The Legends of ‘Hellfire Jack’

From: The Countryman, 1st Sept 1950 – There was the time that the brokers who were negotiating to purchase the Merton’s Reward Goldmine in 1902 arrived at Menzies by horse drawn buggy at 8pm, after the train for Kalgoorlie had left.
It was essential for them to reach Kalgoorlie before midnight when the option on the lease would expire. So a privately hired ‘special’ train was arranged and driver  George ‘Yorkie’ Taylor who had just stabled his engine agreed to run it. Yorkie, who was mostly employed running express trains between Kalgoorlie and Southern Cross, had the reputation of being a ‘Hell Fire Jack’ and in this instance he upheld his reputation.
George Taylor's Locomotive, a G Class 107, George is 3rd from left.

George Taylor’s Locomotive, a G Class 107, George is 3rd from left.

He carved out the 81 miles from Menzies to Kalgoorlie, which contained a number of stiff gradients, in one hour and 32 minutes. It is doubtful if this performance has ever been equalled on a 3ft 6inch railway line in Australia.

George ‘Yorkie” Taylor

George and Alice Taylor outside their home at 316 Piccadilly Street, Kalgoorlie (This house is still today as it is show here )

George and Alice Taylor outside their home at 316 Piccadilly Street, Kalgoorlie (This house is still today as it is show here )

There was another notable and speedy WA long distance run for a lightly loaded train which caused considerable comment at the time. It happened when a train with diving equipment was being rushed from Fremantle to Coolgardie to rescue the entombed Italian miner, John Varischetti from a rise in a flooded mine at Bonnivale near Coolgardie.  Over the final stage of this great run, which at the time was in the newspapers throughout the world, the driver was Victor Lanyon.

Alice ‘Richardson’ Taylor, George’s wife.

This section, from Southern Cross to Kalgoorlie, was undertaken with the only engine available at the time at the Cross. It was an old ‘Baldwin’ which was in for an overhaul and despite the heavy gradients to be climbed such as the Bronti, Karalee, Gilgai, Koorarawalyee and Boondi banks Mr Lanyon and his fireman made three stops for water and still averaged 49 miles per hour for the 120 mile run.

Following the Kalgoorlie Cup meeting in 1901 a railway guard was returning as a passenger on the Kalgoorlie-Perth express to Southern Cross, his home depot.  Among those in his compartments were two disgruntled ‘sports’ from Victoria who having noted the uniform of the guard passed the time away by indulging in adverse criticism of the West Australian Railways.  The guard apparently found the reading of a newspaper more interesting until they reached Boorabin refreshment room station.

There he met the train driver at the water column and unfolded a scheme to get a wager on with the ‘sports’ with whom he was travelling.  The driver agreed ‘to give her full throttle’ over the favourable stretch about three miles ahead. As the journey was resumed on of the ‘sports’ cracked “she might make 13 miles per hour now the engine has a spell.”  Whereupon the guard replied “our trains can make 50 miles per hour if necessary”.

Immediately a £1. bet was offered that it could not make 10 miles. It was accepted by the guard and a man was requested to time them from the next post.  When the second mile post had vanished, the amazed time keeper announced the mile had been covered in 67 seconds.  The guard collected.  Needless to say those Eastern State’rs were less desirous of discussing anything about the railways for the rest of the journey.

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My name is Moya Sharp, I live in Kalgoorlie Western Australia and have worked most of my adult life in the history/museum industry. I have been passionate about history for as long as I can remember and in particular the history of my adopted home the Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia. Through my website I am committed to providing as many records and photographs free to any one who is interested in the family and local history of the region.

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  1. Julie Saw says:

    George Taylor and Alice Richardson are my husbands, 2nd Great Grand Parents. There son John Taylor married Bessie Harrison, John and Bessie’s daughter, Alice 1905-1992. Steve’s grandmother.

  2. I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

    Thank you, Chris

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