Guide to the Papers of the Ley family


MS 6149

National Library of Australia View Catalogue Record

Collection Summary

Ley family
Papers of the Ley family
Date Range
Collection Number
MS 6149
1.12 metres (8 boxes, 17 folios)
Language of Materials
National Library of Australia


Scope and Contents

The collection relates mainly by Thomas Ley, his wife Lewie and son Keith. There is a smaller amount of material from the Vernon family (Lewie's family), and Thomas and Lewie's other sons, Russell and Clive. A large part of the collection consists of legal and official documents. There are also many photographs, letters and press cuttings. The collection includes a number of interesting objects, including an urn which is reputed to contain Thomas Ley's ashes, and a portrait, on china, of an unknown woman.

Conditions Governing Access

Please refer to the collection's catalogue record for the access conditions (

Conditions Governing Use

Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions. For such material, written permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s). Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.

Preferred Citation

Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of manuscript item], Papers of the Ley family, National Library of Australia, MS 6149, [box number and series and/or file number]'.


This collection was acquired by the National Library in 1984. It lay in an old shed in the Southern Highlands for approximately 30 years before being discovered by a young man from Wollongong.

Separated Materials

A film of Thomas Ley at the 1922 State election, which was originally part of the Ley Family Papers, was transferred to the National Film and Sound Archive.

Biographical Note

Thomas John Ley:Born in Bath, England, in 1880, Thomas Ley came to Australia at the age of 8 with his mother, Elizabeth Ley, his grandmother, Elizabeth Bryant, his sister Minnie and two brothers (one of whom was named Wally). In 1894 he became a solicitor's clerk, and later, as a qualified solicitor, established the firm of Ley, Andrews & Co.

He became an alderman in Hurstville in 1908 and a State M.P. in 1917. In 1921 he was allotted two portfolios, Labour and Industry, and Public Instruction, in Premier James Dooley's ministry - a ministry which lasted a mere six hours. In 1922 he became the N.S.W. Justice Minister. In 1925 Thomas Ley contested and won the Federal seat of Barton. His election was overshadowed by scandal when his opponent, Frederick McDonald, accused him of bribery. McDonald later withdrew his allegations and disappeared. It was rumoured that McDonald had been murdered (his body was never found), and that Thomas Ley was involved. Two more of his opponents later died in suspicious circumstances.

Thomas Ley was defeated in the 1928 Federal elections. He had been involved in a number of ill-fated business dealings, including Prickly Pear Poisons Limited. He moved to England, and engaged in a number of activities, including many real estate dealings. He was a director of a number of property development companies. In 1946 Thomas Ley was implicated in the murder of a barman, John Mudie. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. He was later transferred to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, where he died on 27 July 1946.

Thomas Ley's personal life was also controversial. He married in 1898 and had three sons, and while still married conducted an affair lasting about 25 years with a widow named Maggie Brook. It was apparently his jealousy of Mrs Brook which led to the murder of John Mudie.

A number of authors have written about John Ley, including Dan Morgan, who wrote The Minister for Murder (London : Hutchinson, 1979) and John Rowland, who wrote Unfit to Plead? (London : John Long, 1965).

Emily Lewise Stone Vernon Ley:Known as Lewie for most of her life (a certificate presented to her when she was nine years old is inscribed "Lewie E. Vernon"), Emily Lewise Vernon was born in England in 1874. She migrated to Sydney with her mother, brother and sister, and married Thomas Ley in 1898. Lewie was interested in writing, and was involved in the international suffrage movement. She followed Thomas to England in 1942, returning to Australia after his death. She died in Bowral in 1956.

Russell John Vernon Ley:The eldest of Thomas and Lewie's three sons, born in 1889. Little is known about Russell's life other than that he was involved in a real estate business in Glen Innes. He married Janet, and had a son John, who in 1947 was Thomas Ley's only grandchild.

Clive Vernon Ley: Youngest son of Thomas and Lewie, born in 1903.

Keith Edward Vernon Ley:Second son of Thomas and Lewie, born in 1900. Keith was an accountant and was involved in a number of business dealing with his father. He was imprisoned in England for three years after being convicted of forgery. After his release Keith joined the Navy and later returned to Australia.

Edward Vernon:Lewie's father. His name may have been Alfred (his burial certificate refers to Alfred Vernon). He was born in England in 1831 and qualified as a surgeon in 1853. He married Emily Jane Stone and had three children, Ethel, Edward and Emily. He died in Bath in 1893.

