What we know about the Somerton Man, the Thomsons, the Egans and their DNA
A short and incomplete summary of current and relevant information, excluding the circumstances surrounding the finding of the body of the Somerton Man and subsequent investigation into his mysterious death by the South Australian Police. Also excluded are any mentions of the Freeman Rubaiyat and the code found on its back cover, Alf Boxall or any of the hundreds of theories put forward by enthusiasts.
If I’ve missed anything be sure to let me know.
The Thomson family commencing with the first born of Ernest and Alice.
Adrian Ernest. Brother.
Prosper McTaggart. Brother.
Ysabel Alice. Sister.
B: 1915 D:1993
Rollo Burrows. Brother.
Gaston Chalmers. Brother.
Quentin Meacock. Brother.
B:1922 D: 2007
The Thomson Family Tree
1903 – Estimated birth of the Somerton Man.
1912 – Prosper Thomson born.
1921 – Jessica Harkness born.
1947 – Robin Thomson born.
1948 – Roma Egan born.
? – Rachel Egan born.
“Robin Thomson died in 2009, but he was survived by his ex-wife, Roma Egan and a daughter, Rachel. Abbott wrote a letter to Roma, asking if she knew anyone who resembled the Somerton Man. Yes, she replied: her ex-husband Robin, the out-of-wedlock son of Jessica Thomson (nee-Harkness.)
Abbott went to see Roma and convinced her of the genetic link, which is how Fitzpatrick, the DNA genealogist, entered the investigation.” buzzfeednews.com 24 September 2016
“Rachel Egan learned her parents had met when they were both dancers at the Australian Ballet School.“
“Robin got a job with the Royal New Zealand Ballet Company, and Roma went over to New Zealand,” Ms Egan says.
“I was an accidental conception, and they didn’t have the means to keep me, so I was adopted out.”
“Ms Egan, an only child, had grown up in New Zealand.“
“I always felt a sense of disconnection with my family. One of the things I had a passion for was ballet. In my family there was no ballet connection,” she says.
“When she was at university, she received a letter. “I was told by a social worker that I had in fact been adopted. I was relieved, I felt a sense of happiness.”
“For Ms Egan, finding love with Professor Abbott came with a cost. Her biological mother, Roma, was suspicious.”
“The relationship had moved very quickly, and she was worried that Professor Abbott had married her daughter for her DNA, even though she had already agreed to let him use it.”
“Forced to choose between them, her relationship with her mother broke down. “I have utilised Rachel’s DNA already,” Professor Abbott admits.”
ABC Australian Story, November 2019.
“He (Professor Abbott) wanted to look at my ears and my teeth. He was also after my DNA,” Rachel told Australian Story. “It’s probably the first request I’ve had from a man to do that.”
Incredibly, from that starting point, a love story blossomed. Within days of meeting, Derek and Rachel were engaged to be married.
“She had a dark side, a very strong dark side,” Kate Thomson, Jessica and Robin’s daughter told 60 Minutes.
“She said to me she knew who he was but she wasn’t going to let that out of the bag, so to speak. There’s always that fear that I’ve thought that maybe she was responsible for his death.
“She told the police that she didn’t know who he was and certainly I know nothing. She did, and she told me that it is a mystery that was only known to a level higher than the police force.”
Early DNA Results
In December 2017, Abbott announced three “excellent” hairs “at the right development stage for extracting DNA” had been found on the plaster cast of The Somerton Man, and had been submitted for analysis to the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide. Processing the results could reportedly take up to a year. In February 2018, the University of Adelaide team obtained a high definition analysis of the mitochondrial DNA from the hair sample from Somerton Man. They found that he and his mother* belonged to haplogroup H4a1a1a, which is possessed by only 1% of Europeans.
More Recent DNA results
“I have utilised Rachel’s DNA already,” Professor Abbott admits.” An admission that resulted in the following finding by Forensic Genealogist Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick.
“More recently, links (from Rachel Egan’s DNA) were also found to the grandparents of the man (Prosper Thomson) that Jo Thomson eventually married.”
The Somerton Man was exhumed from his resting place in Adelaide’s West Terrace Cemetery on May 19, 2021, with police optimistic about the prospects of recovering DNA.
- The complete remains of the Somerton Man have been recovered
- Police said the remains were in “reasonable” condition
- It will now be up to Forensic Science SA to see whether they can recover a DNA profile
The remains of the unidentified man were placed inside a new coffin, which has been taken away for DNA analysis.
Police conducting the exhumation at the grave found an identification tag confirming the remains were those of the Somerton Man, whose body was found on an Adelaide beach 73 years ago.
Professor Abbott said that the process of identification from DNA typically took months, if not years — presuming it was possible at all.
“Assuming DNA gets extracted from his remains, the most likely way of identifying him when you don’t have a specific person to match him up against … is to do what’s successfully done in America, and is also what adopted children do to find their birth parents,” he told ABC Radio National.
“That is to compare the DNA with DNA on genealogical websites like 23andMe and ancestry.com.”
“If you can find his distant cousins — wherever they are in the world — and from their family trees, triangulate them and find a part on the tree that has somebody missing in 1948, then that becomes a key person of interest for them to follow up.”
But Professor Abbott said some clues as to the man’s origins might present themselves sooner.
In 2018, he used three of the man’s chest hairs to carry out research into his maternal* ancestry.
He said there was a chance more might be revealed in the short-term about his paternal line.
“It’s possible they could get his paternal haplogroup fairly quickly,” he said.
A haplogroup is a genetic population group who share a common ancestor.
Header pic is Robin and Roma Thomson