Can a sentence like this:
“I don’t know who the first man that made such and such thing in such and such place was,”
be grammatically correct if we don’t put “was” at the end of the long phrase, that is, if we write:
“I don’t know who was the first man that made such and such thing in such and such place”?
I can see in Google Books examples that in such cases the verb is often put after the wh-word, but I don’t know if there is a grammar rule to support this. Some examples:
“We do not know who was the first man who ascended above a poor and humble people to become Egypt’s first king …”
“… we do not know what was the ultimate judgment of the various members of the community …”
“I do not know who was the first to suggest a connection between the problem of free will and the breakdown …”
“I do not know what was the date of this change in me, nor of the train of ideas …”
“We do not know what was the primitive text from which Codex Bezae derived its Latin or its Greek …”
“We do not know what was the practice in the days of the monarchy, but the story of Athaliah shows …”
The basic structure is “I don’t know [who the first man [that … ] was]”
But the long subject inside the subordinate clause may trigger extraposition, whereby it is moved behind the short VP ‘was’:
I don’t know who was the first man that … .
However, I would use a different extraposition, and move only the embedded relative clause:
I don’t know who the first man was that … .