Edward Vernon:Son of Edward and Emily, and brother of Ethel and Lewie. Born in 1866. Edward came to Sydney in 1895 with his mother and sisters. He became a dentist, and lived for many years in Goulburn.

Ethel Jacynthar Stone Vernon:Oldest of Edward and Emily's three children, born in 1864. Often referred to as Ettie. She worked for a Mr Butterworth in Sydney in 1907 and was living in Goulburn by 1915. Ethel died in 1953, aged 89.

Item Descriptions

Series 1. Thomas John Ley, 1880-1955

The nine folders in this series contain material relating to Thomas Ley's birth, career as a politician, business dealings in Australia and England, his trial and death. The career papers include sheets of blank writing paper from the political parties he was involved with; numerous letters of recommendation for his overseas trips; and dozens of certificates relating to his Commissioner of Deeds status in many countries. Much of the remaining material relates to court proceedings involving Thomas or his sons - there are relatively few details of Thomas Ley's personal life.

Papers, 1880-1924: Birth certificates (2 certified copies) (File 1) - Box 1

Papers, 1880-1924: Blank writing paper and envelopes - letterheads of St. Helens; Liberal Associating of N.S.W., Hurstville Electorate; Progressive Party, St .George Electorate; N.S.W. Parliament; N.S.W. Ministry of Justice.Press cutting about the Ley Shield, 1919 (File 1) - Box 1

Papers, 1880-1924: Freemason's lodge certificate, 1922 (File 1) - Box 1

Papers, 1880-1924: Australian passport, 1924 (File 1) - Box 1

Commissioner of Deeds Certificates (i) (File 2) - Box 1

Commissioner of Deeds Certificates (ii): Commissioner of Deeds certificates from countries all over the world, dated between 1917 and 1926 (File 3) - Box 1

Papers, 1925-1932: Photocopy of letter from Sir Dudley de Chair giving Thomas Ley permission to use the title Honourable, 8 Oct. 1923 (File 4) - Box 1

Papers, 1925-1932: Copy of report of Court of Disputed Returns on the withdrawal of Frederick McDonald's petition (File 4) - Box 1

Papers, 1925-1932: Copies of Terms of Agreement, signed by McDonald, Ley and others (File 4) - Box 1

Papers, 1925-1932: Handwritten apology, written and signed by Frederick McDonald, 19 March 1926 (File 4) - Box 1

Papers, 1925-1932: Photocopies of McDonald letter of apology, Terms of Agreement (File 4) - Box 1

Papers, 1925-1932: Mortgage document for mortgage between T.J. Ley and M.E. Brook (1927) (File 4) - Box 1

Papers, 1925-1932: Documents relating to the failure of Prickly Pear Poisons Limited (File 4) - Box 1

Papers, 1925-1932: Letters from Prime Minister S.M. Bruce; N.S.W. Governor Sir Philip Game; and N.S.W. Premier Bertram Stevens, 1929-1932 (later used in Thomas Ley's application for discharge from bankruptcy) (File 4) - Box 1

Letters of introduction, 1927-1930: Letters of introduction used by Thomas Ley during his travels overseas. Includes letters from many embassies and consulates in Sydney and London; N.S.W. Premier's Office; Empire Parliamentary Association (File 5) - Box 1

Papers, 1936-1946: Letters to family members (File 6) - Box 1

Papers, 1936-1946: Papers relating to Thomas Ley's discharge from bankruptcy in 1940 (File 6) - Box 1

Papers, 1936-1946: Will, dated 16 April, 1945 (File 6) - Box 1

Papers, 1936-1946: British passport, 1946 (File 6) - Box 1

Properties in England, 1940s: Brochures, balance sheets, etc. for Connaught Properties; Catford Investments Ltd; Central District Properties Ltd (File 7) - Box 1

Trial and death, 1947: Letters to Lewie and Keith from Broadmoor (File 8) - Box 2

Trial and death, 1947: 1947 diary (File 8) - Box 2

Trial and death, 1947: Poem to Lewie, written at Broadmoor at 5 am on 4 June 1947 which begins "Lewie, angel, mine" and concludes "but for you and Clive I should find some way to die" (File 8) - Box 2

Trial and death, 1947: Press cuttings relating to the trial, sentencing, petition for mercy, death, and funeral (File 8) - Box 2

