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William Francis King (1807–1873)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

William Francis King (1807-1873), by Walter G. Mason

William Francis King (1807-1873), by Walter G. Mason

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an7979080

William Francis King (1807-1873), pedestrian and street character, best known as 'The Flying Pieman', was born in London, the eldest son of Francis King, a paymaster in the Treasury. Though intended for the church, he had various jobs before becoming a clerk in the Treasury where he met the chaplain of the Tower, Rev. William Grant Broughton. He arrived at Sydney in 1829, probably on a remittance, and through Broughton was appointed schoolmaster at Sutton Forest. After some years as a private tutor to the Kern family at Campbelltown and as a barman at the Hope and Anchor in Sydney, he emerged as an athlete and extravagantly bedecked itinerant pieman: 'The Ladies' Walking Flying Pieman'. An earlier 'Flying Pieman', the notorious and unfortunate Nathaniel McCulloch, had died in May 1839.

King's pedestrian career seems to have begun in 1842 reputedly after an unfortunate love affair. Among his many bizarre walking feats were 1634 miles (2630 km) in 39 days mainly in the wet, twice beating the mail coach from Sydney to Windsor by several minutes, Campbelltown to Sydney carrying a 70 lb. (32 kg) dog between midnight and 9 a.m., 1½ miles (2.4 km) in 12 minutes carrying an 80 lb. (36 kg) goat, and 192 miles (309 km) around the Maitland race-course in 46½ hours. In November 1847 at Singleton he walked 6 miles (9.6 km) in 64 minutes 40 seconds. At the Fitzroy Hotel, West Maitland, he undertook to walk 1000 quarter-miles (402 km) in 1000 quarter-hours. At one end of the measured ground was a shelter tent where he rested for a few seconds every half-hour, at the other 'King's death or glory flag and coffin were mounted on a pile of bricks'. On the ninth day he had himself horsewhipped to spur him on and when he had completed the feat he wagered £50 to £40 to repeat the task starting that very night but had no takers. After running, walking, wheeling and jumping feats at Maitland he went to Dungog where in February 1848 he wagered to walk 500 half-miles in 500 half-hours (402 km). Betting this time favoured the clock, 'the Pieman having become so corpulent', but King won. After walking 60 miles (97 km) in 12 hours 10 minutes at Singleton he complained of sore ankles! Later that year he took his 'unparalleled feats of pedestrianism' to Moreton Bay where carrying a heavy pole he beat the mail coach from Brisbane to Ipswich by an hour. After finishing his self-appointed tasks he often gave a long speech to an admiring audience. One of his last displays seems to have been at Maitland in January 1851 when he announced in the press that he was going to 'honour little Hexham with an amusing pedestrian feat and an aquatic feat on the river'. He returned to Sydney to become one of its famous street characters wandering about selling pies and issuing rambling proclamations to passers-by. Described as a sawyer, he died of paralysis at the Liverpool asylum, on 10 August 1873 and was buried in the Catholic cemetery, Liverpool, a pauper, unremembered and unmourned by those he had so often entertained.

Contemporary sketches of 'The Flying Pieman' depict a well-built, athletic figure with a somewhat distracted expression: one shows him in an open shirt, blue jacket, reddish breeches, white stockings and shoes, wearing a top hat with coloured streamers and carrying a long staff decorated with ribbons.

Select Bibliography

  • J. C. L. Fitzpatrick, Those Were the Days (Syd, 1923)
  • J. R. Tyrrell, Old Books, Old Friends, Old Sydney (Syd, 1952)
  • W. J. Goold, ‘The Ladies' Walking Flying Pieman’, Monthly Journal (Newcastle and Hunter District Historical Society), vol 3, part 2, Nov 1948, pp 17-20
  • Sydney Gazette, 17, 20 June 1837, 14 May 1839
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 Oct 1842, 17 Oct 1848
  • ‘The Pieman’, Heads of the People (Sydney), vol 1, 7 Aug 1847, pp 125-26
  • Maitland Mercury, 13, 17, 20 Nov, 22, 29 Dec 1847, 22 Jan, 2, 16 Feb, 3, 10, 27 May, 17 Oct 1848
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 28 Apr 1855
  • Sportsman (Sydney), 17 Oct 1900.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'King, William Francis (1807–1873)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

William Francis King (1807-1873), by Walter G. Mason

William Francis King (1807-1873), by Walter G. Mason

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an7979080

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Flying Pieman

London, Middlesex, England


10 August, 1873 (aged ~ 66)
Liverpool, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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