Skip to content

The Mystery of the Somerton Man’s Barbour’s Thread.

They say you can tell a man by (1) his friends, (2) his tools of trade and most importantly (3) his name.

Well, the Somerton didn’t appear to have any friends, not that could be found, his tools may have suited a half-dozen purposes but at least we have his name, T Keane. Three labels evidencing this fact are enough, one each on a singlet, laundry bag and tie.

And it’s understandable why the police arranged for a picture to be taken of said tools and tie for nationwide publication as they were looking for someone who might recognise them as belonging to someone they knew, in this instance a Mr T. Kean aka the Somerton Man, but you have to ask yourself, why include the Barbour’s Thread?

Who could possibly have recognised such a commonly available article as belonging to a particular person, in this case a friendless man of about forty-eight who apparently lived out of his suitcase? What sort of intimacy could anyone have shared with the Somerton Man to know he repaired his own clothes with Barbour’s Thread? Moreover, the photograph was taken before the thread was found to be linked to the repairs, which begs the question; did somebody know of the link prior to Professor Cleland’s finding?** Or was the thread initially assumed to be used in conjunction with the tools? (and please note the absence of a sewing needle either inserted on the Barbour’s card on in SM’s possessions)

And why – if an item was thought to have held a recognisable intimacy with T. Keane – didn’t they photograph the distinctive glass dish found in his luggage?

Or the similarly distinctive green soap dish?

This brings to the fore the un-answerable question as to why Detective Sergeant Leane didn’t ask the country’s best fingerprinter, James Durham to fingerprint both dishes, instead of relying on a match-up of the Barbour’s Thread and the thread used to repair the clothes the Somerton Man was wearing.

{images lifted from GC’s blog}

** “DS Leane attended the Cloak Room of the Adelaide Railway Station on January 14th where he examined an unclaimed suitcase that had been lodged on 30th November 1948 with ticket G52703. He took possession of several items for checking, leaving the suitcase and the other contents in case an owner turned up to claim them.” (GF)

The items that DS Leane took back to the station that day are assumed to be the ones pin-mounted on an un-named detective’s leather folder and photographed for immediate public distribution through the Press (below).

“At some stage Leane gave the property (the clothing worn by the deceased together with the suitcase and its contents) to Professor John Cleland.” (GF)


I smell a rat, long dead but slowly coming back to life. And thanks to anonymous for explaining the difference between a spool and a card, threadwise.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Clive #

    No needle,yet thread found in the suitcase, odd? What was the glass dish used for? And why keep toothpaste in a suitcase? Surely, if you left a suitcase, in store, you would take out something like toothpaste? That’s assuming, of course, that the toothpaste wasn’t placed into the suitcase a few days before it was ‘discovered’ at the railway station?

    January 21, 2022
  2. Clive, the list of items missing from SM’s suitcase is growing … spare socks, heavy duty sewing needle for the waxed thread and a shoe polishing cloth. It’s enough to give a man the creeping doubts.

    January 22, 2022
  3. Clive #

    I understand that the suitcase wasn’t locked when the police got their hands on it. If this is correct, then what’s the betting that anyone could have taken items out and, at the same time placed items into the case? Six weeks is a long time for a suitcase to have been left on a shelf,

    January 22, 2022
  4. Byron Deveson #

    I note that there appears to be a name, possibly written later and not on the original card as sold by Barbour’s, partly obscured by the waxed thread.
    I wonder if SAPOL ever sent a photo of the thread card to Barbour’s for comment?

    January 23, 2022
    • Checking with Gordon on that, he’s the man with all the enhancement gear.

      January 23, 2022
  5. Byron Deveson #

    Fair enough JS. But other similar Barbour’s thread cards that I have seen don’t have anything written on them in that position. It is possible that the printing in that position varied according to where the card was made or according to the final use of the card. For instance, Barbour’s were famous at the time for their weather proof motorcycle and fishing jackets. Or maybe the card could have been made by Barbour’s for inclusion with a third party product, such as a sou’wester. In this case reading the spiel on the card could give a clue both as to the geographical source of the card and the product it came with as a repair kit. I note that waxed linen thread is also used to plait horses’ tails etc for dressage.
    The top part of the printing is clearly a company spiel, but the bottom line appears to be a signature and I could not find a possible connection when I looked into the history of the Barbour company. The company was founded by John Barbour in 1894. So why is there a clear date, 1784, in the upper part of the spiel? It looks to me that this spiel relates to a third party company and if we can identify the company then we have probably identified the product the repair kit came with. With a bit of luck this third party company might be located somewhere other than the UK, such as New Zealand? But we won’t know until we look.
    I found a fabric company, Hollins, that “ … started business in 1784 in Pleasley, about 20 miles away on the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire border. Later their offices were at Viyella House in Nottingham.” Hollins, later re-named Viyella. The Viyella Wikipedia article states “Officers in the British and other Commonwealth armies purchased their own uniforms during the Second World War, and Viyella shirts were a desirable option.” Viyella did, and still does, make waterproof clothing so might have included a Barbour repair kit with their products in the 1940s.

    January 24, 2022
  6. Clive #

    Signature looks like ‘Miss….? I looked at the same,above photo of the tie on,and in the LHS, in the dark area, am I going paranoid,or do I see some small markings? Another for GC?

    January 24, 2022

Leave a Reply to Byron Deveson Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: