiss

29 Nov – Incharran, arrived from Risdon, with 1,000 tons of residues (Howard Smith Ltd.)
02 Dec – Incharran, departed for Port Adelaide, “in ballast”
03 Dec – Incharran, arrived at Port Adelaide
09 Dec – Incharran, departed from Port Adelaide for Risdon

Similarly, if we look at the Burnie Advocate, we can see that the Incharran was unloading calcines at Risdon on 23rd November, loading zinc at Risdon on 24th November, and sailed on the 24th November for Port Pirie with 3,539 tons.

Unsurprisingly, this is why Byron continues:-

I would look at the Incharran before any other ship because of the nature of the cargo (lead residues that are likely to be very powdery) and because the likely primitive loading and handling conditions in Tasmania could easily result in lead poisoning. Incharran seems to have been a specialist ore carrier, and it is possible that the residues from the Risdon refinery were loaded directly into the hold and that would generate clouds of dust both at the time of loading, and unloading.

Indeed, for all the Port Pirie sea traffic, the Incharran looks like just about the only “bad lead” (i.e. non-ingot lead) ship that meets the timeline criteria: so I’d tend to agree that this is where the overall “lead logic” seems to point.

I’d perhaps go slightly further: that if it is the Incharran that is involved and the timeline we have is correct, then it seems to me that the accident may well have happened during the 18th November unloading/loading at Port Pirie, but that the lead-poisoned merchant seaman then returned to Risdon (in Tasmania) on the Incharran before coming back to Port Pirie on the Incharran on the 29th November – the day before he died – and making his way to Port Adelaide, perhaps arriving early in the morning. The rest you all know by now, I hope. icon smile Good lead vs bad lead...

All of which forms a super-plausible narrative that tightly fits the documented ship activity (and for the right class of ship) in Port Pirie: so how do we test this?

The Tasmanian archives (in the NAA and elsewhere) has a record for desertions and discharges during this period: P2562, VOLUME 1. Well worth a look, I’d say. (Note that I found this listed on this page which seems to know a little more about Tasmanian crew records in the NAA than the NAA itself does).

Alternatively, perhaps the NAA’s Tasmanian crewlists P2004 (outwards) and P2005 (inwards) series will have crew lists for the Incharran, flagging a change in crew for us: or perhaps D3064 will have crew lists for the Incharran arriving at Port Pirie. So it could be that the answer will turn out to have been in Adelaide all along: I shall ask my Adelaidean volunteer immediately just in case…

PS: incidentally, just as with poor old H. C. Reynolds, I briefly wondered whether the seaman’s employer’s archives held any personnel files from this time. The Mitchell and Dixson Libraries Manuscripts Collection, State Library of New South Wales, has 35 volumes (across 1.4m of shelving) of Howard Smith Ltd archives, item MLMSS 3565… but nothing relating to employment, alas. Just so you know! icon neutral Good lead vs bad lead...

Following the Australian lead archive trail…

A few posts ago, I proposed that because of the unusual lead trace pattern in the Somerton Man’s hair, and the evidence broadly suggesting that he was a non-Aussie merchant seaman, we should perhaps look at the crew lists for November 1948 for the (very few) ships taking on lead at the smelter wharf at Port Pirie, not so very far away from Adelaide.

Looking at the Port Pirie Recorder from that time, only three (or possibly five) ships fit the bill (of lading): American Producer, City of Delhi, Lanarkshire, and possibly Annam or Ericbank. I asked if anybody would be so good as to go to the NAA archives in Adelaide to have a look at the crew lists in D3064 for November 1948: and a volunteer very kindly came forward (more on that later).

Here’s an update on what we have discovered so far in the pursuit of this Australian lead archive trail.

Firstly, the bad news: that D3064 unfortunately only contains crew lists for ships that enter or leave Australian waters at Port Adelaide or its outports. For ships travelling from Europe to Australia, the first and last port of call would usually instead be Fremantle (right on the western end of Australia), which is where their crews would be declared on arrival and departure. Similarly, for ships travelling from the United States, the first and last port of call would usually be Brisbane (right on the eastern end).

As a result, my determined volunteer has now doggedly ordered some quite different archives (relating to desertions) for this coming week, and I wait with great interest to see what turns up there.

All the same, if we could find out which Australian ports these five ships first entered and last left, we should be able to find their crew lists elsewhere in the NAA’s voluminous archives. So I decided to give this a go, using newspapers in Trove and various records in the NAA.

