The life of John Batman would have to be one of the most romantic, exhilarating, wondrous and tragic – life and love story’s of our time . . .
He was described by those privileged to have known him, as a remarkable gentleman, of powerful frame, good looking, warm, loving, kind, gentle, passionate, honest, dignified, of iron nerve and daring courage, with the manners of a gentleman, the simplicity of a child, and the tenderness of a woman . . .
Captain Robson of the ‘Rebecca’ described the character of John Batman:
“. . . he was a brave, athletic, daring, resolute man, fearing nothing – neither wind nor weather. His perseverance was beyond anything I ever saw.”
During his 39 years of life he led a life of courage, adventure, discovery, love, warmth, laughter, hope, success and achievement – which then so suddenly and tragically fell into the hands of greed; as illness descended upon him, ending his life so early – and where the governance of the time took all he had achieved and left his wife and eight children penniless.
The Voyage to Port Phillip
Upon John Batman’s return to Tasmania from his voyage of exploration to Port Phillip in the May and June of 1835, his glowing reports of the wondrous new lands he had found circulated quickly. It wasn’t long before settlers began to stream into ” . . . the place for a village . . . ” – John Fawkner for one, quickly uprooted and set his foundations on the banks of the Yarra River as early as the August of 1835 !!!
Meanwhile, John Batman and his associates spent months writing, reporting and negotiating with the governing bodies.
August 1835 saw John Wedge, an associate of Batman, charting the area, and by early 1836, Joseph Gellibrand (barrister, lawyer and former Attorney-General to Van Diemen’s Land), also an associate of Batman, was recording and confirming both Batman’s and Wedge’s findings. The association of men, known by then as the ‘Port Phillip Association‘, did everything “by the book”, which was indeed noted by the governance.
‘The Settlement’ as it was know at the time, grew at an alarming rate. By 1837 the grid that was to become the ‘Melbourne‘ that we still see today was laid, the governance had moved in and settlers were arriving in their droves.
Meanwhile, as these greedy immigrants descended, John Batman lay dying in his home on Batman’s Hill . . . During his hour of need, settlers and governance alike, were quick to discredit the achievements of this remarkable man, which, in turn, granted them the authority to remove his family from their home.
John Batman died on the 6th May 1839.
The following excerpt from the publication “Early History of the Colony of Victoria” by Francis Peter Labilliere, published in 1878, describes the final weeks of Batman’s battle with the governance:
Sir G Gipps, on July 30th, 1839, writes to the Marquis of Normanby, Secretary of State for the Colonies, with respect to Batman’s claim, which, the despatch states, had only resulted in the Government having “as an indulgence, consented to allow the materials of the houses, and everything else that is moveable to be taken away for the benefit of Mr. Batman’s family.”
The following copy of a letter from Batman is enclosed with the despatch:—
Melbourne, Port Phillip,
12th March, 1839.
To the Hon. the Colonial Secretary, &c. &c. &c.
Sydney, New South Wales.
SIR,—I have the honour to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 24th January last, respecting my letter to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State, applying to him to purchase the land at the minimum price, that I have made improvements upon, and where I now reside and have done so upwards of three years.
I herewith forward according to your request, copy of the letter addressed by me to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State, also copy of memorial forwarded through General Bourke applying for a grant of the above mentioned land, but which I found could not be acceded to, but that in all probability I might be allowed to purchase it without competition, and therefore applied accordingly.
I also have the honour of transmitting to His Excellency’s further information, a plan of the land and the improvements thereupon, as it was on the arrival of the Government here and as it is now.
I beg further to remark that I have imported at very considerable expense and trouble from Van Diemen’s Land and Sydney, upwards of one thousand fruit-trees of every description, which are now in a highly flourishing state and from which I anticipate much benefit to the Colony.
His Excellency will I trust perceive my case at the present moment to be one of greater hardship than it was prior to the present date, in consequence of the increase in the value of land at the settlement, thereby rendering me incapable of purchasing if such land is placed up to Public competition and from the various documents produced explanatory of my situation, I may perhaps venture to hope that His Excellency will take all the circumstances of my case into his most favourable consideration.
I have the honour to be, sir,
Your obedient humble servant,
(Signed) JOHN BATMAN.
A copy of Captain Lonsdale’s letter to the Governor, dated Melbourne, 6th May, 1839, is also given, in which nine queries respecting Batman’s land are answered.
In reply to the first it is stated that “in 1835 or the beginning of 1836, he,”Batman”, put up the wooden house he brought from Van Diemen’s Land upon the ground he now wishes to obtain”; to the second, that it was “included in the boundary described by the Association as the limit of their intended possession”, and that Batman had “received his share of the 7000l. equally with the other members”; to the third, that Batman has no actual right to have his case considered separately from that of the Association; he had, however, some sanction from Sir Richard Bourke, on his visit to Melbourne, for occupying the land, pending the consideration of his application for higher compensation, on the score of the extra exertion he had undergone and the improvements he had effected in establishing the settlement; to the fourth, that the value of the improvements was about 400l.; to the fifth, that “the house and about half of the stores were put up in 1835, or beginning of 1836, the men’s hut and barn in the end of 1836, and the remainder within two years, the gardens were formed in 1835 and 1836. The house is made of wood as also the kitchen, and are, therefore moveable”; to the sixth, it is answered that the land “is quite close to the South West extremity of the Town, in fact the end street runs through the original garden”; to the seventh and eighth,—”Some of the Town allotments which are in the immediate neighbourhood of this land have been sold at various and high prices, the upset price being 150l. per acre. From the position of this land I expect it would fetch as high a price as any of the Town allotments if it was laid out in the same manner”; to ninth, an answer is given explaining the plans sent; it is stated that Batman had occupied in the quarter indicated more than he could claim, “as part of it forms a portion of the Town of Melbourne”; and that the land “which would come within the meaning of the correspondence is the land on which the houses stand, the two portions marked on the plan No. 1, ‘Garden’, except that part which is in Spencer Street, and the portion marked in the same plan ‘Under Cultivation Fenced in’.
Captain Lonsdale concludes, “I beg to return your Excellency’s letter as you desire and the two plans, and to add that after a protracted illness Mr. Batman died last night.”
A copy of the minute of the Executive Council, dated June 7th, 1839, is also enclosed. After reciting the documents laid before the Council, including the preceding letter from Captain Lonsdale, the minute runs,—
“The Council, after perusing and attentively considering the various papers submitted to them by the Governor, are of opinion that Mr. Batman has not established any sufficient grounds for disturbing the question of compensation, to himself and the other primary settlers at Port Phillip, which appears to the Council to have been set at rest by Lord Glenelg’s despatch addressed to Sir Richard Bourke, dated 10th July, 1837. Under which circumstances they recommend that a communication be made to Mr. Batman’s representatives that his application cannot be complied with.”
A despatch to Sir Geo. Gipps, of December 16th, 1839, from the Colonial Office, then presided over by Lord John Russell, thus speaks,—
“I approve of your adoption of the advice of the Executive Council on Mr. Batman’s claims and of your having allowed the materials of the house and other moveables to be taken away for the benefit of the family of Mr. Batman. . . . before the land is given up to the Colonial Government.”
In a petition to the Queen, dated Melbourne, July 25th, 1843, and enclosed to Lord Stanley by Sir Charles Fitzroy in a despatch of September 6th, 1843, Batman’s widow, son, and seven daughters unsuccessfully applied for a grant of land at Port Phillip. They state that—
“John Batman in consequence of the exposure of his person, under all changes of weather and from sleeping many months in the open air, while engaged in traversing and exploring this country, contracted a disease which having confined him to his house and bed for two years, terminated his existence in May, 1839, at the age of thirty-nine years, leaving behind him a family of eight children, seven of whom are females of from eight to sixteen years of age and one boy seven years old.”
Batman and his family were certainly not generously treated. The Government—even after becoming convinced that the first founders of the new settlements had done good instead of pernicious work—seemed afraid of making even the most trifling concessions to them, lest these should be taken as precedents for other claims, which, from the exceptional positions of the founders, could not have been made out by any other persons.
As if to place salt on a wound, the government moved their offices into John Batman’s home on Batman’s Hill, immediately upon his passing and without delay. . .
It is impossible to comprehend that just four years before his untimely death, this healthy, vibrant, warm man had succeeded in travelling vast distances on foot and by sea, into barely charted areas – to regions not yet known to the governance – where he and his men explored, documented, reported and negotiated – Batman clearly sited that ” . . . this will be the place for a village . . . “ in his journal.
This site was to become the city of Melbourne – the capital of Victoria, Australia.
His Childhood Years . . .
John Batman was born in Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia, on the 21st January 1801; to William and Mary Bateman, later Batman.
He spent his entire childhood years in the tiny township of Parramatta, enjoying a vigorous childhood in the surrounding bush land. He attended the ‘John Tull’s Elementary School’, and was baptised, along with his sister and his four brothers, at St John’s in 1810 (the year his father’s sentence expired).
Parramatta’s first school was commenced as early as 1791. Though a reluctant student, it was here that John Batman met Hamilton Hume. They were to become close and life-long friends; both strong, intelligent, practical, acquiring exceptional bush skills and some knowledge of the Aboriginal culture and language from their neighbouring Aboriginal friends with whom they spent much of their time with as children – they both, therefore always possessed an immense respect for the Aborigines.
John was apprenticed to blacksmith, John Flavell, in Sydney in 1816 – at just fifteen years of age. He left his childhood home a good looking and active young man of fine physique, full of enthusiasm and wonder, alert, assertive, learned . . . Within a few months, however, he found himself involved with his master’s wrong doing – he and two other apprentices contributed evidence leading to their master’s execution for burglary . . . Hence, his apprenticeship lapsed and he is said to have spent the next five years acquiring varied farming skills.
