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.]

Spotlight: The Floating Museum

The deck of Success during the time it was used as a floating museum.

The former Burmese cargo ship Success was converted into a floating prison in the 1850s as the influx of immigrants seeking their fortunes on the goldfields caused the crime rates to explode. As a result, to alleviate the overcrowding of the prisons, the government purchased a set of abandoned ships (Success, Deborah, Lysander, President and Sacramento) and had them fitted out with cells.
The Success was the only one kept intact when the ships were decommissioned.

When turned into a museum in 1890, it was billed as a prison hulk, though it never transported convicts from overseas. The term is most commonly used to describe ships that transported convicts to Australia but can also describe ships that were used as prisons when moored. Many prison hulks in England remained moored to hold prisoners awaiting trial or awaiting transportation.

Exhibits on Success included methods of restraint and torture, wax statues of convicts and criminals, and a replica of Ned Kelly’s armour (seen in the bottom left corner of the featured photograph). For a time, former bushranger Harry Power worked as a tour guide on Success. Having been an inmate (even being involved in an attempted mutiny by Captain Melville) he was a perfect choice for a guide. Many of the stories were either embellished or fabricated to titillate and entertain visitors, such as the claim that it was the oldest ship in Australia; and some items on show, such as the iron maiden, were not related to the ship at all.

The museum was a flop at first and the owners scuttled it. It was salvaged, however, and after a tour around Australia, Success went on a world tour. It was eventually bought by an American and used as a cargo ship, but was turned back into a museum in 1918. It was destroyed by a mysterious fire just after WWII as it sat anchored in Lake Erie. Some items were salvaged but most were destroyed.

Footage of famed (and controversial) actors Fatty Arbuckle and Mabel Normand exploring the ship can be found in the silent documentary about the 1915 world’s fair in San Francisco here.

Spotlight: Portrait of James Sutherland

James Saunders was born at Big River, (Ouse). At 18 months old, James was left by his father with a woman at Perth. This woman raised him until he was 5 years old and he was given the name Sutherland. He was then fobbed off on a woman at Evandale, who looked after him until he was 11. James was then kicked out and left to his own devices. He tried to make his way back to Perth, but was arrested and tried under the vagrancy act. He was sentenced to 3 months in gaol.

When he got out of gaol he travelled to Hobart and worked as a dogsbody for Webb’s Hotel. He then found employment for Mr. Pedder at his farm at Kangaroo Point. He remained here for 3 years, then decided to become a miner. Despite being seen in Launceston from time to time, nothing else is known of his life from this period.

[National Library of Australia]

In 1883, James Saunders, now known as Sutherland, was joined by his friend James Ogden in bushranging in Epping Forest. According to news reports they only emerged from the bush to visit brothels and drink. This was followed by a brief crime spree that resulted in Sutherland murdering two men: William Wilson and Alfred Holman. The former was shot after leaving his house, which was also burnt down. The latter was shot while driving a wagon through the forest. Both crimes were as shocking in their violence as they were tragic in their aftermath.

Sutherland and Ogden were soon captured, not far from where Holman’s body was found, and tried for murder. Sutherland accepted the charges laid on him, and seemed to express little or no remorse. He suggested that because the world had been so cruel to him he saw no difference in giving a little cruelty back. The pair were found guilty and executed in Hobart. At the time of their executions, Ogden was twenty years old, while Sutherland, was only eighteen.

Spotlight: Ben Hall, The Bushranger (etching) 

In the 1860s printing technology did not allow for photographs to be published in newspapers so photographs were copied by artists and turned into etchings – a kind of engraving that could be used as a stamp. The quality of images varied wildly due to the various competencies of the artists.

In this image we see Ben Hall as a successful squatter. He holds a cabbage-tree hat and what is either a riding crop or a cane. Hall is dressed fashionably in moleskin trousers and sack coat with his signature mutton chops and long colonial hairstyle. The photograph this was based on seems to have disappeared over time but was likely taken during one of his many cattle musters as a keepsake, a reminder of a time long before he was the most wanted man in the British Empire.

Source“BEN HALL, THE BUSHRANGER.” Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 – 1872) 16 May 1865: 3.