Ericbank

16 Sep 1948 – arrived at Sydney from Nauru in thick fog
17 Sep 1948 – sailed from Sydney to Port Kembla
10 Nov 1948 – arrived at Port Pirie from Melbourne
12 Nov 1948 – sailed from Port Pirie to Sydney
20 Nov 1948 – sailed from Sydney to Honiara (the capital of the Solomon Islands)

Unfortunately, it’s not clear to me which Sydney NAA archive file to consult for Sep/Nov 1948 crew lists: any suggestions?

Incidentally, while in Port Pirie, two seamen from the Ericbank were each fined £5 with 7/6 costs for taking someone’s bike for a ride, a money-making ploy that recent London mayors have taken on with enthusiasm. icon smile Following the Australian lead archive trail...

Annam

01 Oct 1948 – a brief profile in the Adelaide Advertiser:-

One of the first motor ships in the world — she was built in 1913 — the 6,636-ton Danish freighter Annam, is due at Port Adelaide tomorrow morning with paper pulp, canned fish and Baltic timber, from Oslo and New Zealand.

An unusual feature of her construction is that, viewed from forward, the Annam appears to have no funnel. Although placed in the normal position, her funnel looks hardly more than an exhaust pipe for her diesel engines. The Annam has five passengers from New Zealand, all of whom will leave the ship here.

02 Oct 1948 – arrived at Adelaide from Oslo (presumably via New Zealand?)
05 Oct 1948 – unloaded “100,000 super feet” of softwoods
08 Oct 1948 – departed Port Adelaide for Port Pirie, Port Napier, Melbourne.
11 Oct 1948 – arrived in Melbourne
29 Oct 1948 – departed Melbourne “for Scandinavia” (eventually)
01 Nov 1948 – arrived Hobart (Tasmania)
04 Nov 1948 – arrived Launceston (Tasmania), to load “wool, peas and skins for Europe”
07 Nov 1948 – departed Launceston
11 Nov 1948 – arrived Port Pirie
15 Nov 1948 – arrived Port Adelaide
18 Nov 1948 – departed Port Adelaide for Fremantle
24 Nov 1948 – arrived Fremantle from Adelaide
29 Nov 1948 – departed Fremantle for Genoa

Hence the NAA archive files to consult would seem to be D3064 for arrival (held in Adelaide) and PP1/1 (held in Darwin). However, it may also be sensible to look at the Hobart archives for crew lists, because that was where the ship was immediately before it arrived at Port Pirie.

Other details: Danish seaman Jorgen Bernhardt Olsen got so annoyed when a policeman refused his offer of a drink in Port Pirie, that he told him “if I had you in my country I would kill you”, then swung him round and ripped his clothing. (He was fined £3 with 7/6 costs).

I also found records for two 19-year-old Danish crewmen (Kurt Jensen Spuur and Kai Leo Møller) who deserted the Annam on 29th November 1948 in Fremantle. The records in the NAA relating to Kurt Jensen Spuur are openly accessible, and show (particularly if you read them backwards from the end) how the ship’s owners were obliged to put up a sizeable bond for any crew members who had absconded since arriving in the country.

Finally, I also found a picture of the Annam, and a brief summary of the Annam’s war record.

American Producer

18 Oct 1948 – arrived at Brisbane from the US, dropping off several passengers [NAA]
20 Oct 1948 – departed Brisbane for Adelaide via Sydney and Melbourne
22 Oct 1948 – arrived at Sydney, dropping off more passengers (one being the magnificently named Hilda Frankenstein) [NAA]
27 Oct 1948 – departed Sydney for Melbourne
29 Oct 1948 – arrived at Melbourne
07 Nov 1948 – departed Melbourne for Port Pirie
10 Nov 1948 – arrived Whyalla from Melbourne
16 Nov 1948 – arrived Port Pirie from Whyalla
18 Nov 1948 – arrived Port Adelaide from Port Pirie
19 Nov 1948 – departed Port Adelaide
23 Nov 1948 – arrived Melbourne
06 Dec 1948 – arrived at Sydney from Melbourne
16 Dec 1948 – departed Sydney for Newcastle
16 Dec 1948 – arrived Newcastle
21 Dec 1948 – departed Newcastle “for Boston and New York, via Sydney and Panama”
22 Dec 1948 – arrived Sydney from Newcastle
29 Dec 1948 – departed Sydney for America

(Incidentally, it arrived in Boston around 30/31 Jan 1949.)