Van Diemen’s Land . . .
In the December 1821 John Batman and his younger brother, Henry, set sail for Van Diemen’s Land.
Henry Batman became a wheelwright near Launceston. Incidentally, the profession of a ‘wheelwright’ is the builder or repairer of wooden wheels. Interestingly, the word stemmed from the combination of ‘wheel’ and the archaic word ‘wright’. ‘Wright’ having evolved from the Old English word of ‘wryhta’, meaning a ‘worker’ or ‘maker’.
John Batman found footing as a farm hand, labouring and working as a cattle hand until he had enough savings to apply for his own Grant of land.
” . . . He early directed his attention to farming on the northern side of the island. But powerful in frame, well proportioned, of a goodly stature, robust in health, full of exuberant spirits, with a love of adventure, he was not the person for a quiet routine of duty, or the steady pursuit of a business. He was passionately fond of hunting, and of exploring new tracks in the dense forests of his island home. All who knew him assert that he was the finest bushman of their acquaintance; no danger appalled him, no difficulties turned him. It is not surprising then that, as he always sided with law and order in the community, he should take a part with other colonists in hunting down the bushrangers of the period . . .
– Source: John Batman, The Founder of Victoria by James Bonwick, published 1867
John Batman and his team of Sydney Aborigines, were engaged by the Government to track and capture Bushrangers in Tasmania (then Van Diemen’s Land), some of which were amongst the worst that words can describe. The following describes John Batman’s capture of the ruthless bushranger, Jefferies:
” . . . On September 10th, 1822, Alexander Pierce, Bob Greenhill, Mathew Travers, Thomas Bodenham, Bill Cornelius or Kenelly, James Brown, John Mathers, and Alexander Dalton made their escape from the recently-founded penal station at Macquarie Harbour . . . “
” . . . and proceeded to Hobart Town . . . “
” . . . Three other men who ran away from Macquarie Harbour were Jefferies, Hopkins, and Russell. Like Pierce and his mates they started to cross the Western Tiers. They lived fairly well for several days, Jefferies having a gun and ammunition which he had stolen, it is supposed, from a soldier, but at length their provisions failed and they could find no game. They therefore agreed to toss up to decide who should die to save the others. Russell lost and was immediately shot by Jefferies. The two men lived on the flesh for five days, when they carne to a sheep station. They immediately threw away about five pounds weight of Russell’s flesh and killed two sheep. The shepherd ran forward at the sound of the shots, when Jefferies told him that if he interfered he would “soon be settled.” They only wanted “a good feed.” Jefferies and Hopkins appear to have adopted bushranging as a profession. Of Hopkins we hear little, but Jefferies established a character for brutality which has been rivalled by few and surpassed by none. When he bailed up Mr. Tibbs’s house he ordered Mr. and Mrs. Tibbs and their stockman to go into the bushes with him. The stockman refused and was immediately shot. The other two then went across the cleared paddock towards the timbered country, Mrs. Tibbs carrying her baby and Jefferies walking behind. When near the edge of the timber Jefferies ordered Mrs. Tibbs to walk faster. The poor woman was weeping bitterly. She sobbed out that she was walking as fast as she could with the baby in her arms. Jefferies immediately snatched the baby from her and dashed its brains out against a sapling. Then he asked her “Can you go faster now?” Mr. Tibbs turned round and rushed at the bushranger, who shot him, and then walked away, leaving Mrs. Tibbs with her dead and dying. At Georgetown Jefferies stuck up and robbed Mr. Baker and then compelled him to carry his knapsack. They had not, however, walked far along the road when Jefferies, who was behind, shot Mr. Baker without warning and for no apparent cause.