Spotlight: Mugshot of Jack Doolan

(Credit: Public Records Office, Melbourne)

The folk song The Wild Colonial Boy is known around the world and has been sung by artists as wide ranging as the Clancy brothers and Mick Jagger. Despite the popularity, very few know of the inspiration for the song: seventeen year old John Doolan. 

This mugshot is the first prison portrait of Doolan, a teenage tearaway who went on a spree of highway robbery with another teen, Ned Donnelly, in the early 1870s. Operating in the north of Victoria with the occasional jaunt into southern New South Wales, Doolan and Donnelly stuck up travellers on the highways for fun. Coming from a poor background, some could perhaps see that the poverty was a contributing factor in Doolan’s lawlessness, though Doolan demonstrated poor respect for authority and very little in the way of impulse control. 

Doolan stabbed a fellow apprentice during an altercation in 1869 and was imprisoned for one year. Doolan met Ned Donnelly on the prison hulk Sir Harry Smith and the two became instant friends. When Doolan completed his sentence, Donnelly absconded three months later to join him. 

Taking to the bush, the boys became a nuisance on the roads and stations around Huntley, stealing clothes and supplies. Their lawless days ended outside the Robin Hood Inn after stealing a spring cart. Chased down by troopers, the boys surrendered. 

When the boys were put on trial, their judge, Sir Edward Eyre Williams, decided to impose what he considered to be “deterrent” sentences. John Doolan received fourteen years while Ned Donnelly got seventeen. According to reports at the time, Doolan’s mother became hysterical at the sentencing given to her son. The harsh sentences were publicly denounced but Doolan stayed in prison until 1882 before vanishing from history. 

While the song was ostensibly about Doolan, the narrative includes parts of the careers of Harry Power and Jack Donohoe including Donohoe’s death during a gun battle. Despite the artistic license, the song has meant that Doolan remains a familiar name in the Australian “rogues gallery”.  

Spotlight: Special Police Parade

This engraving and accompanying text were featured in the Sydney Mail, December 13, 1879.

sydmail13121879Our engraving represents a special parade of the police force in Sydney, which took place at the Police Barracks, Belmore Park, on Tuesday afternoon, the 2nd instant, for the purpose of reading to the troopers who took part, under senior-sergeant Carroll, in the capture of the Wantabadgery bushrangers, a letter from the Hon. the colonial secretary, expressing the opinion entertained by the Government of the services by the troopers in bringing the career of Moonlite and his gang to an end, and also a general order relating to the subject, issued by the Inspector-General of Police. The muster of police at the parade did not number more than about 80 men, because it was not found practicable to withdraw more from their duties at the International Exhibition, and in various other places about the city; but this number made a very attractive array. The men were first drawn up in line two deep, the Gundagai and Wagga troopers being on the right, with senior-sergeant Carroll at their head. The names of these brave fellows are sergeant Cassin and troopers Gorman, Hedley, Johns, Rowe, Wiles, Berry, and Williamson; and a finer body of men it would be difficult to find. Each of them wore on his left arm a band of crape in mourning for constable Bowen. The Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Edmund Fosberry, having arrived on the ground, sergeant Carroll and his men were called to the front, and, stepping two or three paces forward from the general ranks, they stood at attention while the Inspector-General addressed them. The address of the Inspector-General and the Colonial Secretary’s letter were given in our last issue. The policy of the Government in handsomely rewarding the brave fellows who fought and conquered under senior-sergeant Carroll’s command has been heartily endorsed by the public.

Spotlight: Portrait of James Nesbitt

James Nesbitt, Bushranger (Picture Credit: National Portrait Gallery)

Carlton boy, James Nesbitt, was not a master criminal by any far stretch of the imagination. Spending time in prison for taking part in a mugging, his behaviour seems to have been driven by a generally poor capacity for judgement rather than maliciousness and largely informed by a rough childhood thanks to his mentally unstable and extremely abusive father. Likely, this tendency to follow and to seek paternalistic figures was what drew him to befriend Andrew George Scott in Pentridge Prison (at one point landing him in trouble for giving Scott tea as a gift). Nevertheless, once both men were at liberty they met up and stayed together until Nesbitt’s death separated them in 1879.

While Scott toured Victoria lecturing on prison reform, Nesbitt was his constant companion, the pair even living together for a time in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy. When Scott suggested that the newly formed gang comprised of himself, Nesbitt and tearaways Gus Wernicke, Tom Rogan, Graham Bennett and Thomas Williams, head North for Sydney to find work, Nesbitt was all for it. It soon eventuated that the gang became desperate for supplies and turned to bushranging, Nesbitt acting as an important element in maintaining morale.

