‘blind Freddy’: meaning and origin

This is the definition of the Australian-English phrase blind Freddy, or blind Freddie, from Australia Speaks: A Supplement to “The Australian Language” (Sydney: Shakespeare Head Press, 1953), by Sidney John Baker (1912-1976):

blind Freddy . . .—A fictitious person, who appears in such phrases as “blind Freddy could see it”, “even blind Freddy wouldn’t miss it”, which are meant to indicate that a statement, view or deduction is so obvious that it cannot be ignored.

This phrase originated in Sydney, New South Wales, as a variant, probably referring to a local individual, of the earlier synonymous Australian-English idiom blind man.

 

EARLY OCCURRENCES OF BLIND MAN

 

The earliest occurrence that I have found of blind man is from an extract from a letter about the gold-mining area, and associated village, of Rocky River, in New South Wales—letter published in The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (Maitland, New South Wales) of Saturday 12th July 1856:

Extract of a letter from a friend at the Rocky River diggings, to Messrs. Levien and Hastings, Maitland:—
“In reply to your enquiries respecting the general prospects of these diggings, we can say they are of the most flattering character; many parties are making from 10 to 40 ounces per day, and these are not isolated cases. The population at present cannot be far short of 3,000, and is daily increasing, and we do not doubt it will yet reach more than double that number. Several new public houses have opened during the past week, and others are in course of erecting. Stores are going up on every hand, everything is bustle and activity, and a blind man could easily see that he was on a remunerative gold field.”

The phrase then occurs in a letter to the Editor, by a person signing themself ‘Common-Sense’, published in The Bendigo Advertiser (Sandhurst, Victoria) of Friday 15th June 1866:

Sir,—I wonder whether the ratepayers will stand that nice little job referred to in your columns yesterday, pleasantly described as the amalgamation of the Police Courts for public convenience […]—of course, public convenience indeed! as if even a blind man could not see that the one propelling motive in all these small plots and intrigues and back staircase dodges is private interest.

I have found another early occurrence in a letter to the Editor, by a person signing themself ‘An Ignorant Person’, published in the Dalby Herald and Western Queensland Advertiser (Dalby, Queensland) of Thursday 27th September 1866:

Sir.—I presume last week’s issue of your valuable paper must have been unusually welcome to its large number of subscribers on account of the letter that appeared in it from that dignitary of the Catholic Church, the P. P. of Dalby. […]
[…]
[…] His reverence tells you that his desire is, and always has been, that peace and charity should always subsist between Catholics and Protestants, although a blind man can see that his past actions are in direct contradiction to his statement.

 

EARLY OCCURRENCES OF BLIND FREDDY, OR BLIND FREDDIE

 

It is sometimes difficult to determine whether, in early use, blind Freddy, or blind Freddie, referred to a generic person or to an actual individual so nicknamed.

These are the early occurrences that I have found, in chronological order—the majority of them are from the Sydney Sportsman (Sydney, New South Wales):

1-: In the column The Ring, published in the Sydney Sportsman (Sydney, New South Wales) of Wednesday 21st August 1907, blind Freddy (which appears nowhere else) may designate a generic person, but it may alternatively refer to the individual mentioned in the below-quoted Boxers and Their Doings, published in The Referee: A Journal of Sport, Pastime and the Stage (Sydney, New South Wales) of Wednesday 12th April 1911:

Joe Thomas has deserted his early love, the ring, and taken over the management of Jack McDonald’s set o’ small  foundry. Joe looks just the thing in the cash desk. Blind Freddy prophesies that Joe will yet be manager of the Australia. But not yet.

2-: In the following from the Sydney Sportsman (Sydney, New South Wales) of Wednesday 29th June 1910, blind Freddy seems to refer to an actual individual so nicknamed:

RUGBY (League).
(By “Scrum.”)

LAST SATURDAY’S RESULTS.
[…]
Glebe beat Balmain by 21 to 5.
[…]
Glebe gave Balmain the shock of their life by belting them by 21 to 5.
On this form the dirty reds are likely to give Newtown some hurry up next Saturday, and, according to such good judges as Vic Harris and Blind Freddy, they are certs to beat them.

3-: In the account of a rugby-league match between the teams of New Zealand and New South Wales, published in the Sydney Sportsman (Sydney, New South Wales) of Wednesday 19th July 1911, blind Freddie seems to paradoxically designate a rugby player [cf. the 5th occurrence below]:

Billy Farnsworth and M’Kivatt seem to suit one another down to the ground as a pair of halves, but then Blind Freddie couldn’t help taking Chris’s passes. This pair will give the home teams some trouble when they get to it.

4-: In the following from the Sydney Sportsman (Sydney, New South Wales) of Wednesday 15th January 1913, blind Freddie clearly refers to a generic person:

MEN I MEET.
GUAGING GRIEVANCE-MONGERS.
(By “Hotspur.”)

I am often interviewed by men with a grievance. […]
[…]
In scores of cases I have known that they deserved all they got. They have sat before me and lied with the coolness of a refrigerating chamber. They have put up explanations that Blind Freddie could have seen through.

5-: In the following from the Sydney Sportsman (Sydney, New South Wales) of Wednesday 20th August 1913, blind Freddy may designate a rugby player [cf. the 3rd occurrence above]—the phrase up to putty means worthless:

RUGBY (League).
(By “Scrum.”)