Jefferies was captured by John Batman, a native of Parramatta, New South Wales, and afterwards one of the founders of the city of Melbourne, Victoria. Batman had taken several Australian aborigines to Van Diemen’s Land and was engaged by the Government to track and capture bushrangers. He caught Hopkins and several others. A man named Broughton, who had been captured a short time before, was convicted of murder and cannibalism shortly before Jefferies and Hopkins were brought to trial . . . “
Source: Excerpts – ‘History of the Australian Bushrangers’ – by George E. Boxall – published September 1899
The capture of Matthew Brady:
” . . . It is quite a relief to turn from these monsters in human form to Mathew Brady, the central figure among the bushrangers of this epoch. Brady was a gentleman convict: that is, he was an educated man. He was transported to “Botany Bay” for forgery, the capital sentence having been commuted. In Sydney he soon “got into trouble” for insubordination and was retransported to Van Diemen’s Land. He was one of a gang of fourteen who effected their escape from Macquarie Harbour. His companions in this enterprise were James Bryant, John Burns, James Crawford, James McCabe, Patrick Connolly, John Griffiths, George Lacey, Charles Rider, Jeremiah Ryan, John Thompson, Isaac Walker, and John Downes. They stole a whale boat on June 7th, 1824, and pulled round the coast until they came to a favourable place for landing, from whence they walked to the settled districts. Here they were joined by James Tierney, and for some two years they defied the authorities . . . “
” . . . On August 27th, 1824, Governor Arthur issued a proclamation offering rewards for the capture of Brady, McCabe, Dunne, Murphy, and other bushrangers, and calling upon all Crown servants and respectable citizens to aid the soldiers in their capture . . . “
” . . . At length about the middle of 1825 a convict named Cowan or Cohen was permitted to escape from an iron gang with broken fetters on his legs. He was found by some of the gang and was taken to a friendly blacksmith who knocked his irons off for him. He joined the gang and more than once led them into conflicts with the soldiers out of which only the skill and bravery of Brady delivered them. Cowan was no doubt a clever man in his way; he completely hoodwinked Brady and his mates; he fought bravely in their skirmishes with the troops and was always eager in looting houses or other places attacked. He professed to rob “on principle.” He is said to have murdered the bushrangers Murphy and Williams while they slept, but there is no proof of this. He betrayed the camp to Lieutenant Williams of the 40th regiment, who was out with a party of soldiers in search of bushrangers. A terrific fight took place in which several were killed on each side; some of the bushrangers were captured while others escaped, but the gang was broken up. Cowan is said to have received a free pardon, several hundreds of pounds reward, and a free passage home for his services.*
[* History of Van Diemen’s Land in the Launceston Advertiser, 1840.]
Brady made his escape in the bush and was followed by Batman and his black trackers. The bushranger had been wounded in the fight and could not travel fast. Batman came up to him in the mountains and called on him to surrender. “Are you an officer?” asked Brady, coolly cocking his gun. “I’m not a soldier,” replied Batman, “I’m John Batman. If you raise that gun I’ll shoot. There’s no chance for you.” “You’re right,” replied Brady, “my time’s come. You’re a brave man and I yield; but, I’d never give in to a soldier.” Brady was taken to the nearest lock-up, where, as it happened, Jefferies, the cannibal, had been lodged some days before, and much to Brady’s disgust the two men were conveyed to Hobart Town in the same cart. Brady, however, refused to sit on the same side of the cart as Jefferies, and kept as far from him as possible during the journey . . . “
Source: Excerpts – ‘History of the Australian Bushrangers’ – by George E. Boxall – published September 1899
Kingston, Ben Lomond
By 1824 Batman had acquired enough capital, be it from his savings and the deed of catching bushrangers, to graduate from a leasehold to a grant of 600 acres (243 ha), that he named ‘Kingston’, located close under Ben Lomond, in the north-eastern sector of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania).
” . . . . . . Batman quickly built up a substantial property by grant and purchase about forty miles from Launceston in the foothills of Ben Lomond. He called his estate Kingston and, by 1835, it had increased to over 7,000 acres, grazing several thousand livestock and employing sixty men . . . “
– Source: Excerpt – The Native-born: The First White Australians by ANU Emeritus Professor of History, John Molony, published 2000
There are many interpretations as to John Batman’s involvement with the Tasmanian Aborigines – some even to accuse him of mass murder.
The following confirms quite the contrary:
“Twenty-five years ago I was wandering about the sources of the River Jordan at Jericho, beyond Jerusalem, in Van Diemen’s Land, as it was then called. Stooping to drink at the prosaic, hoof-trodden springs, I heard my guide say, “Ah! it was bloody enough once. I shot a lot of crows about here. I caught them camping near, and dropped them down at night”. Understanding that the crows were blacks, and expressing my shocked feelings, the rough farmer condescended to explain. After a sort of apology he added, “But John Batman didn’t knock them down like that, for he and they understood one another”. “What Batman do you mean?” was my inquiry. “The fellow that made Port Phillip, to be sure,” answered he. “O”, said I, “that is the new colony across the Straits”. “Just so”, was his reply . . . “
– Source: Excerpt – John Batman, The Founder of Victoria by James Bonwick, published 1867
” . . . The “Black War,” which raged intermittently in Tasmania for twenty years (1810-1830), reflects the greatest discredit upon the administrators of the Government, and the settlers generally. It is a record of feeble incompetence on the one hand, and vindictive ferocity on the other. No one can read Mr. Bonwick’s graphic account of the lost Tasmanian race without a feeling of humiliation that deeds of such wanton and purposeless cruelty could have been performed in these latter days by men of his own kith and country. In 1828, when the blacks were being shot everywhere “on sight,” John Batman made a proposal to the Governor to devote his time and his most strenuous exertions to effecting the conciliation of the unfortunate race, and to persuade them to surrender themselves to the control and protection of the Government. His offer was accepted, and for a couple of years he pursued a course of kindly conciliation, accentuated by firmness and determination, that had the most beneficial results. By the employment of female spies, whose confidence he had won by kindness and sympathy, he induced large numbers to surrender themselves to his direction, and during the whole period of his numerous expeditions was only once involved in an actual fight with them. Governor Arthur reported Batman’s proceedings to the Home authorities in terms of the highest praise, and shortly afterwards awarded him a further grant of 2,000 acres of land in recognition of the valuable services he had rendered in bringing the discreditable war to an end . . . “
Source: Excerpt – “A History of the Colony of Victoria from its Discovery to its Absorption into the Commonwealth of Australia in Two Volumes” – Volume I – A.D. 1797 – 1854 – by Henry Gyles Turner – published 1904 – pp 99-100
. . . as do the following excerpts from an article published in the Launceston Examiner on the 12 June 1835, which contains quotations from letters he had written from his farm ‘Kingston’ located at the foot of Ben Lomond, demonstrating Batman’s conviction to reaching peaceful resolves with the Aborigines – through kindness and education:
” . . . All are in an excellent state of preservation, and they give interesting glimpses of some of the exploratory and pioneering work that Batman did in the colonisation of Tasmania before he founded Melbourne.