Trial and death, 1947: Cremation certificate (File 8) - Box 2

Trial and death, 1947: Probate document (File 8) - Box 2

Papers, 1947-1955: Probate documents, administrator's reports (File 9) - Box 2

Miscellaneous Objects: Album containing invitations and cards addressed to Thomas and Lewie, 1919-1920 (File [unnumbered]) - Box 2

Miscellaneous Objects: Election banner with the words "Progressive candidate T.J. Ley will speak here" - painted on fabric (size approximately 1 metre x 3 metre) (File [unnumbered]) - Box 2

Miscellaneous Objects: 3 election badges: "Ley for Barton"; "Ley for St. George" (File [unnumbered]) - Box 2

Miscellaneous Objects: 2 Metal plates: "5 Beaufort Gardens Kensington"; "Hon Thos J. Ley, 5 Beaufort Gardens" (File [unnumbered]) - Box 2

Miscellaneous Objects: Address books (File [unnumbered]) - Box 2

Miscellaneous Objects: Leather wallet, embossed "The Hon T.J. Ley" (File [unnumbered]) - Box 2

Miscellaneous Objects: Metal cigarette box, engraved "T.J.L." (File [unnumbered]) - Box 2

Instruments of Appointment (originals): N.S.W. Minister of Public Instruction and Labour (20 December 1921) (File [unnumbered]) - Folio [unnumbered]

Instruments of Appointment (originals): Member of N.S.W. Executive Council (20 December 1921) (File [unnumbered]) - Folio [unnumbered]

Instruments of Appointment (originals): N.S.W. Minister of Justice (13 April 1922) (File [unnumbered]) - Folio [unnumbered]

Instruments of Appointment (originals): Member of N.S.W. Executive Council (13 April 1922) (File [unnumbered]) - Folio [unnumbered]

Letter of apology from Frederick McDonald (original) (File [unnumbered]) - Folio [unnumbered]

Certificate of Incorporation of Universal Non-Glare Lighting Systems Limited (14 May 1927) (File [unnumbered]) - Folio [unnumbered]

Brass urn, reputed to contain the ashes of Thomas Ley (File [unnumbered]) - Folio [unnumbered]

Series 2. EmilyLewise Stone Vernon Ley, 1883-1956

Thomas Ley's wife Lewie is represented by two folders of material. There are indications that Lewie had literary inclinations (a certificate for a story in Girl's own paper in 1883; a press cutting of one of her stories, published in 1892; and an exercise book containing drafts of short stories). There is also a quantity of advertising material for various small business concerns, including the Marblex Institute.

Papers, 1883-1930: Certificate from Girl's own paper (1883) (File 10) - Box 3

Papers, 1883-1930: Certificates for music (1888), shorthand (1894) (File 10) - Box 3

Papers, 1883-1930: Character reference, 1896 (File 10) - Box 3

Papers, 1883-1930: Advertisements for small business ventures, including Marblex Institute; Australian School of Cement Arts (File 10) - Box 3

Papers, 1940-1956: Letter about cancer treatment, 1942 (File 11) - Box 3

Papers, 1940-1956: Ration books, 1942 (File 11) - Box 3

Papers, 1940-1956: Letters, mainly from Keith, Clive, Etty (File 11) - Box 3

Papers, 1940-1956: Statement relating to Thomas Ley's treatment of her in London (incomplete) (File 11) - Box 3

Miscellaneous Objects: Exercise book containing drafts of short stories, letters, press cutting of one of her stories (1892); Lewie's report of her father's death in 1893 (File [unnumbered]) - Box 3

Miscellaneous Objects: Cookbook with loose recipe cuttings inside (File [unnumbered]) - Box 3

Miscellaneous Objects: Wallet (File [unnumbered]) - Box 3

Miscellaneous Objects: Hotel key ring (File [unnumbered]) - Box 3

Miscellaneous Objects: Bible (File [unnumbered]) - Box 3

Miscellaneous Objects: Queensland map (bound volume) (File [unnumbered]) - Box 3

Series 3. Russell John Vernon Ley, 1924-1932

The folder of material in this series consists mainly of material relating to Russell's real estate business in Glen Innes. He is the least documented member of Thomas Ley's family.

