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William King

1807 – 1873

William Francis King (1807-1873), aka 'The Flying Pieman', accomplished a series of bizarre athletic feats during the 1840s. King came to New South Wales from his native London in 1829 and worked as a schoolmaster and a private tutor before getting a job as a barman at a Sydney pub. Around 1834, he went into business as a pieman, selling his wares around Hyde Park and Circular Quay. Here, became known for his practice of offering pies to passengers boarding the Parramatta steamer and then running the 30 kilometre distance to the boat's terminus and offering any unsold stock to the same passengers as they disembarked. This practice also earned him his nickname and was reported on in the press. Between 1842 and 1851, he completed numerous feats and challenges around Sydney, the Hunter Valley, and later, Brisbane. These included walking 2630 kilometres, mainly in the rain, in 39 days; racing the Windsor to Sydney mail coach on foot and twice beating it; carrying a 32 kilogram dog from Campbelltown to Sydney in under seven hours, and hauling an even weightier goat from Sydney to Parramatta in similar time. He walked from Brisbane to Ipswich carrying a 45 kilogram wooden pole and beating the mail coach by an hour; and in Maitland in 1847 had himself horsewhipped to spur him on in the midst of a ten-day, 402 kilometre walking challenge. He returned to Sydney in the 1850s and became a noticeable street character, wandering the streets, selling pies, and issuing proclamations to passers-by. His distinctive attire is said to have included crimson knee-breeches, white stockings, a staff, and a top hat to which either streamers or paper tickets were attached. King also inspired songs and poems in his lifetime, and since his death has been the subject of books, a folksong, and an opera for children.

Updated 2018