LAST SATURDAY’S RESULTS.
Glebe beat Easts, 14—9.
[…]
The surprise of the day, and there is one every Saturday, these hard times, was the walloping of Easts by Glebe. […]
[…]
Glebe’s goal-kicking was absolutely up to putty, and some of them blind Freddy could have lobbed without half trying.

6-: In Tale Telling at Randwick, published in The Australian Worker (Sydney, New South Wales) of Thursday 14th May 1914, blind Freddy may refer to a generic person—A.J.C. is the abbreviation of Australian Jockey Club; pimp denotes an informer:

It is surprising that the A.J.C. allows the tale-tellers and tick-tackers to work their nefarious games like they do, both in the paddock and Leger reserves. It was very prevalent at the last A.J.C. and Tatersall’s meetings, and is getting almost as bad as it was a few years ago. A newcomer to the races is beseiged [sic] with the tip-slingers, while most of the bookmakers employ “runners” who are a source of annoyance to owners and the public alike. Only last Saturday one of these parasites saw some stable money going on a horse, and he nearly knocked half a dozen people over in running to one of his “joint” to tell him what was doing. The A.J.C. employs a detective to watch these sort of things as well as having one of the stipendiary stewards in the paddock to keep his eyes open, but Tattersall’s Club evidently overlooked the fact last Saturday, and “Blind Freddy” could see the pimps and runners getting in their fine work.

 

WHOM DOES BLIND FREDDY REFER TO?

 

There existed in Sydney, at the beginning of the 20th century, at least one blind man nicknamed blind Freddy, or blind Freddie, who may have come to locally personify the blind man of the earlier phrases.

After defining the phrase blind Freddy in the above-quoted book, Australia Speaks: A Supplement to “The Australian Language”, Sidney John Baker mentioned a Sydney blind man nicknamed blind Freddy:

According to Sydney legend, a blind hawker named Freddy operated in the area bordered by Market, King, Castlereagh and George Streets in the 1920s, selling ties, razor blades, hair oil and other items. Although blind, he is reputed to have been able to find his way around with great ease and to have recognised scores of customers by their voices.

The first detailed mention that I have found of a Sydney blind man nicknamed blind Freddie is from Boxers and Their Doings, published in The Referee: A Journal of Sport, Pastime and the Stage (Sydney, New South Wales) of Wednesday 12th April 1911:

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 26 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.

A man surnamed Solomon and nicknamed blind Freddie was mentioned in the following from the Sydney Sportsman (Sydney, New South Wales) of Wednesday 1st October 1902—but there is no clue as to whether he was the above-mentioned devotee of boxing:

RANDOM RINKLES.
(By “Redrof.”)

When Constable Donald Robertson gallantly captured and “thrun in” poor, harmless little “Blind Freddie” Solomon last week, he charged him with being righteous, misturbin’ the peace, drunk and disorderly, spittin’ on de footpath, and God knows how many more heinous offences. “Gee!” quoth the desperate malefactor, “I’m lucky he can’t charge me with insulting behavior by looking through keyholes to the great distress of his Majesty’s subjects! But what price the copper who would arrest this harmless, inoffensive and unfortunate little fellow?

Interestingly, a man named Frederick Solomon and nicknamed blind Freddie died in Sydney in 1933—as mentioned in the following announcement from The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, New South Wales) of Monday 4th December 1933:

SOLOMON.—The Relatives and Friends of Mr. and Mrs. J. and Mr. and Mrs. A. SOLOMON and FAMILIES are invited to attend the Funeral of their beloved BROTHER and UNCLE, Frederick Solomon (Blind Freddie); to leave our Chapel, 810 George-street, city, THIS MONDAY, at 2 p.m., for Church of England Cemetery, Rookwood, by road.
WOOD COFFIL LIMITED.
Motor Funeral Directors.

The above-mentioned man named Frederick Solomon and nicknamed blind Freddie was most probably the one that The Sun (Sydney, New South Wales) portrayed on Friday 18th August 1933:

BLIND, BUT DROVE CAB
Old City Identity In Hospital

BLIND FREDDIE,” one of the City’s most remarkable characters, is seriously ill in Sydney Hospital, suffering from cerebral haemorrhage.
There will be thousands to whom the news will bring sorrow, for wherever he went, “Blind Freddie” made friends.
His real name Frederick Solomons [sic], this old man, about whom a book could be written, lost his sight at an early age.
But his other faculties, far from being impaired, developed, and he became one of the best known figures on Sydney and Melbourne race-courses.
Mick Dunn, champion fighter of the bare fist days, told to-day, how, about 35 years ago, this blind man drove a hansom cab from Bathurst-street, along Pitt-street, to the railway station, without mishap.
He has been known to tell whose horse was approaching by its trot!
“I saw him one day leading two blind men across the street,” Mr. Dunn said. “He took them to their destination, and then told them who he was. ‘Blime! You’ll be getting us killed yet!’ they replied.”
His senses of touch and smell are two of his greatest assets. He can tell who people are by the touch of their hands or their clothing, and once told Mr. Dunn that he knew when he approached a telegraph-pole by the sound his feet made on the footpath.