Might the Unknown Man found dead on an Australian beach actually be an (almost equally unknown) merchant seaman called H. C. Reynolds? It’s an intriguing claim, one based – from the emails I’ve exchanged with the Australian lady from whom it originated – partly on family mythology, and partly on anatomical comparison between photos of the Unknown Man and an ID card dated 1918. It’s entirely true that uber-Tamam-Shud-meister Gerry Feltus remains somewhat skeptical: but then again, he has seen (and indeed carefully documented) many hundreds of similar claims, which so far have all proved not to be the case.
All the same, I think it would be good if we could properly identify this Reynolds person: after all, we apparently have direct evidence of his existence (an ID card). Surely it should be easy to track someone active less than a century ago, particularly with the vastly able help of such able online researchers as Cheryl Bearden & Knox Mix?
Well… recapping the story so far, we’ve found plenty of ships’ crew manifests where Reynolds appears, worked out that his middle name was Charles, and even uncovered his date of birth (8th February 1900). The Log of Logs then pointed us to the still-extant logs for the RMS Niagara and the SS Koonya… but as of earlier this year, that was as far as we had got.
So, all we needed was someone (a) indefatigable and (b) relatively nearby to go and have a look. Step forward Cipher Mysteries regular Diane O’Donovan, who extremely kindly journeyed out to Chester Hill to have a look at the RMS Niagara logbook for us all earlier thos year. (Apologies for not posting about this before, I’ve been somewhat… distracted, let’s say).
Unfortunately, the RMS Niagara turned out to be (in her words) “a dud lead… (with)no mention of Chas Reynolds“. Generally, Diane found the logs to be “fascinating if repellant reading“:
It must have been a nightmare of a ship to work on. Seasickness in crew was defined as ‘absent without leave’ or ‘under the influence of drink’. People constantly leaving with or without their possessions. Latter was defined as ‘desertion’. So plenty of incentive for navvies to adopt another name for the next voyage.
In many ways, all of this (including drawing a blank, sadly) should be no surprise: the Niagara was a huge, busy mega-ship, and it seems likely that Reynolds was merely covering for a sick assistant purser during a single round trip, a temporary, tiny replacement cog within a giant marine machine. Anyway, here’s what Diane found:-
First was a much expurgated ships log. Second of the two was a list of passengers, not of crew.
Niagara Logbook Barcode 322 304 61 81
July 1917 (Log no.A863)
Purser was Chas. Leighton. His signature appears as countersignatory at e.g. entry at 18/8/17
An assistant baker was a T.Reynolds. taken on 5/7/17; Discharged 7/8/17 after one month and three days.
reason – “failed to be on board at departure from Vancouver”
Only legalities have been preserved in this log: Initial list of crew with offices listed; dates of hose-drills; dates of absenteeism from duty or from the ship; wages docked; births, suicide, marriages..wages receipts made out for the missing.
Niagara 1918 log
Barcode 1603134 SP83/11 BOX 38
Passenger list only. (To my horror, it includes reference to race as part of each person’s description, which strikes me as quintessentially un-Australian)
Ship arrived in Sydney on April 20th., 1918.
Diane also found out that the records for the SS Koonya (a very much smaller ship, upon which Reynolds worked for a whole year, finishing up not long before it sank) are at a quite different archive at Kingswood. This was independently confirmed for me by a NSW archivist who wrote:
The Log of Logs listing is correct. We hold the 1918 SS Koonya log at our Kingswood reading room at [3/4861.2].
So, who’s now going to pick up this glacially-slow-moving baton, and be so kind as to preorder [3/4861.2] and visit the Western Sydney Records Office? John K, are you still planning to be there next month?