Easy as pie

A classic butter-pastry Broomfields pie. Photo courtesy Broomfields Pies © Richard Mortimer Photography

Arguably one of our national treasures, the humble pie has been enthusiastically devoured in Australia since 1788. Long before Harry’s Café de Wheels (which started in the 1930s) our colonial forebears bought pies from street vendors, the most famous being the ‘Flying Pieman’,

William Francis King, who peddled his pies in the streets of Sydney and Parramatta in the 1840s. He was a colourful character, and an icon for his times. According to one colonial source, written upon his death in 1873,

‘he once reveiled in the possession of a pie can of large dimensions, with which he nimbly paraded the streets, delivering impromptu panegyrics [public orations] on the pies he had for sale, and comments on the politics of the day.’ Brisbane Courier, August 26, 1873

The new post office, George Street, Sydney, 1846, by Edward Winstanley, F. G. Lewis. State Library of New South Wales. DG SV1A/22. The ‘Flying Pieman’ is depicted in the lower right corner.

An illustrious character

King is depicted in the image above, in the lower right hand corner of a populated scene of George Street, Sydney in 1846. Wearing what looks like a jockey’s attire, he holds a cloth covered basket in one hand, and his ‘hot box’ of pies perched against one hip. Both give the appearance of being heavy, suggesting he has plenty of pies to sell.

Flying Pieman depicted by F.G Lewis, [New Post Office, George Street, 1846] (Detail). State Library NSW DG SV1A/22

He certainly captured the imaginations of chroniclers and artists at the time, in Sydney and in Parramatta:

 To the Supporters of Pies. — That well known individual the ” Flying Pie-man” is now enlivening Parramatta by his musical cries. His talents for pie making are said to be “hereditary,” and he recommends hot-apple pies for breakfast as his father used always loved them!  The Pie-man is one of the most active and industrious men we ever met with, and deserves encouragement.
Parramatta Chronicle and Cumberland Advertiser. May 11, 1844. p.3

A clown about town

Not only was King popular for providing the important service of selling pies, he was a renowned sportsman, who specialised in the field of ‘pedestrianism’ – that is, walking (more detail below), and quite the showman. He devised all manner of opportunities for public entertainment. In March 1845, for example, the Parramatta Chronicle announced:

Easter Holidays.— We understand that the town will be favoured during the holidays, with the appearance of the indefatigable Flying Pie-man walking on Stilts, (in the vicinity of George-street) in a match against time, picking up slippery peach-stones, three within the yard [1 metre]. Parramatta Chronicle and Cumberland General Advertiser Saturday 15 March 1845, p.2

Displaying more than dash of eccentricity, as this ‘ode’ to him by the curiously and no doubt spuriously named ‘Titus Ticklem Esquire’ illustrates,

Come listen to the Pieman. Some folks may call me low, ’tis true, A vulgar sort of fellow; As street on street I travel through, And “Rolls” and “Hot Pies” bellow. But let them curl their lip at me, And sneer at my vocation— It suits me well, because you see, I’m a man of observation. So don’t you now, &c. The flying Pieman is my name, My feats to all are known…
‘Rhymes for the Times, Buz the Second’ by Titus Ticklem Esq. Bee of Australia, Saturday 26 October 1844, p. 3

The newsboy and flying pieman London in city Scenes, or a peep into London. William Darnton, 1828. Published by Harvey & Darton Gracechurch Street. 1828. via Project Gutenberg

A longstanding tradition

The idea of a flying pieman was by no means unique to the colony. Along with other tasty morsels of street life in London, William Darnton’s City scenes, or a peep into London  features a dashingly presented pie seller peddling his wares in Fleet Street.

“Great News! Great News!”  “All Hot!  Smoking Hot!”
These are two busy men, indeed; one cries food for the mind, and the other food for the body. Neither of these tradesmen keep long in one place. The news-boy would be very glad to have a hot plumcake, but he has not time to eat it; nor will the pieman wait to hear what the news is.  So that they are not only busy men, but what is very different, men of business.

[A cricket match in Hyde Park] by John Rae 1842. State Library of New South Wales call number DG SV*/Sp Coll /Rae/19

Nor was King the first, or only pieman in Sydney. Another was the more rogue-like James McCulloch, who regularly fell out with the law. Piemen were known to make a presence in Hyde Park when cricket matches were played, as the image by John Ray above indicates. He’s a little hard to spot.

[A cricket match in Hyde Park] detail. John Rae 1842. detail. State Library of New South Wales [a128275 / DG SV*/Sp Coll /Rae/19]

Sam the Cakeman

Alternatively, it could be a depiction of  ‘Sam the Cakeman’  another ‘familiar identity of old Sydney’ who was known to always be present at cricket matches in Hyde Park in the 1840s, to which the image below attests. ‘The old cakeman’ is pencilled in under the character in the lower right corner.

‘The old days of merryCricket Club matches in Hyde Park’ / Thomas Harvie Lewis. State Library NSW. DG XV* / Cri / 1

Sam ‘the old cake man’ depicted in Hyde Park – the old days of merry cricket club matches / Thomas Harvie Lewis. (Detail). State Library NSW. DG XV* / Cri / 1

A sporting identity

But I digress. Returning to our Flying Pieman, William Francis King,  and his sporting prowess, King also established quite a reputation as a long distance ‘pedestrian’ – hence the artist’s impression of him in jockey-like sporting attire in the first historical image above. His walking feats were legendary, and many of them hard to verify. But it does seem that he was in the habit of racing inter-city coaches or river steamers running from Sydney to Parramatta to their destinations, ‘invariably arriving ‘just minutes’ before the regular transports. He challenged competitors to break his numerous walking records, one of the most ambitious being:

THE accomplishment of the unparalleled task of walking ONE THOUSAND QUARTER MILES IN ONE THOUSAND QUARTER HOURS, has been triumphantly effected by William Francis King, the “Ladies Walking Flying Pieman.” This eccentric individual, whose extraordinary powers of endurance have been so frequently tested in pedestrian undertakings, having voluntarily announced his determination to attempt this arduous feat…  Bells Life in Sydney and Sporting Review, Nov 27, 1847. 

Needless to say he was not carrying supplies of pies on these jaunts, although he was known to have ‘varied the performance by occasionally carrying a goat on his shoulders, a pig under his arm, drawing a gig with a person in it a certain distance in a certain time, and wheeling a barrow from Sydney to Liverpool…’ Brisbane Courier, August 26, 1873

There is much more to this illustrious character’s story – his intentions to run for office as an alderman and his eventual decline in health, both physical and mental, and a poignant (if not entirely factual) obituary. These take us beyond the realm of food and piemaking, but you can find links to them via the wonderful TROVE.

William Francis King, ‘The Flying Pieman’, c. 1869 (aged 62) by Joseph Davis carte de visite photograph, 9.1 x 5.8 cm. National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. Accession no: 2010.127

Easy as Pie

It is this spirit however that our next Colonial Gastronomy program is Easy as Pie at Elizabeth Farm in Parramatta, with special guest presenter, modern-day pieman Ryan Broomfield from Broomfields Pies, whose pies sell like hot cakes at our Autumn and Spring Harvest Festivals!

A classic butter-pastry Broomfields pie. Photo courtesy Broomfields Pies © Richard Mortimer Photography