Monday, 9 September 2013

‘Billy the Bellman’ ~ Trove Tuesday

William O’Rooke or O’Rourke (c. 1835-1897) was known about the town of Windsor as ‘Billy the Bellman’ in the late 19th century, quite an interesting chap. William Rooke was born in Cambridgeshire, England in about 1835, the son of Henry & Rebecca Rooke. His parents had married in 1831 in Ickleton. In 1851 Henry was a servant working in a College in Dry Drayton in Cambridgeshire. William was 16 years old and was working as a waiter with his older brother Alfred and younger sister Emma. 

In 1857, William and Sarah migrated to Sydney onboard the “Washington Irving” William was a butcher and Sarah a housemaid.  Two years after arriving, Sarah Ann, married William Joseph Perkins 1829-1873, a carpenter, in 1859.  They first lived in the Queanbeyan area and by 1865 the couple lived in the Windsor district. 

William Rooke lived in Windsor from his arrival. Rooke was a well-known identity in the township of Windsor, and was the bellman. This occupation was described as someone who rings a bell, and sometimes known as a town crier. In 1863 he was recorded as living in Baker Street in Windsor.  He apparently owned land near McGraths Hill as well. This was sold for not paying rates by Windsor Municipal Council in 1932. One block was situated at Lot 3/5, Section 8, situate Livingstone, Garfield and Bismark streets, Killarney. There were three allotments with a total area 5 acres 1 rood 27 perches. The registered owner was listed as William Rooke. William did not marry nor did he have any children. 

He passed away on 28 July 1897 and was buried the same day at St Matthews Church of England Cemetery in Windsor. His informative obituary (below) appeared in the Windsor & Richmond Gazette on 31 July 1897

The obituary continued:

 His father was head gardener at one of the English Universities, and till within & short while ago the subject of this notice was in receipt of an annuity from the father's estate. That, we believe, was recently transferred to deceased's married sister (a Mrs Perkins) who resides in the metropolis. William O'Rourke first came to Windsor on a steamer owned by the late John Mitchell, which plied between Sydney and the Hawkesbury; on this boat he was employed for some time. Coming ashore, he opened a butchery in the shop now occupied by Mr Stearn, near the Hawkesbury Hotel. O'Rourke did well in business, and by dint of hard work and frugality he put by a considerable sum of money.  A cousin came from England, and lived with him for a while.  Billy it would appear, was his own banker. In an evil hour he left the business in charge of the new arrival during a brief absence. When he returned his "little pile" was gone. It was never known who took the money, but Billy had his suspicions, and freely expressed them. He sold out and from that time forward he seemed to do no good, and gradually became the Billy O’Rourke of late years. In 1870 he was cook and wards man at the Hawkesbury Benevolent Asylum, during the time that Mr J. T. Rowthorn was superintendent, Billy O'Rourke was a character in his way and the incidents of his life were many and varied. For many years he was a public functionary and a town institution-that is, he was the local bell man; as such he earned the sobriquet Billy the Bellman, and was the butt of street urchins. Whilst plying his vocation in the street, he frequently came into conflict with troops of small boys, but they generally had sufficient discretion to know when they had gone far enough; for though Billy could put up with a good deal in the way of chaff and banter, he came down hard when his dander was up. Keen rivalry existed between the deceased and another worthy (one Hobbs, he of the wooden leg) now an inmate of the Asylum, who once started business as opposition bellman. "Billy" regarded him as an interloper and a usurper, and some lively scenes were enacted between them. The deceased never married, and his only relative known is the sister referred to.

(First appeared in the Hawkesbury Crier – September 2012 pp. 19-20

1851 Census UK. Class: HO107; Piece: 1760; Folio: 603; Page: 54; GSU roll: 193651-193652
State Records, Reel 2138, [4/4794]; Reel 2476, [4/4972]
Obituary. (1897, July 31). Windsor and Richmond Gazette (NSW: 1888 - 1954), p. 12. Retrieved August 26, 2012, from 
IN THE EARLY DAYS. (1926, December 24). Windsor and Richmond Gazette (NSW : 1888 - 1954), p. 8. Retrieved September 2, 2012, from 
Advertising. (1932, January 15). Windsor and Richmond Gazette (NSW : 1888 - 1954), p. 11. Retrieved September 2, 2012, from 
NSW Births, deaths & marriage index. Marriage 2811/1859

1 comment:

  1. I came across a listing today where my convict ancestor was a Town Crier in Parramatta in 1885. Further searching about Town Criers and this page came up with very familiar town names in my ancestry - McGraths Hill (which is where my town crier chap is buried (1888) - William Gambrill) and Windsor. I reckon your William O'Rouke chap would of known my William, or most definately would of known another chap of mine, William Charles Gambrill who was well known in Windsor.