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Simpson and his donkey

also see Henderson & his donkey: the Untold Story

For more detail go to 

Should the First Australian Victoria Cross be awarded to the man with the donkey? Before you answer read this story on the life of

 Private John Simpson MiD

 (John Simpson Kirkpatrick)  

Also called "Murphy" & "Scotty"

© Harry Willey. 2002   

The Man with the Donkey.

Two recommendations for The Empire’s highest award, The Victoria Cross, and one for the Distinguished Conduct Medal, were denied the man who was thought of as a hero, by both Officers and men who knew him on Gallipoli. 

His Service Medals:  1914/15 Star (13980),  The British War Medal (2715), The Victory Medal with Mentioned in Despatches Oak-leaf (MID) (2715) were issued and inscribed by Australia House, London 29 December 1919.  They are now on display at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

ANZAC Medallion. (1967)

Simpson got #1


The Memorial Plaque (Deadman's Penny) issued to the family of John Simpson (Kirkpatrick).
Metal with 'antique silver' finish; Enamel; Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Purple Cross and framed certificate of award. 

Antique silver medal bear a purple enamel cross on the obverse with the embossed words, 'PURPLE CROSS AWARD'. Reverse shows 'RSPCA' and paw print logo, and is engraved 'Simpson's Donkey "Murphy".

Awarded posthumously to Simpson's donkey 'Murphy'. Certificate further states, 'and for all the donkeys used by John Simpson Kirkpatrick, for the exceptional work they performed on behalf of humans while under continual fire at Gallipoli during World War I (1915)'. 

Presented to the Australian War Memorial at a ceremony on 19 May 1997. 

A combination of both red tape and bungling have for eighty seven years, denied John Simpson due recognition. The Gallipoli Hero, who with his donkeys, brought in to the aid station on the beach at Gallipoli more than three hundred wounded men, has been depicted on Australia’s Stamps, Coins and Banknotes. There are five sculpture’s of Simpson in Australia, one by W Anderson “Man with the Donkey” near the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, which was unveiled by Lord Huntingfield Sat 20 June 1936.  Another is near the entrance of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.  

A photograph of a statuette of 202 Private J.S. Kirkpatrick (who served in the 3rd Australian Field Ambulance, AIF as John Simpson), who became known as "The man with the donkey".

The statuette shows Simpson evacuating a wounded soldier on a donkey. (Donor The Librarian, South Shields)

Should this English born Scot now be the first man to be awarded The Australian Victoria Cross? 

Following his death, he was twice recommended for the Victoria Cross, firstly by the Commander of the 4th Brigade who he had been working with, Colonel (later General Sir John) Monash, and then by his own unit on 3 June 1915.  In addition Lieutenant-Colonel Sutton had earlier recommended him for the Distinguished Conduct Medal on 24 May.

Fifty three years later, 1967 Australia’s then serving Prime Minister Harold Holt and the Governor General combined and petitioned the British War Office seeking to have Pte Simpson awarded the Victoria Cross.  The request was denied on the grounds that the granting of the Victoria Cross to Simpson would set a dangerous precedent.

Those making this decision ignored the fact that a precedent had been set in 1907 when Lieutenant’s Melvill and Coghill had been awarded posthumous Victoria Crosses for their actions in South Africa 28 years earlier. John Simpson Kirkpatrick was born at 10 South Eldon Street, South Shields, Tyneside, Durham, in the North East of England 6 July 1892, one of eight children born to Scottish couple, Robert and Sarah Kirkpatrick, who had moved to Tyneside in 1886.  

Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey. Australian graves on a hillside at Anzac. 202 Private John (Jack) Simpson Kirkpatrick (who enlisted as John Simpson), 3rd Field Ambulance, who was killed 19 May 1915, is buried in Hell Spit Cemetery and commemorated by the central cross. (lent by: Lieutenant J. Stubbs) Click to enlarge

‘Jack’ was educated at Mortimer Road School, and during school holidays he worked at Murphy’s Fair, for Mr George as a donkey-lad, where he was in charge of several donkeys with which he used to take children for a ride on Herd Sands beach. By 1900 four of his siblings had died, three brothers and a sister.  Four years later his father Robert Kirkpatrick, the Captain of a collier was badly injured in an accident. This left Jack the man of the house at twelve years of age.

The family moved to 14 Bertram Street South Shields and on leaving school Jack gained employment with Mr Fred Patterson delivering the daily milk supply to the local residents. Robert Kirkpatrick died October 1909, two days later Jack then aged 17 went to sea as a storeman onboard SS Heighington, returning home to England, where he was paid off just in time to celebrate Christmas with his Mother and his three surviving sisters.