. . . On June 6, 1830, Batman wrote to James Simpson, police magistrate at Hobart Town, complaining of trouble that he had had with a Major Abbott in obtaining the necessary facilities from the military for establishing and maintaining friendly contact with the aborigines . . .
. . . The last letter of all, written on March 11, 1831, is to Mr. Burnett, and in it Batman outlines his plans for a trip to Swan Island to make further contact with natives –
“I conceive it will be necessary that a boat should accompany me from Launceston with provisions and articles in the way of presents for any natives I may meet with before my arrival at Swan Island,” he wrote.
“I beg to state for his Excellency’s information that there are now in this neighbourhood two tribes; one is the tribe that speared a few days back a man of Mr. Cox’es and two or three days after left for dead one of Mr. Mapsey’s splitters and speared at second – they at the same time took away the black woman who was married some months back to ‘Black Bill,’ an aborigine of this island” (presumably the ‘Black Bill’ mentioned as having received a grant of land in a previous letter).
“She has not since been heard of – this woman was brought up from infancy among white people, and is not acquainted with one word of their language.”
. . . “The second tribe I speak of,” he continued, “I think they have no wish to commit murder.”
He speaks of encounters which settlers had had with members of this tribe, who were armed with spears. One party said ” . . . the natives could have murdered the whole of them if they wished,” and the other party, he wrote, “also states they could have murdered them if they wished – they cut open some bags of wheat and then made off.”
“This tribe, if falling in with, I think might readily be induced to become friendly, but it cannot be accomplished without the assistance of one or two of their own people who understand a little English and can speak to them in their own language,” said Batman.
And there is a note of caution in the concluding paragraph, in which Batman writes, “I trust that a detachment of military may be stationed here from St. Paul’s, as formerly, for the protection of my family and others in this neighbourhood . . . “
Also, from James Bonwick’s publication c 1867:
” . . . But in a more important work he was next engaged. The Tasmanian blacks and the colonists came into open and active warfare. Fearful atrocities marked the conduct of both combatants. Mr. Batman, in 1829, was put in command of a party. The object of the Government was to capture, not destroy; but many took that opportunity of glutting private revenge, or the instincts of a savage nature, in brutal attacks upon defenceless and harmless aborigines. Unusual success attended the efforts of our founder, and ample rewards followed the performance of such dangerous work. The historian of Tasmania has this noble record:—”Among those distinguished for their knowledge of the bush, compassion for the natives, and skill in pursuing them, Mr. Batman is the subject of frequent and approved mention.” . . . “
– Source: John Batman, The Founder of Victoria by James Bonwick, published 1867
And, from a more recent interpretation of the events by ANU (Australian National University, Canberra) Emeritus Professor of History, John Moloney:
” . . . While gaining a prosperous footing in land and moderate standing in some social circles despite his currency of birth, Batman rendered services to government by bringing about the surrender of bushranger Matthew Brady and taking part in the pursuit of other bushrangers. His most signal service was his determined attempt to arrive at a form of conciliation with the Aborigines of Van Diemen’s Land during the futile, but disastrous, Black War of the late 1820’s. The governor, George Arthur, had arrived at the conclusion that ‘The aboriginal natives of this colony are and ever have been a most treacherous race’. Batman, whose knowledge of the Aborigines far surpassed that of Arthur and of the white settlers who were determined to remove them, brought eleven Aborigines over from Sydney. He did do so in the hope that their presence and ability to communicate with their fellows may have helped to save those whom he called ‘that much injured and most unfortunate race’. He suggested that the Aborigines should be given 100,000 acres of their own land on the Neck and Arthur recognised that Batman was one ‘one of the few who supposed that they might be influenced by kindness’, but it was to no avail. All that Batman achieved was to obtain land grants for two of the black Sydney-siders, Pigeon and Johnny Crook. Granting land to Aborigines was a unique event in colonial history and all of those he brought to Van Diemen’s Land remained with Batman for the rest of his life . . .”