Papers, 1924-1932:Letter relating to payment of a bound for his unfinished law studies, (1924), as well as contracts and papers relating to his business as an estate agent in Glen Innes, 1932 (File 12) - Box 12

Series 4. Clive Vernon Ley, 1903-1953

This one folder series contains many private papers, including Clive's birth (1903) and baptism certificates, and many typed letters to his mother and brother Keith.

Papers, 1903-1953:Birth and baptism certificates, school certificates (1917, 1918), a certificate awarded to Clive as Cadet 2nd Lieutenant in the Cadet Corps (1922) and a letter from the N.S.W. Prison Reform League, 1947 (File 13) - Box 3

Series 5. Keith Edwards Vernon Ley, 1925-1956

In this series there are six folders of papers, including documents and letters relating to Keith's naval service. There are three folders of material relating to a court case in 1940, Rex v Ley, in which Keith was accused of forgery and subsequently imprisoned. There is an intriguing set of documents relating to a French woman, Camille Paoli. It includes letters, hotel receipts in both names, and a statutory declaration by Camille. One folder of material consists of various letters, medical remedies, poems and prayers. This material was physically together, and located near Keith's papers, but it is not possible to determine if Keith indulged in all these interests, or if some material was collected by other members of the family.

Papers, 1937-1946: Official documents and letters relating to Keith's navy service (File 14) - Box 4

Papers, 1937-1946: Ration books (File 14) - Box 4

Papers, 1937-1946: The "Camille Paoli affair" - letters, hotel receipts, statutory declaration made by Camille (File 14) - Box 4

Rex v Ley, 1940 (i): Documents for use in court, including reports from handwriting experts (File 15) - Box 4

Rex v Ley, 1940 (ii): File relating to dealings with the expert Forbes (File 16) - Box 4

Rex v Ley, 1940 (ii): Documents containing Best's signature (originals) (File 16) - Box 4

Rex v Ley, 1940 (iii): Multiple copies of Best's signature (photostats, positive and negative images) (File 17) - Box 4

Rex v Ley, 1940 (iii): Letter from Thomas Ley to Chief Justice, requesting and inquiry into the case, alleging bias by Judge Hilbery (File 17) - Box 4

Papers, 1947-1956: Letters, including one from his father; job application (File 18) - Box 4

Papers, 1947-1956: Book of art union lottery tickets (File 18) - Box 4

Papers, 1947-1956: Document relating to his discharge from bankruptcy, 1949 (File 18) - Box 4

Papers, 1947-1956: Letter relating to possible legal action by Chaplin/Best, 1949 (File 18) - Box 4

Papers, 1947-1956: Hotel receipts, Bowral (File 18) - Box 4

Papers, 1947-1956: Account books relating to Lewie's estate (File 18) - Box 4

Miscellaneous Papers: Miscellaneous recipes, cards, poems, a horoscope, prayers, blotter, etc. It is not possible to tell whether all of these items belonged to Keith (File 19) - Box 5

Miscellaneous objects: Diaries for 1937, 1947 (2), 1952 (File [unnumbered]) - Box 5

Miscellaneous objects: 2 address books (File [unnumbered]) - Box 5

Miscellaneous objects: Notebook, wartime writing pad, ledger, ready reckoner, booklet (File [unnumbered]) - Box 5

Miscellaneous objects: 3 plans/architect's drawings (File [unnumbered]) - Box 5

Miscellaneous objects: 3 plans/architect's drawings:Aux ketch yacht Sylvia 250 tons (1925) (File [unnumbered]) - Box 5

Miscellaneous objects: 3 plans/architect's drawings:Casino des Fleurs Beaulieu sur mer (1928) (File [unnumbered]) - Box 5

Miscellaneous objects: 3 plans/architect's drawings:Geranium - proposed alterations (1932) (File [unnumbered]) - Box 5

Miscellaneous objects: Folded map of British Isles, mounted on fabric (File [unnumbered])

Miscellaneous objects: Book: Hire purchase business, law and accountancy by Keith Edward (File [unnumbered]) - Box 5

Miscellaneous objects: Vernon Ley (Sydney : Butterworth, 1927) 68 p. (signed by Keith Ley) (File [unnumbered])

Series 6. Vernon Family, 1853-1953

The two folders of Vernon family papers include a few documents relating to Lewie's father (Edward Vernon), who was a doctor, and brother (also named Edward), a dentist. One folder contains papers, certificates and letters belonging to Lewie's older sister Ethel.