On 12 February 1910 he joined SS Yedda as a stoker sailing for South America and Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia.  Such was the state of the Yedda that on arrival in Newcastle, Jack and thirteen other crewmen jumped ship.

He then tried many occupations, Cane cutting in North Queensland, Droving and Jackarooing in Central Queensland, Coal Mining at Corrimal, NSW, and Gold Mining in Western Australia before returning to sea for the next two and a half years as a stoker onboard Kooringa.  Sailing from Geraldton in Western Australia to Newcastle in New South Wales.  

Click to enlarge Click to enlarge
Simpson at work How other Bearers worked Aussie stamps with Simpson

Sick of life at sea, he found accommodation at 616 Bourke Street, West Melbourne.  Then later while living at 330 Raglin Street, Port Melbourne he was ill for three months with influenza. Realizing life at sea wasn’t too bad he sailed once again as a stoker onboard SS Tarcoola on New Years eve, following an argument with the chief he wrote home saying he was coming home later in the year.  He then transferred to SS Yankalilla which was working solely off the Western Australian coast, three weeks later when they returned to Perth Jack was surprised to learn that England and Germany were at War.

Once again he jumped ship, enlisting in the AIF on 23 August 1914 under the name of John Simpson.  

His attestation papers show he listing his previous military experience as twelve months with 4th Durham Territorial’s (equivalent to CMF or Army Reserve).  

He was a 22 years and 2 months old Protestant, 5 foot, 8 ½ inches tall, weighing 12 stone.  

To the memory of our hero comrade 'Murphy' (Simpson) killed May 1915

John (Murphy) Simpson Kirkpatrick leading a donkey along a cliff path.  (Actually it is Pte Henderson NZEF)

A wounded soldier is on the donkey. 

By Horace Millichamp Moore-Jones.


Image above left: Depicts Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick of the 3rd Australian Field Ambulance and his donkey, 'Murphy'. Kirkpatrick is shown as a full-length figure, moving forwards along a cliff edge, suppporting a wounded soldier seated on his donkey. Later research undertaken by the Australian War Memorial suggests that the watercolour was copied by Moore-Jones from a photograph of a stretcher-bearer with the New Zealand Medical Corps, Richard Alexander Henderson. This work was reproduced by the British Historical Section (Military Branch) of the Committee of Imperial Defence, London, in July 1926. It was owned by the Commonwealth Government in London and then came back to Australia during the 1960s, where it became property of the Prime Minister's Department and from there entered the National Gallery of Australia's collections during the 1980s. The painting was presented to the Commonwealth Government through Sir John McEwan.

After a medical at Francis Street, Perth, he was accepted into the Army, allocated as a stretcher-bearer with “C” section of the 3rd Field Ambulance, with the 1st Division of the AIF.  He went into training at Blackboy Hill camp, 35 km from Perth.

He allocated 4/- a day from his 6/- (60 cents) a day army pay to his mother who was still in England.  Directing her to take half towards household expenses and bank the other half for him to collect after he, “had a good holiday in the Army”, believing he would be sent to Aldershot in England to train.  He like many at that time, was of the opinion that the war would be over by the end of the year.

On Christmas Day Jack wrote and told his mother, that he had been looking forward to spending this day with her at Shields, while adding that he would not have enlisted in Australia if he had known at the time what lay ahead.  Instead he would have worked his way home and then after a holiday, enlisted in England.

During the four years he had been away from home, no matter what the state of his finances, he had always managed to send his mother three pounds (6 dollars) a month. Embarking from Fremantle on board the 12,032 ton former Oceanic SN Co Ltd vessel His Majesties Australian Transport A7. “Medic.” Which the Australian government had requisitioned to help transport the AIF overseas.

The troops onboard “Medic” learnt on 2 November that England had declared war on Turkey, before they joined with the First Contingent of Australian and New Zealand troops, who were onboard 36 transports. The Convoy made up of converted passenger and cargo ships carried 20,758 members of the First A.I.F. and 7, 479 Horses. It had sailed from King Georges Sound on 1 November, escorted by the Australian light cruisers H.M.A.S. Sydney and H.M.A.S. Melbourne, a armed merchant cruiser H.M.S Orvieto and a Japanese cruiser.

Five days out they passed the mail steamer Osterley, which reported its narrow escape from the German raider, Emden.  Four days later they watched as the Sydney sailed off under full steam to intercept the Emden, which was attacking a wireless station at Cocos Island.

