Spotlight: Hay Simpson as Ned Kelly

Image: Leslie Hay-Simpson, billed as Hay Simpson as Ned Kelly; Directed by Harry Southwell; “When the Kellys Rode”, 1934

“In 2003, Margaret Titterton discovered her uncle’s suitcase of film memorabilia under her Vaucluse home, including this portrait of her uncle Leslie Hay-Simpson in his first screen role. Titterton told the Sydney Morning Herald: ‘I don’t think it was his dream to be an actor. I think his dream was to follow in the family footsteps and be a good, solid solicitor.’ In October 1936, Hay-Simpson disappeared at sea. After finishing filming for Mystery Island (1937), he was sailing back from Lord Howe Island in a small skiff called the Mystery Star with fellow actor Brian Abbot when the two men hit bad weather.”


“When the Kellys Rode”

The great talkie dealing with one of the skeletons in our historic cupboard has been made. Photographs of Messrs, and Miss Kelly in their habits as they are supposed to have lived are beginning to appear in Sydney shop windows. Do they bear any relation to the truth?

Well, here’s the scene as it appeared to an American, one Augustus Baker Peirce, whose Australian adventures are described in a handsome memorial volume on the foundation of the Read Memorial fund, by the Yale Press (1924).

About the second year of my stay in Geelong, I was surprised by a hurried and excited call of my old friend Joseph Nash, a reporter on the Melbourne “Age,” who informed me that the notorious Kelley [sic] brothers had been captured at Greta and that he was going up to investigate and write up the affair. He asked me to go with him and make the sketches.

The Kelley boys and their companions, well-known outlaws — all of whom had prices on their heads dead or alive, among them Burns and Sherritt — had swooped down on Greta the day before and, having bailed up the town and torn up the railroad, proceeded to gather the principal townspeople into Jones’s Hotel and make merry. Word, however, was sent to the police; and a large body of troopers came up, surrounded the house, and demanded the surrender of the outlaws. On their refusal the police shot into the house, and the Kelleys returned the fire. Then the Greta priest appeared at the door and informed the police that if they would withhold fire the Kelleys would allow the townspeople to leave the premises. This was done and a second demand of surrender made. But the Kelleys refused to move, and the police were at a loss what to do.

They contemplated burning the house, and even sent to Melbourne for a cannon to blow it down. Finally, they charged the place, firing heavy volleys into it as they advanced. Receiving no answer, they broke in and found the outlaws dead or dying — all of them, except Ned Kelley, their leader, who had disappeared. Early the following morning he was discovered by Troopers O’Callaghan and Steele, who were watching in the fog. They saw something of gigantic size rise in the mist and move away. Taking no chances they fired. The object returned the fire and then fell; whereupon they rushed upon it and found it to be Ned Kelley, dressed in full armour of ploughshares, later found to weigh some 200lb.

We arrived soon after Kelley was taken and witnessed the placing of the dead bodies of the outlaws in the courtyard to be photographed. Ned Kelley was taken to Melbourne, where his trial was the sensation of the time. After it I saw him hanged; on the scaffold he turned coward….

It sounds unpromising, even as an alternative to “The Squatter’s Daughter” type of picture. As a matter of fact, there was a much better story in Morgan. He ended by holding up a station at Peechebla and, according to Peirce (who arrived there a few weeks after and had the story from Rutherford, the manager), the manager’s wife had to entertain him by playing the piano all night. “In fact, after the first fright had passed away, the whole family did their best to propitiate their unwelcome guest.” A servant-girl managed to send a message to the local police camp, and Morgan was shot in the back as he was going towards the horse paddock in the morning.

Peirce has quaint drawings, by himself, in his book which should gladden the hearts of our local directors. And listen to this :—

The outlaw was hardly dead when the police, brave enough now that there was nothing to fear, bounded into the path, followed by a large number of people. Among them was an excited photographer who, in his eagerness to secure a portrait of the body, broke his camera while climbing a fence. However, with the aid of some brown paper the damage was soon repaired, and the corpse, propped up against some wool-bales in the shed, was photographed between the Macphersons. The Superintendent of Police at Beechworth ordered that Morgan’s face be skinned, so that he might preserve the magnificent black beard as a trophy.

Christian burial was refused. They laid the de-bearded corpse outside the fence of the large cemetery on the road from Wangaratta to Peechebla. Here surely is a ready-made drama of the mellowest hue all ready for local consumption. Think of that last shot, the lonely grave and, above all, the face-skinning incident! I doubt if Hollywood itself could have thought of that.

[Source: The Bulletin, 23 May 1934, page 5.]


‘When The Kellys Rode,’ the Cinesound Feature Film production, which is listed for presentation at the Tivoli Theatre on Saturday, centres around the exploits of ‘The Kellys,’ the most notorious of all Australian bushrangers. ‘When the Kellys Rode,’ filmed against the glorious background of Australia’s natural beauty, features a splendid cast of young Australians, headed by Hay Simpson as Ned Kelly, Regina Somerville, John Appleton and Norman Walt.

When The Kellys Rode

IT’S ABOUT: Bushrangers.

YOU’LL SEE: Hay Simpson.

THIS woefully comic curiosity is 14 years old.

The Chief Secretary’s Department banned it in New South Wales as a bushranging drama, lifted the ban a few years ago.

Made in Burragorang Valley and the Blue Mountains, When The Kellys Rode is a raw and crude piece of work.

Even in 1934, its year of production, it must have been an anachronism.

It is a pure old silent in technique.

Writer-director Harry Southwell has not captured any of the high adventure in the Kelly saga — an adventure that is still waiting for the right Australian film-maker.

His bushrangers and police lollop up and down the one stretch of mountain. His unfortunate actors, a couple of whom are well-known today, are grotesquely stilted.

Only the late Hay Simpson, as Ned Kelly, shows a rude vigor in the role. The women in the cast are lamentable.

But why go on? The film is worth preserving in some museum.

To Sum Up: I haven’t the heart.

[Source: Daily Telegraph, 20 June 1948, page 19.]

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