Papers, 1853-1926: Certificate from Royal College of Surgeon presented to Edward Vernon, 1853 (File 20) - Box 6

Papers, 1853-1926: Burial certificate for Alfred (ie. Edward?) Vernon, 1893 (File 20) - Box 6

Papers, 1853-1926: Letters to Edward regarding his son's academic progress (File 20) - Box 6

Papers, 1853-1926: Sign which reads "Painted and presented to Dr Vernon by a grateful patient" (File 20) - Box 6

Papers, 1853-1926: Papers of Edward Vernon (junior) (File 20) - Box 6

Papers, 1853-1926: Edward's Australian passport, 1926 (File 20) - Box 6

Ethel Vernon, 1881-1953: Certificates from London College of Music (1881); for shorthand (1891) (File 21) - Box 6

Ethel Vernon, 1881-1953: Papers, letters annual reports relating to Ethel's five shares in Canadian Marconi (File 21) - Box 6

Ethel Vernon, 1881-1953: In memoriam cards for Edward and Emily Vernon, and members of the Russell and Stone families, 1860-1916 (File 21) - Box 6

Ethel Vernon, 1881-1953: In memoriam card from Mrs Byron Brook, whose husband Byron died in Perth on 1 April 1923 (File 21) - Box 6

Ethel Vernon, 1881-1953: Ethel's Australian passport, 1926 (File 21) - Box 6

Ethel Vernon, 1881-1953: Funeral account for Ethel, addressed to Keith Ley (File 21) - Box 6

Miscellaneous objects: Homeopathic directory 1887-1888 (File [unnumbered]) - Box 6

Miscellaneous objects: Ethel's diary, 1890 (File [unnumbered]) - Box 6

Miscellaneous objects: Ethel's prayer books, Bibles (File [unnumbered]) - Box 6

Miscellaneous objects: Ethel's address book, 1926 (File [unnumbered]) - Box 6

Certificate marking admission of Edward Vernon to Royal College of Surgeons (17 June 1853) (File [unnumbered]) - Folio [unnumbered]

Series 7. Photographs

This series includes 8 photographs albums, a large number of loose photographs and a portrait, on china, of an unidentified young woman. Many are snapshots or portraits of members of the Ley and Vernon families. Also included are many foreign scenes, some of which would have emanated from Keith's sea service during World War II.

"Ogden's photo album": Contains photographs of the Ley boys when very young; Ethel; Lewie; and members of the Vernon family (Item 1) - Box 7

"Louvre Paris album": A small album, all of same woman - possibly Camille Paoli (Item 2) - Box 7

"Whitby album": Thomas Ley; Ley boys aged approximately 5-10 (Item 3) - Box 7

"Snapshots album": Mostly Thomas Ley, middle-aged; a few photographs of Lewie (Item 4) - Box 7

"Red dog album": Baby John (Russell's son?); London scenes; family shots (Item 5) - Box 7

"Pink dog album": Thomas Ley's sister Minnie, brother Wally; Lewie's Red Cross certificate; photographs of Thomas, Keith RNR (Item 6) - Box 7

"Yellow dog album": Lewie, Elizabeth Ley, Russell and Janet, John (about 10) (Item 7) - Box 7

Ethel Vernon's album, family shots: Album is inscribed "Given to me by my dear Daddy, 23rd Nov. 1879" (Item 8) - Box 7

Collection of about 30 loose photographs, mostly Vernon family (Item 1) - Box 8

Collection of about 60 loose photographs (some mounted); school photographs (Ley boys? - ca 1910); various scenes; 2 glass negatives; "Cabinet portrait" of Thomas and Lewie (Item 2) - Box 8

Collection of about 30 loose photographs of Lewie and her adult sons and their wives; framed portrait of Keith in uniform (Item 3) - Box 8

Collection of about 30 loose photographs, mainly of Thomas Ley; photographs of Connaught building (Item 4) - Box 8

Photograph of a group of Connaught officials, including Thomas Ley, London, 1936 (Item [unnumbered]) - Folio [unnumbered]

Mounted portrait of Thomas Ley (Item [unnumbered]) - Folio [unnumbered]

Framed portrait of Lewie Ley; 4 mounted copies of same portrait.= (Item [unnumbered]) - Folio [unnumbered]

Portrait of unidentified young woman - on china - ca. 1890 (Item [unnumbered]) - Folio [unnumbered]