Hence the NAA archive files to consult would seem to be BP120/1 (held in Brisbane) for its arrival in October 1948, and whatever the Sydney crew list archive is for its departure.

City of Delhi

11 Nov 1948 – arrived Fremantle from Beira (the second largest city in Mozambique, as any fule kno).
16 Nov 1948 – arrived Port Pirie “from overseas”
18 Nov 1948 – departed Port Pirie “for United Kingdom”
19 Nov 1948 – arrived Port Adelaide
27 Nov 1948 – departed Port Adelaide for Newcastle
01 Dec 1948 – arrived Newcastle from Adelaide
03 Dec 1948 – “The City of Delhi is loading 20,000 bales of wool at Lee Wharf, Newcastle. The cargo is almost equal to all that part of growers’ wool sold at the last Newcastle sales.
20 Dec 1948 – departed Newcastle for “UK and Continent via Sydney”
21 Dec 1948 – arrived Sydney from Newcastle
06 Jan 1949 – departed Sydney for Fremantle
14 Jan 1949 – arrived Fremantle “for oil bunkers”

I don’t know when it left Fremantle, but it was in Suez by the 8th February 1949.

Hence the NAA archive file to consult is almost certainly PP1/1 (held in Darwin).

Other stuff: Dale Collins reminiscing about his time as a steward on the City of Delhi.

Lanarkshire

14 Nov 1948 – arrived at Fremantle from Mauritius –
18 Nov 1948 – arrived at Port Pirie –
20 Nov 1948 – departed Port Pirie “for United Kingdom via Eastern states”
22 Nov 1948 – arrived Melbourne “from Mauritius”
26 Nov 1948 – departed Melbourne to Sydney
28 Nov 1948 – arrived Sydney “from South Africa”
08 Dec 1948 – departed Sydney for Melbourne
11 Dec 1948 – arrived Melbourne from Sydney
15 Dec 1948 – departed Melbourne “for Liverpool”
20 Dec 1948 – “The steamer Lanarkshire was expected to arrive in Albany from the Eastern States early this morning to lift 400 tons of refrigerated cargo from the meat works of Thomas Borthwick and Sons. The cargo comprises frozen meat, poultry and offal for the United Kingdom. The Lanarkshire will call at Fremantle en route for Britain.
30 Dec 1948 – departed Fremantle for Liverpool

Hence the NAA archive file to consult is without much doubt PP1/1 (held in Darwin).

Unusually, this very fast (18 knots!) merchant ship had an entire profile written on it telling how it once outran a group of 17 U-Boats during WW2, as well as including profiles of some of its crew. Another article notes how it was an Empire ship, Britain’s wartime answer to America’s Liberty ships.

Nigel West, Arnold Deutsch, and the SS Donbass…

Might the Somerton Man have been Arnold Deutsch all along? It’s a fascinating possibility, though one for which we currently have far less evidence to work with than I would like. (Though Derek Abbott thinks Deutsch was 4″ too short and had the wrong size hands.)

Hence a few days ago, I decided to try to hunt down Deutsch’s fingerprints: after all, we have reasonable photographic copies of the Somerton Man’s fingerprints (though not the original fingerprint card(s), Derek Abbott believes, while Gordon Cramer doubts whether they’re even genuine).

Who else could I ask about this but well-known spy writer Nigel West (Rupert Allason)? To my very great delight, he quickly responded:-

Having seen Deutsch’s NKVD file in Moscow, I am reasonably sure there is not a record of his fingerprints in Russia. Nor is it likely that his Aliens Registration card with (what was then) Special Branch survives.

Of course, the NKVD file on Deutsch was precisely what I was hoping would contain his fingerprints, so this was a bit of a disappointment. But it is what it is. West’s email continued:-

However, as Deutsch drowned in the Atlantic on 7 November 1942 when the SS Donbass was sunk by a U-boat, it seems a little unlikely that his body would wash up in Australia.

You may already know that Nigel West included this account of Deutsch’s death in several of his books, such as The Historical Dictionary of Sexspionage (p.69) and The Crown Jewels: The British Secrets at the Heart of the Russian Archives (p.113), which asserted that “[m]ortally injured, Deutsch died while heroically trying to save the lives of others“.