The H.M.A.S. Sydney in what was the first action of the war by the Royal Australian Navy, in a ninety minute battle out manoeuvred the Emden which it disabled before running it aground on the North Keeling Island reef. Crossing the equator on November 12, the Convoy arrived at their first port of call, Colombo, where escort duty was taken over by a single ship H.M.A.S. Hampshire.  Before arriving in Colombo 329 men had been treated by the ship’s hospitals, 62 had measles and 55 Influenza.

H.M.A.S. Hampshire. left the convoy 24 November, the next evening the convoy arrived at Aden, where they stayed overnight leaving 6 am 26 November staying very close to the Arabian Coast, till they reached Port Suez, on 1 December, where they received definite orders to disembark and train in Egypt.  The troops were now finding the nights very cold.

The SS Medic arrived Cairo 12 December after a 42 day journey.  Here Jack boarded a train for the 20 km journey to Mena, where the Australians set up a training camp. Mena was a village located in the shadows of the Sphinx and two Pyramids. Here they joined with English and Indian troops.

At the end of February Jack Simpson placed his pet possum which he had brought from Australia with him in the Giza Zoo, before he left for the Lemnos Island.  Where the 3rd Field Ambulance trained for seven weeks, while training on Lemnos Jack registered his will in which he left his entire estate to his Mother.

On 15 April the 3rd Field Ambulance boarded the troopship “Devanha”  in preparation of the planned attack on the Dardanelles. In order to get into the boat to be rowed ashore at Gallipoli, the men of the 3rd Field Ambulance first had to remove the dead and wounded that remained in the boat from its previous trip to the beach.

Their boat carrying 25 men was towed to within 300yards of the shore, from there they had to row, grounded some distance from the beach, Jack acting quickly was the second man to jump into the water to wade ashore 300mt north of Ari Burnu Point, casualties were high during the landing with 3 Stretcher Bearers from the 3rd Field Ambulance being killed and 14 wounded.

Jack soon realized that things had gone terribly wrong, they had been landed at the spot that previously had been agreed was the landing site least likely to succeed. Two thousand of the Men who landed on the 25th April were casualties by night fall.  Despite this by 2am on the 26th due to the efforts of Field Ambulance Brigades all the wounded were safely on the hospital ships.

But the stretchers use to transport the wounded to the hospital ships were not being returned leaving the stretcher-bearers not only short in number, but without stretchers. Instead of the stretcher bearers working in teams of six as they had trained, they were required to work either with a mate or on their own.  On the second day after single-handedly carrying back several wounded, Jack about to place another man on his broad shoulders when he saw a abandoned donkey standing nearby.

He quickly made a halter from bandages, put the wounded man on the donkeys back and a legend had been born. Jack's actions were officially frowned upon but inwardly admired by his superiors, but after four days of not returning to his unit, he was for all intents and purposes a deserter.  He had formed himself into a one man unit.

During these four days Jack and the donkey had been working eighteen hour days, taking water from the beach to the men in the trenches, before returning, bringing the grateful wounded, through Monash Valley to the beach where they could be treated.

Anxious about lack of proper food for the donkey, jack teamed up with the 21st Kohat Indian Mountain Artillery Battery who came to know him as “Bahadur” the “Bravest of the Brave”. With the Indians he was able to spell his donkey using others that the Indians had brought to move their cannons around, these donkeys “Murphy”, “Abdul”, “Duffy” and “Queen Elizabeth” were then used one at a time by Jack to continue his work.  

webmasters note. I have read dozens of reports of Simpson's efforts. Some but not many mention that he carried water forward to the troops after dropping the wounded at the CCS. It adds to the legend of the man's activities even if it technically removed his claim to be a non combatant. Aiding unwounded troops, although a wonderful thing to do, removed any claim that he had to protection under the Red Cross arm band.

Despite the many warnings regarding snipers, Jack displayed nerves of steel as he went forward many times into no mans land to bring back wounded soldiers. The Indians made him a saddle and bridle, and Jack progressively worked longer hours, as much as 20 hours a day.  Making the 1½ (2.2km) trip from the beach to the trenches between twelve and fifteen times per day.

Toward the end of the first week on Gallipoli one of Jacks passengers was a badly wounded semi conscious English lad Billy Lowes.  Neither Billy who lapsed in and out of consciousness,  nor Jack who had to hold him securely on the donkey recognized each other, as the mate they had traded rabbits with back at Shields many years earlier.

