Sunday, May 4, 2014

Blind Freddy

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“There can be absolutely no doubt that whoever committed all eight offences must be within the Milat family or very, very closely associated to it. Blind Freddy can see that.”

- Terry Martin, barrister for serial killer Ivan Milat, suggests in his closing submissions that the killer was not Ivan but that Ivan’s brothers Wally and Richard were the culprits. The eight offences referred to were 7 murders of backpackers and one attempted murder. Milat was convicted anyway and is serving seven consecutive life sentences plus 18 years.

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Martin’s reference to Blind Freddy is by way of a common Australian expression, “It’s so obvious that even Blind Freddy can see it”, as in the Martin quotation above.  

Who is the Blind Freddy referred to?

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The honour of being the original Blind Freddy is often attributed to Sir Frederick Pottinger (1831-1865).

Here are the relevant facts about Sir Frederick:
  • Pottinger was an English baronet and a member of the Grenadier Guards, who gambled away his mother's wealth and then his inheritance upon succeeding his father to the baronetcy. 
  • Sent to New South Wales in disgrace, he joined the NSW police force where promotion came rapidly after his identity became known. In 1861 he was involved in a drunken brawl and sent to the Lachlan region to hunt bushrangers. Unfortunately for him he had little bush craft and knowledge, unlike the bushrangers who had considerable bush skills.
  • One of the bushrangers sought by Pottinger was Ben Hall, aka Bold Ben Hall, a man popular with the general population. Pottinger, on the other hand, became a symbol of the hated 1862 Police Regulation Act.

Ben Hall

  • In June 1862 the weekly gold coach from Forbes to Sydney was robbed by the Ben Hall and Frank Gardiner gang. It was the biggest robbery in the colony's history and Pottinger set out in hot pursuit, in the wrong direction. In the next month, however, he recovered some of the gold and arrested three of the gang. While taking the prisoners back to Forbes, Gardiner attacked the escort. Pottinger saved the gold but lost the prisoners. According to an Albury newspaper at the time: "A very good farce might be made of the details of Pottinger's pursuit of Gardiner … "
  • Receiving information in August that Ben Hall was to visit his mistress, Pottinger surrounded the house. When Hall arrived he was identified and Pottinger took a shot at him. Unfortunately Pottinger’s gun failed to fire and Hall got away again, leading one newspaper to print a satirical poem which included the lines:
             But the Ranger proud, he laughed aloud,
             and bounding rode away,
             While Sir Frederick Pott, shut his eyes for a shot, 
             and miss’d — his usual way.
  • Dismissed from the force in early 1865 for riding in a race meeting near Forbes, against regulations, there were also reports that Hall had been at the same meeting standing hear him.
  • Pottinger set out to Sydney by coach to appeal the dismissal. When the coach stopped at Wascoe’s Inn at the place where the current day McDonalds is located at Blaxland in the Blue Mountains, Pottinger missed getting back on board in time. When the coach left without him, he ran after it and leapt on board, causing the discharge of the pistol in his waist band. This shot to his groin caused his death a few weeks later. He is buried at St Jude’s Anglican Church, Randwick.

Other etymologists point out that the first recorded use of the term Blind Freddy in the context of something being patently obvious was in 1917 in the International Socialist newspaper in NSW:

“The present system has to go. There’s no other way. It MUST go. Even Blind Freddie can see that.”

It is suggested by them that the period between Pottinger’s hapless attempts to capture Ben Hall and the first recording in print – 55 years – is relatively lengthy for an expression in current use to be recorded in written format somewhere.

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There are etymologists who offer an alternative Freddy as the inspiration for Blind Freddy, this particular person being both blind and named Fred. According to etymologist Michael Quinion in his blog World Wide Words at
Blind Freddy, as he was known,  was a blind hawker selling ties, razor blades, hair oil and other items in the he area bordered by Market, King, Castlereagh and George Streets, Sydney. His disability did not stop him being astute or prevent him travelling the streets. Indeed it was reported that on one occasion he assisted a blind man across the street that was so well known to him. 

According to a 1911 account: 

One of the best known identities of the Sydney boxing game during the past quarter of a century is ‘Blind Freddie,’ who never misses a fight of even minor importance, and whose ears assist his mind’s eye to such an extent that exciting situations work him up and he can laugh as heartily as anyone else at amusing occurrences. ‘Blind Freddie’ is not an old man; he lost his sight 28 years ago, when 11 years old. The sightless sport enjoys life as much as most men, and feels many a hearty hand grip and hears many a cordial greeting as he roams round the city alone, for ‘Freddie,’ who follows the calling of a general dealer, is popular with everybody. 
The Referee (Sydney), 12 Apr. 1911.

Michael Quinion supports this person as the inspiration for the expression, it having developed from the phrase that “even a blind man could see”, as in the Newcastle Morning Herald of New South Wales in 1881: "even a blind man could see this is a clear case of suicide"). It is suggested that over time that expression led to the saying that even Blind Freddy could see something that should be obvious to all. 

Freddy, real name Frederick Solomons, died in 1933. Reports of his death in the press and even his funeral notice identified him as Blind Freddie.

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I know that the following cartoon is not directly related to the above post but it had me chuckling so I'm including it:

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