When the clairvoyant met Hellfire Jack

A spiritualist believed that she was an instrument of supernatural justice. When she met Hellfire Jack, action had to be taken. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.

Late in the afternoon of Sunday the 28th of December 1930, two eighteen-year-old friends Charlie Smith and Jim Hislop went from their homes at Churchill in Ipswich, Queensland, to a paddock along nearby Deebing Creek to do some shooting.

Each had a .22 calibre pea rifle.

Charlie’s parents had left during the week for a seaside holiday. His father “Hellfire Jack” Smith was so called on account of the high speed at which he drove his train.

Hellfire Jack Smith

His uncle Walter Smith had served Australia on the Western Front during the First World War and remarkably survived the battles at Pozieres, Mouquet Farm, Bullecourt, Messines, and Ypres.

On that afternoon, Charlie and Jim shot at some birds and reloaded before moving through some bushes near the Sandy Gallop Asylum, where Jim’s sister Mary worked. Jim began to put his rifle on his shoulder when there was a shot. He thought Charlie was firing at another bird, and when he looked, he saw his friend slumping at the knees with blood squirting from the temple.

Jim Hislop

Jim caught Charlie under the armpits as the boy fell forward. He turned him on his back and asked several times, “What’s wrong, Charlie?” but got no reply. Jim put his hand over the wound trying to stop the bleeding. He pulled Charlie to the bank of the creek, and ran for help.

By the time Constable Vincent Quinn arrived with a doctor, young Charlie Smith was dead.

The constable looked Jim’s rifle which had a loose hammer that released very easily. The constable formed the opinion that the rifle had exploded when the trigger came into contact with the stud of a knife pouch as Jim was moving it to his shoulder.

There were no signs of a struggle and no suspicious circumstances, and so no inquiry was held.

This mirrored another Hislop incident forty years earlier in 1890. Back then it was Jim’s father Jim Senior who was racing a friend home one night. His friend George Elmes was riding his horse a bit recklessly, gashed his leg against an on-coming cart and later died of tetanus. There was speculation that Jim Snr may have contributed to his friend’s death, but nothing came of it.

What happened after no inquest was held into Charlie Smith’s death is what caught the public’s attention.

Jim’s mother Jean Hislop began making incriminating statements about her son.

Mrs Jean Hislop

She said, “I am very much afraid the death of Smith was a result of foul play. I have never actually accused my son of the murder, but he is a boy of that kind with his temper.”

Mrs Hislop said that she’d been living in fear of him for a long time, and that she had noticed the lack of emotion of her son when he described how Charlie had been shot.

What’s more, Mrs Hislop believed that she had become an instrument of supernatural justice.

You see, Mrs Hislop had a dream in which she saw a ghostly figure of Charlie Smith rise from his coffin and accuse her son of murder.

She went to the dead boy’s father “Hellfire Jack” and told him that she had met the spirit of Charlie and he had told her that her son killed him.

Mrs Hislop said that the spirits had been telling her all along that her son Jim was a murderer. She believed that the shooting had been deliberate.

If her son was found guilty as she said, then Jim could be sentenced to life imprisonment. Until a decade earlier in Queensland, he could have been sentenced to hang.

In early 1932 – fourteen months after Charlie’s death – his father “Hellfire Jack” asked for an inquiry.

The inquiry began in Ipswich and continued in Townsville where Constable Quinn was then stationed. But when the coroner heard that Mrs Hislop had spent time at the Goodna Mental Hospital, her testimony was tainted.

Young Jim Hislop was never charged with murder or anything to do with his fiend’s death. But strange events haunted his family.

Jim’s uncle Tom Hislop had been on holiday in Scotland when war broke out. In apparent safety he joined the regimental band of the 12th Royal Scots Pipers. But the band was blown to bits and Uncle Tom was fatally wounded.

Tom Hislop

Jim’s father Jim Snr worked at the Ipswich Railway Workshops, and it was there that a large piece of timber unexpectedly rolled off a truck and struck him on the head.

As for young Jim Hislop himself – ten years later as he was coming home to Ipswich, his motorbike collided with a car at Rocklea. He was thrown along the road and lost his leg.

The good news though is that Jim got workers compensation.

But – perhaps the curse of his mother never left him, the clairvoyant who spoke to Hellfire Jack.


Photo credits:
Sporting duck shooters walking in swamp near Henty NSW 1952 – Jeff Carter, National Library of Australia
Hellfire Jack Smith – Ancestry uploaded by Vivian Barnard 2017.
Thomas James ‘Jim’ Hislop – Ancestry uploaded by Vivian Barnard 2012.
Mrs Jean Hislop – Truth, Brisbane, 20th March 1932, page 20.
Piper Thomas Hislop, 12th Royal Scots Pipers – Queenslander 1919, State Library of Queensland.


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