Simpson and his donkey – a found item

Yesterday at City Diggers S produced the following pin, which he had found on the street on Anzac Day.


He asked me to track it down on the Internet. This is the nearest I could find – on EBay.


As you can see there are differences: count the legs! That pin is from the year 2000 by the ANZAC Day Commemoration Committee of QLD and is on sale for $6.50. Compare the statue at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.


The story is well known in Australia. I posted on it in 2005.

It’s a nice story of altruism, and of a slightly shady character who did do heroic things. I remember first reading the story fifty-three years ago in my Grade III Social Studies text, along with stories about the boy who stuck his finger in the dyke, Grace Darling, Florence Nightingale, William Wilberforce, the boy gunner at the Battle of Jutland, and even Abraham of Ur and Mohammed.

I guess all these stories were meant to inculcate such virtues as daring to stand against the crowd, and valuing the needs of community above one’s own selfish interests. Altruism and sense of community are not actually values the current government always practises, but what is a little hypocrisy between friends after all?

There are some questions that can be raised, however, about mythologising and sanitising history. Here is the legendary version faithfully replicated by Bundeena Public School, pretty much just like what I read fifty-three years ago. You might like to compare it with this version:

Jack Simpson Kirkpatrick was born in 1892 at South Shields in the north east of England. He came from a large family, being one of eight children. As a child during his summer holidays he used to work as a donkey-lad on the sands of South Shields. He had a great affinity with animals, in particular donkeys. Later he deserted ship in Australia when he heard of the war with Germany.

Fearing that a deserter might not be accepted into the Australian Army, he dropped Kirkpatrick from his name and enlisted simply as John Simpson.

He was to become Australia’s most famous, and best-loved military hero…

See also Wikipedia.

There is a Wollongong connection as in 1910 Simpson was a miner in the area. See Michael Organ, “Simpson of Gallipoli” PDF.

According  to a  recent article by  Peter  Cochrane  (‘Simpson  Uncensored’,  Good Weekend,  21  April  1990),  the letters  reveal  Simpson  as  a  ‘radical  Labor  man,  reflecting  on  his  attitude  to  the “old  country”’ and  on  his  working  life  in  the  new, displaying  ‘his wilful  temperament and his apparently short fuse’.

Simpson’s  early  years  were  difficult.  His  father,  a  ship’s  captain, was  incapacitated  in  1904 and his son was forced to go to work as a dairy hand to help support  the family.

Just  two  days  after  his  father’s  funeral  Simspon  joined  the  merchant  navy  and  sailed  from  England  aboard  the  SS  Heighington  on  19  October  1909,  and at  the  age  of  17.  After  briefly  returning  home for  Christmas that year, he again sailed  aboard  the  SS  Yedda on  12  February  1910, this time for  Australia.  Little was  he  to  know  that  Christmas 1909  would  be  the  last time  he saw  his  beloved mother and sister Anne.

On  13  May  1910  Simspon  left  the  Yedda  at  Newcastle,  New  South  Wales, and  spent  the  following  two  months  travelling  through  part  of  Queensland  and New  South  Wales,  ‘humping  his  bluey’,  before  heading  south  towards  lllawarra at  the  end  of July.  One  of  his  letters,  dated  31  July  1910, describes  his arrival at Coledale from Sydney..

From  late  July  to  mid  December  1910  Simspon  was  resident  in  lllawarra,  at work  in  the  local  coal  mines.  According  to information  gleaned from  the  letters and  postcards,  he  spent  about  a  month  at  Coledale  before  moving  to  Corrimal mid August…

Early  in  December  he  moved  from  Corrimal  to  Mount  Kembla,  telling  his mother in  a letter dated 16 January 1911:
… I  left  Corrimal  about  a  week after  I wrote you that letter with  the  Xmas cards  in  it I went from Corrimal  to a place called Mt. Kembla but I only stopped there a  week  for  it was  right  up on  top of the mountain and it was a very quiet place so I left and worked my passage to Fremantle in Western Australia.

By  this time he  was second  steward  aboard the SS  Kooringa, a cargo ship which serviced  the  Australian  coast.  Whilst  serving  on  the  Kooringa,  Simpson  visited Port  Kembla  a  number of times,  writing  letters from that port in  1911  and  1913.  The  Kooringa  regularly  sailed  between  Port  Kembla  and  Fremantle, visiting  other ports such as  Melbourne, Sydney and  Newcastle. Simpson  stayed with  the  Kooringa  until about May  1913, afterwards spending a couple  of  months  ashore  at  Melbourne  resting  and  recuperated  from  almost 4  years at  sea.  By  December he  was working  on  the  SS Tarcoola out of Adelaide,  and  joined  the  SS  Yankalilla  around  February  of  1914.  During  this  period  he variously worked in the messroom and as a stoker…

Simpson enlisted in Fremantle in August 1914. He took part in the Gallipoli landing on 25 April 1915. He was killed on 9 May 1915.