The spectacle of Sydney’s ‘Flying Pieman’


Tim the Yowie Man


Tim the Yowie Man

Naturalist, author, broadcaster and tour guide Tim the Yowie Man has dedicated the past 25 years to documenting Australia’s unusual natural phenomena. He’s the author of several books, including Haunted and Mysterious Australia (New Holland, 2018). Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @TimYowie
By Tim the Yowie Man 23 August 2023
Reading Time: 2 Minutes Print this page
It’s one of those yarns you hear sitting around a pub on a Friday evening and accept with a grain or two of salt.

Given this column has previously delved into the spurious world of flying saucers and so‑called flying rabbits, why not a flying pieman? But Australia’s “flying pieman” didn’t mysteriously fly through the sky, he walked fast, very fast…while carrying hot pies on a pole.

William Francis King began his adult life as a failure – in his parents’ eyes, at least. Born in London in 1807, William was the eldest son of a British Treasury paymaster. Mum and Dad hoped he’d become a man of the church, but young William showed little interest in theology. As punishment, his father promptly banished him, aged just 22, to the distant colony of New South Wales. 

His first stop was the Southern Highlands, where he landed a job as a schoolmaster in the far‑flung village of Sutton Forest. However, the quiet bush backwater didn’t suit the flamboyant Londoner and before long he found his way to the big smoke, working behind the bar at the Hope and Anchor in Sydney. In between pulling beers, William earned extra cash peddling pies on street corners. He sold pies at any time of the day, including hot apple pies for breakfast. After leaving the relative security of the pub job in 1842, William combined his love of selling pies with his passion for fast walking and running, sometimes on stilts. The wacky combination earned him his unusual moniker: the Flying Pieman. 

For William, it was as much about creating a spectacle as it was the pies. He was easily recognisable in his striped trousers or red breeches with white stockings, long blue jacket and black top hat. He almost always carried a staff adorned with coloured ribbons – not the usual garb of a Sydney hawker, nor a long‑distance runner, for that matter.

Some of his athletic feats were truly astonishing. According to folklore, he would sell pies to passengers boarding the ferry at Sydney, then meet them at the Parramatta wharf to sell them more pies, having run all the way there carrying his wares in two baskets perched atop a pole. If that wasn’t odd enough, the eccentric peddler would sometimes complete his extraordinary endurance feats with animals perched on his head as an extra challenge. On one occasion he carried a 32kg dog from Campbelltown to Sydney, more than 50km in less than nine hours. 

He even went on tour to other states to show off his sporting prowess, outpacing the mail coach from Brisbane to Ipswich by more than an hour while carrying a wooden pole weighing about 45kg to slow him down.

As the Flying Pieman aged, it became more and more difficult for him to complete his challenges. His trademark costume became tattered and he slipped into obscurity. It’s rumoured that at one point he even did time in Darlinghurst Gaol, charged as a vagrant.

William Francis King lived his final days at an asylum for men in Liverpool, where he died in 1873, and was buried as a pauper. It was a sad end to a colourful life.