Historical Snippets, WA History

Battle of the Bellmen

Courtesy of Libraries Tasmania

On 21 May 1886 Tommy Hopkins was walking down Hay Street, preparing to ring his bell and announce to the public that Messrs. E. Solomon and Co. had a sale.

Eyeing him as he traversed the streets, Billy Boy the Bellman was far from pleased. As town crier, Perth was his domain while Tommy had the run of Fremantle. Two bellmen in the city would never do.

Having been similarly employed by Messrs. Courthope and Co., Billy quickly ran to fetch a bell and “set out in search of his rival“. He found him at the corner of St Georges Terrace and Barrack Street.

The saying that competition is the soul of trade is not always true, although as a rule it may be so. An incident, which goes to prove the rule, occurred at the junction of Barrack street and St. George’s Terrace on Friday morning.

The Herald (Fremantle, WA : 1867 – 1886); 22 May 1886; Page 4; The Battle of the Bellmen

Billy began madly ringing his bell but struggled to make it heard in competition with Tommy’s larger and louder instrument. Once he had finished “ringing up” Tommy announced Solomon’s sale in a booming voice that could be heard within 50 yards.

Standing only six feet away, Billy continued ringing, however, in his rush to find any kind of bell, he had borrowed one that was used to signal barmen from the hotel bar to the parlour. The tinkling of Billy’s bell was soon lost amidst the sonorous tones of Tommy’s voice.

Unwilling to give up, Billy also finished “ringing up” and likewise began announcing the Courthope sale. Bacon! Hams! Cheese! Butter! The discounted goods echoed around the Terrace and the two men’s voices flowed and merged to create the strangest, interconnected announcement that was (at times) incomprehensible.

Messrs. E. Solomon and Co. will sell…” – “Messrs. Courthope and Co….” – “…at St George’s Hall” – “…will sell by pubic auction at” – “...100 bags cape barley” – “…Japanese Art Curios” – “…superfine flour” – “…18 cases without any reserve whatever.

The battle of the bellmen carried on for several minutes. Billy had the longer announcement and by the time he was halfway through, Tommy had already finished, gave a final flourishing ring of his bell and moved on.

Once Tommy had gone, Billy wound up his announcement and offered one final piece of advice to the public.

This is a good sale and Solomon’s is a fraud.

The Herald (Fremantle, WA : 1867 – 1886); 22 May 1886; Page 4; The Battle of the Bellmen

He then began to leave, considered his parting words and the possibility of being taken to Court, and added, “At least I believe so.

During a later interview, a reporter told Billy that he thought that Tommy was by far the stronger bellman, a statement Billy vehemently disagreed with. Proud of the work he had performed in Perth for many years, he refused to have someone else usurp his position and was prepared for round two should it occur. With regards to Tommy Hopkins, he had only one positive thing to say about him, “But he can roar, though.



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