Thursday, November 3, 2011

Colonial Ironman - The Flying Pieman

One of the many colourful Colonial characters was an Englishman named William Francis King (1807-1873), who styled himself “The Flying Pieman.".
"The Flying Pieman" and his steam-powered legs

Born in London he arrived in Sydney in 1829 and after working as a teacher and tutor amongst other professions.  The story goes that after a disastrous love affair with a female convict, William King morphed into the “Flying Pieman”, professional pedestrian and strongman.  Working as a pie vendor on the streets of Sydney, he would sell his pastries to passengers boarding the ferry for Parramatta, and then race to Parramatta to meet the docking ferry to continue selling his wares.

He soon adopted a costume including red knee breeches, tight-fitting jacket, and a jockey's cap. He carried a walking pole decorated with colourful ribbons and extended his repertoire to many and varied tests of endurance, taking wagers against his powers of long distance walking.[1]

On Saturday last, for a trifling wager, he walked five miles within a certain time, again accomplishing the feat.

On Monday afternoon, at 3 o'clock, he commenced a task which is probably unparalleled in the annals of pedestrianism; it was no less than that of walking 102 miles in 48 consecutive hours, with the express stipulation that during the task he was never to cease walking for a single minute.

Three men undertook the task of timing his movements, taking turns, one walking with him, one trimming the fire and keeping tally, and one sleeping. At three o'clock yesterday afternoon twenty four hours he had accomplished 102 miles, and although then looking jaded and slightly lame, he freshened up again after sundown, and expressed confidence in his power to win.

He toured extensively in the other Australian Colonies, adding, as he went along, new feats of strength and endurance to his routine.  In 1848, he brought his performance to Ipswich.[2]

The Flying Pieman performed here yesterday the feats which he proposed performing at Brisbane, viz.: wheeling a barrow half a mile, running forward half a mile, running backward half a mile, walking one mile, picking up fifty stones one yard apart and placing them in a basket.

As a gig could not be procured, he, instead carried a large goat half a mile; and made thirty eight leaps 2 ft. 10 in. High -  fifty leaps were the number he intended having made, but as the bars were put four inches higher than he ordered, he was foiled in the remaining twelve - he, however, completed the whole undertaking in 85 minutes, being ten minutes less than his stated time, although the day was very sultry.

He now talks of trying the tape feat; that is, to wind, while walking, a piece of tape 100 yards long, around a pitchfork handle, one inch and a half in diameter, and placed perpendicularly in the ground. This will, however, depend upon the encouragement he receives.

One of his most popular feats in his program, was to be harnessed to a gig[3] and to pull a generously sized young lady, armed with a whip, about a circuit.[4]

THE FLYING PIEMAN. - The extraordinary athletic powers of this celebrated individual will be exhibited in a variety of feats of strength and pedestrianism, on Thursday next. King will undertake to draw a young lady from ten to fourteen bumping stone weight, in a gig, round the course, with reins and whip in her hand, in order to prevent the gallant Pieman from flying away with her, should he put in action the full power of his steam leg-walking-speed-pace!

After a long performance career, Bill King ended as he had started, selling pies in the streets of Sydney, never abandoning “The Flying Pieman” persona. He was ever the gregarious showman until his health declined and he spent his last days in a charity ward.[5]

The Pieman Bill King in later years and reduced circumstances.

PERHAPS there was not an individual in Sydney better known than King, or, as he preferred to style himself, the "Walking Flying Pieman,"-and he once revelled in the possession of a pie can of large dimensions, with which he nimbly paraded the streets, delivering impromptu panegyrics on the pies he had for sale, and comments on the politics of the day.

For some months past he was evidently sinking, and though so emaciated as to be scarcely able to drag himself along the street, he still kept up a flicker of his former volubility, and might be seen making feeble efforts to harangue little boys, and even "children of a larger growth," at street corners.

A short time since he was admitted to the Infirmary, and from there removed to the Benevolent Asylum at Liverpool, where he died on the 12th instant.

 © K. C. Sbeghen, 2011.

[1] Sydney Chronicle 4.9.1847
[2] The Moreton Bay Courier 4.11.1848
[3] Small horse-drawn two-wheeled vehicle.
[4] The Moreton Bay Courier 26.5.1849
[5] The Brisbane Courier 26.8.1873

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