– Source: Excerpt – The Native-born: The First White Australians by ANU Emeritus Professor of History, John Molony, published 2000
And then there is the matter of Batman’s romantic liaison with Eliza Callaghan and his home life. As James Bonwick writes:
” . . . His domestic relations are not without interest. A romantic attachment for a beautiful girl, under circumstances appealing to his pity and gallantry, and enlisting the warm sympathy of the Governor of the colony, ended in a marriage. The fruits of this union appeared in one son and several daughters. Whatever the early and later stories of the pair, it is pleasing to record the fact that their home, under Ben Lomond, at the fine farm of Kingston, was a very happy one. From three of the daughters I have learned that the children were well educated and trained, taught the Scriptures, and even religiously cared for. Several old settlers have spoken to me most kindly of that part of their lives. The Governor, himself a man of family and of Christian character, liked to call in at the homestead, and warmly praised the domestic managements. An old friend, who had many opportunities of seeing the Batman family, assured me that it always gave him great pleasure to see the admirable way in which the children were trained, and the order and comfort of the whole establishment. However dense and dark the cloud that subsequently overshadowed them in this Port Philip, and covers history with gloom, it is pleasing to state their Tasmanian career . . . “
– Source: Excerpt – John Batman, The Founder of Victoria by James Bonwick, published 1867
An article published in 1934 quotes two historians who collaborate the romantic story of John and Eliza Batman:
” . . . Thus, while John Batman was leading his simple, straightforward farmer’s life John Fawkner was living his intense, closely packed existence. But the difference between these two men, whose experiences, diverse as they were, were gradually preparing them for the great adventure of their lives, is nowhere so clearly shown as in their respective marriages.
In the case of Batman, the story of his love and marriage is in true keeping with the rest of his character, and, like everything else that he touched, is composed of the true metal of romance. The story may appear a trifle fantastic, but a true appreciation of Batman’s character makes it seem quite congruous. Moreover, that careful historian Bonwick has substantiated it from particulars obtained in the vicinity of the incident about 1843. While engaged in tracking felons, Batman met, in the bush, a beautiful young woman with whom he fell deeply in love. But it is better to let Richard Howitt tell the story in his own quaint style in his work on “Australia Felix”: – “He (Batman) did not request any honourable or lucrative public office, nor that ample breadths of fair lands might be accorded him, but what one so free, gallant, and fearless should have done : he sued for pardon for a fair and youthful dame – an outcast and an outlaw – whom he had met with in the fastnesses of the mountains, and secluded in the solitary woods – too interesting a bushranger to be readily delivered by him up to the public authorities. It is said that she attended him, as Kaled did Lara, in male habilaments, and that she was secreted at times at his country location underground . . . He loved here well, perhaps wisely, and such grace found, after some delays, his intercessions that she was pardoned, and became his wife.” . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘The Sydney Mail’ – Article “Extremes Meet” – published 17th October 1934
Their love grew and endured. Upon commencement of the voyage of exploration to Port Phillip, the expedition encountered delays due to inclement weather. One can feel the love and warmth from the following excerpt of his Journal:
” . . . arrived shortly after Captain [?] and brought me another letter from Mr Cottrell who informed me that he had forwarded my letters to Mrs Batman at once past 5 o’clock to my astonishment Mrs Batman arrived with our Groom in the Gig – she had received my letters and thought I might remain here some days yet and therefore thought she might as well come down . . . “
” . . . Monday 18th 1835
This morning received a note from the Captain that the wind was fair. We got breakfast and asked Dr Smith to take us on board in his boat. He readily consented. Mrs Batman had the horse to the Gig to see me fairly off the Heads at Sea. She drove up to the light house and there remains until we were nearly out of sight and no hope of our going in again . . . “
” . . . I saw directly after the Gig left, I expect Mrs Batman would remain until morning, in case we should again put back – the wind up to 12 o’clock this night was westerly and making but little way. I hope my dear wife may return home safe . . . “
– Source: Excerpt – John Batman’s Journal, 16th & 18th May 1835
John Batman’s dreams of a wondrous land across Bass Strait lead to he, and his family’s demise.
” . . . But meanwhile (even before he volunteered for his humane efforts amongst the natives) he was getting restless over the poor prospects which the wild country allotted to him offered for making his fortune at sheep farming. He learned with delight of the discoveries made by his friend and companion in many a bush exploit, Hamilton Hume, and he projected schemes by which such valuable enterprise might be made to yield profitable results. That a desire to seek for more suitable pastoral country on the mainland of Australia had long been simmering in his mind is evidenced by the fact that as far back as 1825, when Mr. John Helder Wedge was surveying the land granted to Batman at Ben Lomond, a project for an exploring expedition across the Straits was seriously discussed between them, and was only postponed on account of more immediately pressing duties. In the following year the New South Wales Government made their feeble attempt to occupy Western Port, and the accounts of Hume’s journey, as published in the Sydney papers, having erroneously located his most valuable discoveries in that region, the idea was again revived . . . “
Source: Excerpt – “A History of the Colony of Victoria from its Discovery to its Absorption into the Commonwealth of Australia in Two Volumes” – Volume I – A.D. 1797 – 1854 – by Henry Gyles Turner – published 1904 – pp 100
His voyage of discovery on the ‘Rebecca’ in the May of 1835, filled him with hope, excitement and wonder. The testimony of Captain Robson of the ‘Rebecca’ described:
“I left in the Rebecca, in April, 1835, from Launceston for Port Phillip. On board were some Sydney natives, three white men called Alexander Thomson, James Gumm and William Todd. Mr. Batman was on board. The vessel was chartered by him for six months. She was twenty-three tons. The crew consisted of four men and myself. I was mate, and afterwards master of her. At this time, Mr. Fawkner had not visited Port Phillip, as . . .