Returned home and discharged Billy Lowes, now aware of who his benefactor was, contacted Jack's mother and sister and told them of his admiration and his debt to the Man with the Donkey. After 24 days on Gallipoli Jack was killed on 19 May, when Turkish machine gun bullets tore through his body, hitting him in the back and exiting through the stomach.  His donkey continued to the beach with a critically wounded soldier on his back before leading other concerned stretcher-bearers back to where Jacks body lay.

Fearful of the machine gunner they placed Jacks body behind a sandbag barricade, leaving it there until 7pm that night when they carried him to the beach and buried him at Hell Spit, later known as the Hillside Cemetery.  Which was at the southern end of ANZAC Cove, after a service conducted by Rev J Green, they marked his grave with a simple wooden cross bearing just two words “Jack Simpson”.

The next day Colonel Monash put forward a lengthy submission to Divisional Headquarters recommending Pte John Simpson for the award of a Victoria Cross.  A further recommendation came from his unit 3 June, while Lieutenant Colonel Sutton had earlier recommended that he receive a Distinguished Conduct Medal.

All of these submissions failed.  The bravery of Pte John Simpson Kirkpatrick has never been duly recognized, apart from a special mention of his work between 25 April and 5 May in Divisional orders No 60, on 14 March 1916.  When he was Mentioned in Despatches.  His Mother and sister Annie were notified of this 8 April 1916.

The first his mother and sister knew of Jacks death was when a letter to Jack from his sister Annie, was returned unopened with the word “Killed” written on the front of the envelope. Colonel Howse VC, the Senior Medical Officer on ANZAC (and Australia's first ever VC) was of the belief that the Victoria Cross should not go to a stretcher-bearer for simply doing his job.  Many blame the way in which Howse submitted Monash’s request for its failure.

This was despite the fact that the first Victoria Cross awarded on Gallipoli had been awarded to a British Stretcher Bearer L/Cpl W R Parker who on 1 May 1915 had helped rescue some wounded men from a trench despite being wounded himself.

Nobody denies Parker his VC, but it must be remembered that during his 24 days on Gallipoli, Jack Simpson had with the aid of only his donkey’s brought over three hundred wounded men back to the beach for treatment, continuing to work on days that other stretcher bearers were ordered to discontinue their work due to the ferocity of the Turkish snipers.

Lieutenant Colonel A. C. Fergusson DSO, Commander of the 21st Kohat Indian Mountain Artillery Battery and his men took great care with Jacks final donkey “Duffy” with the intention of presenting it to Australia, but this kind act failed when the donkey was stolen from their camp at Mudros.

Captain Fry the on 2 September 1915 wrote to Jack's sister Annie telling her of Jack's bravery and the admiration of him that was felt by his comrades, he explained that during the time that Jack was carrying out his rescue missions through Schrapnell Valley the area was almost constantly exposed to snipers and was continuously shelled.

He told her of Jacks disregard for the dangers and his refusal at times of great danger to obey orders and remain under cover, and how he was always cheery, singing and whistling as he carried out his self imposed task.

After the war a headstone was erected on Jack Simpson’s Grave.  

There are five statues of  Private John Simpson and his donkey scattered around Australia, the best known stands at the entrance to the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Henderson & His Donkey: The Untold Story

For many years this photograph was thought to be of 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, who enlisted as John Simpson, at Anzac, "The Man with the Donkey", and was at first accepted as such. 

It was later found that this photograph was taken by 3/210 Sergeant James (Jas) G. Jackson, New Zealand Expeditionary Force, and shows not Simpson but Lieutenant Richard Alexander (Dick) Henderson. 

The photograph was subsequently copied by Sapper H. Moore-Jones and reproductions of his picture were widely distributed as being an excellent portrait of Simpson.

AWM image & text

Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick (born 6 July 1892, died 19 May 1915), better known as 'Simpson' or 'the man with the donkey', was assigned to the 3rd Field Ambulance, Australian Army Medical Corps. He was among the covering force which landed on Gallipoli at dawn on 25 April 1915.  At Gallipoli he used a donkey (named 'Abdul', 'Murphy' or 'Duffy') to carry wounded soldiers to the dressing station and gained a reputation for being undaunted by enemy fire. On 19 May 1915 he was killed, and though he was mentioned in orders of the day and despatches, he received no bravery award. The myth-making began almost immediately after his death, and he soon became one of the best-known images of the ANZAC experience.  
  • The task of evacuating wounded by donkey was then continued by a New Zealander, Private R.A. Henderson. 

For more information on Simpson and his donkey the following books are recommended: Peter Cochrane, Simpson and the Donkey: The Making of a Legend (Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1992); and Peter Dennis, Jeffrey Grey, Ewan Morris and Robin Prior (eds), The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History (Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1995), p.548.

