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.
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!