When the gang stuck up McGlede’s Station and were besieged by police, Nesbitt fought valiantly to defend his comrades and made the poor decision to attempt to create a diversion and enable Scott and the boys to escape. Firing like mad and running away from the homestead he caught the attention of the attacking police and was promptly shot dead. When Scott saw Nesbitt’s body after the gang were captured he broke down, weeping uncontrollably and kissing Nesbitt. While awaiting execution, Scott wrote a series of letters to Nesbitt’s mother and wore a ring woven from a lock of Nesbitt’s hair. The letters were never delivered.

Nesbitt was buried in Gundagai cemetery with Gus Wernicke and in 1995 Andrew Scott’s remains were removed from Rookwood cemetery and re-interred in Gundagai so that his final wish to share a grave with Nesbitt could be granted.

Spotlight: Scott (Moonlite) 

Wood engraving. From article: The Riverina Bushrangers. Australasian Sketcher, 22/11/1879

This somewhat imaginative etching of Captain Moonlite is quite detailed for the time. As technology did not exist to replicate photographs in print at the time,  artists employed by publications were given the task of dramatising events in illustrations or producing portraits of the key players based on descriptions or existing photographs. This is clearly based on a carte de visite of Andrew George Scott, but altered to make him look older and give him a more typically bushrangery beard to accompany an article about his capture.

Similar procedures were done at the time to create images of the Kelly Gang that were more in keeping with their bushranger status by giving the boys beards and moustaches. This practice both produced likenesses that would make it easier to identify the offenders and cemented the stereotypes of how bushrangers should look.

Earlier etchings of bushrangers relied almost exclusively on descriptions as obtaining photographs was nigh on impossible for the vast majority of bushrangers.

Spotlight: Ben Hall, the Bushranger.


This engraving of Ben Hall was published twenty days after his death. It appears to portray him as robust, heavier in build than he appears in existing photographs, and heavily bearded. The low-crowned hat and single button jacket he sports were popular in the early 1860s. It is possible this portrait is based on descriptions of Hall circa the time of his death combined with a now missing portrait of Hall that was taken in Melbourne when he was a squatter. 

Like most bushrangers, Hall never made it to a third decade of life, being gunned down remorselessly by police at the age of twenty seven. The harsh living conditions, poor diet, stress and bushy beards tended to make bushrangers look far older than they truly were. Their youth added to the glamour of the outlaws, but it was often difficult for settlers to comprehend how the criminal proportions of their exploits were being carried out by boys as young as thirteen or fourteen. 

Picture Credit: Calvert, Samuel, 1828-1913 artist. Wood engraving published in The illustrated Melbourne post. May 25, 1865. SLV Source ID: 1648449

Spotlight: “Thomas and John Clarke, bushrangers, from a photograph taken in Braidwood gaol”


Picture Credit: Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales

In 1867 Thomas and John Clarke were the most wanted men in Australia. With a reward of £1000 for Thomas and £500 for John, the hunt was on for two of the most notorious bushrangers in New South Wales. After a long shoot-out in Braidwood on 27/04/1867, the villainous Clarke brothers surrendered to the police party led by Senior Constable Wright, shaking hands with their opponents as if at the cessation of a gentlemanly game of cricket. During the fracas Constable Walsh and the black tracker Sir Watkin Wynne had been wounded by the outlaws and John Clarke had suffered a gunshot wound to his arm.

On 28/05/67 the brothers were put on trial in Sydney to keep them away from sympathisers and found guilty of wounding Constable William Walsh with intent to murder and sentenced to death and removed to Darlinghurst Gaol. On 25/06/1867 Thomas and John Clarke were hanged in Darlinghurst Gaol. Their bodies were removed to Rookwood Cemetery and buried in the Roman Catholic section. In some opinions the Clarke brothers were the bloodiest bushrangers in history and their story will be covered in more depth in future posts.

According to the entry on the State Library of New South Wales website, “Photograph probably taken in the first week of May, before the Clarkes were shipped to Sydney. John Clarke wounded in left arm during capture.” Thus this image would date from before their trial.