The Artist Partly Responsible For The Simpson Legend

Moore-Jones, Horace Millichamp   1867/1868? - 1922

Artist, soldier, art teacher

Horace Jones was born probably in 1867 or 1868 at Malvern Wells, Worcestershire, England, the third of 10 children of Sarah Ann Garner, a schoolteacher, and her husband, David Jones, an engineer. He arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, with his family probably in 1885. After studying art under Anne Dobson, a portrait painter and sculptor, he married her in Auckland on 5 September 1891. The couple then moved to Sydney, Australia, where Anne died on 7 June 1901. There were at least three children of the marriage.

From 1892 to 1905 Horace Jones exhibited with the Art Society of New South Wales. About this time he changed his name to Horace Millichamp Moore-Jones and painted what may be his first war subject. He presented this oil painting, 'The departure of the Ninth Contingent from New Zealand for the South African War', to the Auckland Art Gallery in 1902. On 29 November 1905 he married Florence Emma Mitchell at Bellambi, New South Wales. They were to have two daughters and a son. About 1908 he returned with his family to Auckland. There he taught privately and at the Ladies' College, Remuera, where his mother was principal, and exhibited with the Auckland Society of Arts. About 1912 he travelled to London, enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art, and joined Pearson's Magazine as a staff artist.

In 1914, at the age of about 46, Moore-Jones enlisted in the British Section of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. To gain acceptance he shaved off his moustache, cropped his hair and lied about his age. Before joining the main body of the force in Egypt on Christmas Eve 1914 he trained on Salisbury Plain, and after being posted to the 1st Field Company of Engineers participated in the allied landing at Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli peninsula in April 1915. He was subsequently attached to Lieutenant General Sir William Birdwood's ANZAC Printing Section to make topographical pencil and watercolour sketches of the landscape and plans of allied and Turkish positions. 

His sketches of the harsh terrain, made under hazardous conditions, were an invaluable aid for planning operations and defence, and were used to illustrate official dispatches. He also made informal picturesque studies of the landscape around Imbros (Gökçeada). Known as 'Sapper Moore-Jones', he chose to remain in the ranks and offered comfort to the sick and wounded while working as a field artist. On being offered the possibility of a commission by a staff officer, he reputedly replied, 'Imagine an old chap like me trying to be a lieutenant.'

n November 1915 he received a wound in his right hand which put a temporary end to his work. His health deteriorated and he was invalided to Britain suffering from exhaustion. After recuperating at the 1st Southern General Hospital, Birmingham, he made further watercolours based on his Gallipoli studies. An exhibition of these was held at New Zealand House from 11 to 24 April 1916 and shown by command at Buckingham Palace. It received a good deal of public approval, and reproductions of his sketches were made in 1916.

In 1916 Moore-Jones was classified unfit for battle duty and repatriated to New Zealand. He settled in Auckland where he undertook portrait commissions and private teaching. His Gallipoli watercolours were shown in Auckland and later toured New Zealand. Thousands attended the exhibitions and heard his talks about the Gallipoli campaign. The sketches provided images of the war through which those at home could feel closer to those involved. Many prints were made and sold to the public and Moore-Jones offered to paint similar scenes on commission. 

  • While in Dunedin with the exhibition he painted the first of his water-colours of 'The man with the donkey'. About 1918 he was appointed to teach art at Hamilton High School, to which he travelled from Auckland each week.

On 3 April 1922 the Hamilton Hotel where Moore-Jones was staying caught fire at four o'clock in the morning. Although he escaped without difficulty, he returned to the building to rescue others who were trapped there. Observers said that he displayed the 'greatest heroism', and that 'his gallantry was responsible for many being saved'. Later that day Horace Moore-Jones died at Waikato Hospital, Hamilton, from shock following extensive burns. He was survived by his wife, Florence.

Moore-Jones was tall and well-built with aquiline features. He possessed an engaging personality and an original turn of mind. New Zealand's best-known war artist from the period, he won high acclaim in Britain and New Zealand for his Gallipoli sketches, which are now a vital part of the art collection of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. In New Zealand his work is represented in the Auckland City Art Gallery, the Hocken Library, the Waikato Art Museum and in several other New Zealand collections.


Gray, A. 'Moore-Jones' Gallipoli'. Australian Connoisseur No 4 (1983): 40--43Mack, J. Paintings & drawings by HoraceObit. New Zealand Herald. 4 April 1922: 6 Moore-Jones. Hamilton, 1964


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