Lady Luck & the pub roustabout


The Warwick Farm Racecourse Hotel, Liverpool, where Bill Price worked as a cellarman.

BILL Price fitted perfectly the profile of a pub roustabout, ‘boots’ or ‘useful’.

A drifter, he did most odd jobs around the pubs where he worked in return for boarding and lodgings. He did jobs like tapping beer kegs or barrels, to collecting glasses, cleaning toilets, and emptying ashtrays.

Bill worked in a Bulli pub, south of Sydney during the early 1880s, before drifting to Liverpool after injuring himself while moving beer barrels. Injured and unable to work, he eventually found himself in the Liverpool Asylum for the Poor, before gaining work as a cellarman in the Warwick Farm Racecourse Hotel, located on the north/west corner of Moore and George streets Liverpool.

‘Old Bill’, as William was known, was killed by a train near Canley Vale Railway Station in 1890, while arranging to collect £30,000 that a dead relative had left him in his will. Lady luck just wasn’t on Old Bill’s side though. Here is his tragic story as told through the press at the time.

The Liverpool Asylum, where Bill Price stayed for a short time before his death.

The Liverpool Asylum, where Bill Price stayed for a short time before his death.

Saturday 31 May 1890


Mr. J. E.Bowden, Parramatta Coroner, held an inquest on Tuesday on the body of the man William Price, who was found on the railway line near Canley Vale, the previous day. Dr. Brown gave evidence as to the extent of deceased’s injuries. The shoulder bone was smashed, and the arm was hanging by a piece of skin. There were no signs of alcohol on deceased. He was in a very low condition when admitted to the hospital, and his death resulted from a shock to the system. David Blane, stationmaster at Canley Vale gave evidence as to the finding of deceased, as reported in our last issue on Tuesday. It is reported that deceased, who was at the time in Liverpool Asylum, had come into a considerable sum of money, some £30,000; and on Saturday last he borrowed his fare to Sydney, and put the matter into a solicitor’s hands, with the result that the latter found the report true. It is surmised he was returning from Sydney when the accident happened. A verdict of accidental death was returned.

– Evening News Wednesday 21 May 1890.

“Old Bill,” a Strange Story.

A correspondent writes:-While waiting for the train to Liverpool at Granville on Thursday afternoon, a nervous-looking, modest young man who sat beside me similarly employed, asked whether I had seen a paragraph in the EVENING NEWS about an accident at Canley Vale. I replied I had, and had actually picked up at the scene of the accident a portion of the body of “Old Bill,” the victim of the accident.” That was my father,” quietly said he. Vexed that I had spoken in a manner that the young man under his circumstances might think savored of levity, I did not feel comfortable, and set myself to efface any ill impression my reply had created. I soon acquired his confidence by showing him how to get the information ho was in search of, and learned from him that which added to what I already knew, and subsequently learned from another source, enables me to tell what follows. William Price had been a prosperous farmer in the Taralga district, but preferred dealing in cattle and stock, in a way that enabled him to spend much of his time on horseback, to the drudgery of agricultural pursuits. He sold his farm at Taralga, and started a hay, corn, and produce store at Botany, which was combined with a market garden. William was not a domesticated person, nor a pattern for dutiful husbands; for eleven years since he realised on his belongings at Botany, pocketed the proceeds – £1100- and cleared out; leaving his wife penniless as to cash, but well provided with a family of eight healthy children. The wife’s energy overcame the difficulties of the situation, and after a struggle her circumstances became more comfortable than they were under the tyrannous rule of an erratic husband. Sometimes she heard of, but never from, her husband. Cattle dealing and droving in Queensland one year, at another time he would be in Victoria on the same lay; but things did not thrive with William, for he eventually became a roustabout in a public house, and this occupation he appears to have followed in the Ulladulla and Bulli districts for eight years past, for it was in that capacity Mr. Collings, of the Warwick Farm Racecourse Hotel, Liverpool, first made his acquaintance eight years ago in Bulli. While plying his avocations as cellarman, &c, he had some two years since the misfortune to have his shoulder permanently injured through a cask of ale slipping off the skid while it was being lowered into the cellar. Unable to work, he drifted into tho Liverpool Asylum, and so was lost from all knowledge of the outside world. In the days when domestic bliss was appreciated by him he imparted to his wife the knowledge of his being next of kin to an old and rich relation, and that when he died he, as such, would inherit all his wealth. The death of the rich man came to the knowledge of Mrs. Price many months since; but she knew nothing of where her husband was, until a fortnight since, when she caused a letter to be written communicating the information to the heir. The letter reached the asylum right enough, but it did not reach Old Bill. The reason for this was that in Mr. Collings, who some three months since took possession of the Warwick Farm Racecourse Hotel, Old Bill recognised an ancient acquaintance of his rouseabout* days, and as that house of call is the nearest to the asylum, there is where Old Bill went for his daily glass of beer. A month ago, as near as Mr. Collings can remember, Old Bill reached the asylum gate just as it was being shut, and as the matron gave the order “Let no more in.” “Very well,” said Bill, “I’ll go back to where I came from,” which he did, and stayed there till last Monday, on the morning of which day it was he got the letter. A messenger from the poorhouse was passing, and seeing Old Bill sunning himself in front of his hotel, asked him whether he had got his letter yet. Bill didn’t know there was a letter for him, and was now told he would get it at the post-office. Bill went and got the letter, came back, said to Mr. Collings, “Good news at last” and borrowed a small sum of money to enable him to take the information to Mr. Bull, solicitor. Bill left Liverpool by the 12.65 train, and his mangled frame was picked up at Canley Vale at 6.30 same evening.

A bush term for a number of odd articles constituting a suit.

– Australian Town and Country Journal 1890.

Categories: NSW hotels

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