I also have here Ben Macintyre’s “A Spy Among Friends”, Rufina Philby’s “The Private Life of Kim Philby”, and John Costello and Oleg Tsarev’s “Deadly Illusions – The First Book from the KGB archives”. The last of these recites the same basic story, and refers to DEUTSCH File No. 32826 (as mentioned in Vol. I and Vol. II of RISA), though it is not immediately clear which parts of their account are from the file and which are not.

Of course, we now know that the SS Donbass was sunk by the German destroyer Z-27 (not by a U-Boat) in the Barents Sea (not the Atlantic), and there is no mention of Deutsch anywhere in the lists of the dead. So I think we can reasonably doubt that we have been handed down the whole story.

A sensible question is whether the SS Donbass indeed had any passengers at all. I found a very good page (in Russian) with numerous different accounts of the Donbass’s sinking. One of these accounts (Weiner BA, Soviet maritime transport in the Great Patriotic War. – Moscow: Military Publishing, 1989) asserts that 49 people died that day, whereas the memorial only lists 33 dead: however, this same account claims that the Donbass’s guns managed to land a hit on the destroyer, which seems (from the destroyer’s own logs) to be more Soviet mythology than wartime fact.

Far more persuasive to me is the complete lack of any mention of passengers – or indeed of any practical heroics from anyone who wasn’t a ranking officer on the ship (e.g. Morozov) – in any of the accounts. The final account on the site seems to have been largely taken from Captain Zielke’s account in the SMERSH files: here too passengers are conspicuously absent.

Really, I find myself struggling to link Deutsch with anything here. Have I missed anything important?

Lead in the Somerton Man’s hair…

Here’s a good question: what can we infer from the varying levels of lead in the Somerton Man’s hair?

To try to answer this, I went looking for some proper science on how the human body handles lead: the root of the modern literature tree seems to be Kinetic analysis of lead metabolism in healthy humans by M B Rabinowitz, G W Wetherill, and J D Kopple, from the August 1976 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation (what, it isn’t in your Favourites already? I’m genuinely surprised).

This introduced a “three compartment” model, i.e. that lead ingested is held in (1) the blood, (2) soft tissues, and (3) bones and teeth; and that the ways (and the rates) that the body stores lead in (and removes lead from) those compartments are quite different.

Their kinetic analysis indicated that:
* the primary (blood stream) compartment holds up to 1.9mg of lead, and has a mean life of 36±5 days;
* the secondary (soft tissue) compartment holds up to 0.6mg of lead, and has a mean life of 30 to 55 days;
* the tertiary (skeletal) compartment holds up to 200mg (!) of lead, and has a mean life of ~10000 days (!).

lead metabolism model Lead in the Somerton Mans hair...

Of particular interest to us is the observation (from the model the three authors develop) that lead only gets into the hair from the second compartment.

All the same, some internet sites tend to cite the only-slightly-more-recent report “Toxic Trace Metals in Human and Mammalian Hair and Nails”, EPA-600 4.79-049, August 1979, US Environmental Protection Agency, Research and Development as encouraging the use of hair analysis: while other sites seem to suggest that lead hair analysis can be wildly variable without useful baselines to work with, and so using lead hair analysis is essentially “futile”.

I suspect that to build up a more balanced picture, it would make more sense to read other more biochemistry-based accounts, such as this tutorial (which runs to several pages). Here, the authors note (among many different things) that one key sign of acute lead poisoning is a blue-black “lead line” in the gingival tissues (the gums), which seems not to have been present in the Somerton Man (unless you know better?)

What, then, of the Somerton Man’s hair #1? We have a nice graph of his Pb206 isotope timeline, that Derek Abbott believes covers roughly the two week period prior to the SM’s death…

Pb206 isotope timeline Lead in the Somerton Mans hair...

…but what does it mean?

To my eyes, it seems likely from the rapid drop in the (time-reversed) graph that the Somerton Man had experienced a high short-term exposure to lead before the start of the graph (say, a little more than two weeks before his death): the steady-state value from the left (i.e. later) half of the graph would seem to indicate an equilibrium with environmental lead. The SM’s acute exposure level (as measured in the hair, remember, and so subject to different rules to the primary compartment) would therefore seem to have been at least five times his environmental lead levels, and possibly much higher.

However, I suspect that the timeline for this hair is just too short to really be sure what is going on: it’s cut off (literally) just when things started to get interesting. But if Derek Abbott’s students can successfully match this up to hair #2’s timeline, then we might well be in business. It would also be very good to know the ratio of the various lead isotopes (Byron Deveson for one will be waiting attentively for this to be documented). Interesting times!

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