We reached Port Phillip about the very end of April or the beginning of May, and first landed on Indented Head, near Queenscliffe. We saw many footprints in the direction of where Geelong now is, to which place we went first. In beating up to Geelong at night, we saw a fire—that is, we went on board after seeing the footprints, and beat up to Koria (Corio) Bay that night, landed at two o’clock in the morning up to our middle in water. Batman and I. We reached the native fire before daylight, but the natives had gone. The next day Batman tried to cross the Barrabool Hills, but was driven back by a hailstorm. There were forty-two natives at Geelong, all women and children, who told us all the men had gone up the country to a fight. We went on board again, and brought up at Williamstown, that is, where it now is. We landed next day, in the morning, at the upper side of Saltwater Creek, three white men, the Sydney natives, and Batman, who carried his swag the same as the rest, all armed. They were away five days and could not find the natives, and returned on board. We stood out in the bay to see if we could see any smoke; saw some; took bearings and landed next morning. The second day after the landing saw an old man and woman. We caught them, gave them presents, and in about two hours they showed us the natives, about five or six hundred. The natives yelled, showed fight, and tried to surround us. The old man and woman spoke to them, and they at once put up their spears in a heap. Batman then made friends with them, and remained two nights with them. He came on board again with the shore party. We entered the Yarra, and watered near where Melbourne now is; then sailed for Indented Head, intending to make the settlement where Melbourne now is as soon as Batman could get more persons there. We left three white men, four blacks, a whaleboat, and stores, with instructions to build a sod-hut, loopholed and roofed with sods, and to be kind to the natives and allow them provisions—a pound a-day. Buckley then came. He had heard in Western Port white men were there, and made his way round. This was after Batman had sailed for Launceston, after leaving the men, and food and boat. We returned to Port Phillip in about three weeks, and took in a large quantity of fruit trees; landed at Indented Head. We took over also about thirty men. We left Launceston this time, I think, about latter part of June, 1835. Henry Batman and family were with us. He was to be managing man on shore. Batman was to go the trip on Indented Head. We landed all we had, and came back to Launceston. We saw Buckley on this visit; he had then left the natives and taken up with the whites. After landing what we had on Indented Head, we left for Launceston; and during our passage the Enterprise entered Port Phillip Heads. She had been bound to Western Port, to form a settlement there, but went to Port Phillip instead. Mr. Fawkner was not on board. He had heard from Batman himself about the glowing country of Port Phillip. The master of the Enterprise, Mr. Hunter, had heard from myself the particulars of the Yarra, and about fresh water. About a month after we went over again; Mr. J.H. Wedge was with us at this time. We removed Mr. Batman and other persons, and property, and a number of natives, from Indented Head to where Melbourne now is. Mr. Fawkner and his men were there then. The natives we took off from Indented Head were the first they had seen. Batman put up a hut on the rising ground on the western side of the river, at some distance from the bank. Fawkner had a hut not far off on the same hill. All my personal knowledge of Mr. Batman on the voyage I had with him, the landing of natives, and exploring, was this: of a kind-hearted, heroic, and truthful man. BATMAN PAVED THE WAY FOR FAWKNER, and it was the knowledge of water, from Batman and party, they got, which induced Fawkner to try the Yarra. He knew nothing of it till he heard of it from Batman and his party. Henry Batman and Fawkner quarrelled at the trickery of Fawkner in taking advantage of the information he had got, and going to the Yarra, when Batman was preparing on me Indented Head to go and form the settlement where Melbourne now is. He had waited, after having been, as I have said, up the Yarra, at Indented Head to get the party.
. . . He wanted more strength, so as to be safe from the natives, before he settled down and left Indented Head.
(Signed) ROBERT ROBSON.”
“I hereby testify that the foregoing statement I wrote from the declaration of Captain Robson; that I did not prompt him by asking any leading questions; that I let him tell his own tale; that he is a person of good character, usually regarded as a man of truth; that he is a very intelligent man, and that his manner bore all the appearance, in telling his tale, of earnestness and veracity.
R.K. EWING, Presbyterian Minister.
Launceston, 27th Sept., 1866.”
– Source: John Batman, The Founder of Victoria by James Bonwick, published 1867
The only ray of sunshine since John Batman’s voyage to Port Phillip in mid 1835, was the birth of his only son at Batman’s Hill on the 5th November 1836.
John Batman Dies at Age 39 . . .
Just four years after John Batman announced that ‘ . . . this will be the place for a village . . . ‘, this strong, honourable adventurer succumbed to illness at only 39 years of age. It is evident that the toils of discovering Port Phillip as suitable for colonisation and the outrageous disappointment that ensued from all those you swarmed onto the land, John Batman:
” . . . before that a robust and vigorous man, fell into bad health, and was so much of a valetudinarian as to be wheeled in a bath-chair about Batman’s Hill and the adjacent then unformed streets. The Port Phillip Gazette of 8th May, 1839, thus announces his death : – ” At his residence, on Monday, 6th May, after a protracted illness, John Batman, Esq., aged 39 years. His remains will be interred this morning at 1 1 o’clock.” In the same paper there is this reference to the occurrence. – ” Mr. Batman, at all times distinguished for his activity as a bushman, on the occasion of his last adventure, it is understood, exposed himself to an injurious degree, violent cold working on mercury previously dormant in his physical system, hurried him to a premature death. He has left a numerous family, all very young, and chiefly girls. Unfortunately for them his affairs are not in a settled state . . . “
” . . . Batman’s funeral took place as indicated, and in the presence of nearly all the adult population. His mortal remains were consigned to the earth in a portion of the now Old Cemetery, where they remained in a nameless grave, and with an unwritten epitaph, for more than forty years, when, on the suggestion of Sir W. Mitchell, the late President of the Legislative Council, a public subscription was set on foot to mark by some lasting monument the spot where so remarkable a man was buried. The project was taken zealously in hand by Mr. John J. Shillinglaw, Hon. Secretary to the movement, and worked with such success, that there would be little difficulty in obtaining for the purpose much more money than was required. It was at length completed, and on the 3rd June, 1882, was unveiled by Mr. C. J. Ham, the Mayor of Melbourne, surrounded by a gathering of old Colonists, and prominent amongst them were Mr. William Weire (Town Clerk of Geelong), and his son (Batman’s son-in-law and grandson). The In Memoriam is an obelisk of dressed blue stone, erected at a cost of £120, and on the side looking towards the city, bears this inscription:—
Born at Parramatta, N.S.W., 1800.
Died at Melbourne, 6th May, 1839.
He entered Port Phillip Heads
29th May, 1835,
As leader of an expedition which
He organised in Launceston, V.D.L.,
To form a settlement, and founded one
On the site of Melbourne, then unoccupied.
This monument was
By public subscription in Victoria,
Source: Excerpts – ‘Chronicles of Early Melbourne – 1835 to 1852 – Vol II’ – by Garryowen – published 1888
“ . . . But the old evils of a rude civilisation followed his prosperity, ruined his health, disordered his family, brought him to an early grave in 1839, and scattered as well as blasted his once beautiful and happy home. No one bears his name. His two grandsons with us, sons of Mr. William Weire, of Geelong, by Elizabeth, the fourth daughter, needing the active generosity, as well as sympathy of colonists, are all remaining in Victoria of the race of John Batman. No son was left to his brother Henry, though I know one of his daughters. A sad shade has fallen on all. . . .”
– Source: John Batman, the Founder of Victoria by James Bonwick written 1867
Finale . . .
It is with great despair to realise that John Batman’s resting place is in the cemetery named in honour of the man who did all in his power to discredit him, namedly, John Pascoe Fawkner.
As to the term ‘Batmania’ – this term seems to have been invented by the media:
” . . . On the second day after passing through the Heads Mr. Stewart fell in with Mr. John Helder Wedge, who was sojourning at Batman’s original settlement at Indented Head. From him he gleaned much information about the aborigines and their treatment by the settlers, a subject which occupies a considerable portion of his report. It was not until the 1st of June  that he reached the settlement on the Yarra, and he made it his first business to distribute copies of the Governor’s proclamation for the benefit of the trespassers. He describes the town as situated ” on the left hand of the Yarra Yarra, about seven miles from its mouth, which at present consists of thirteen buildings, viz., three weather-boarded, two slab and eight turf huts,” and he calls it ” Bearbrass “. This unmeaning name, probably an attempt to write the sound of some aboriginal word, never acquired any permanent recognition, and was probably used by Stewart under some misconception. The place had been facetiously referred to in the Launceston papers as ” Batmania ” and ” Dutergalla,” but in common parlance it was called ” the settlement ” until the Government bestowed upon it the name of the English Premier of the day. The European population numbered 142 males and 35 females, of whom nine were proprietors claiming under Batman’s treaty with the natives, twenty-four were independent settlers disregarding that treaty, and the balance was made up of the families and servants of this territorial aristocracy. The number of sheep at this date was computed at 26,500, horses 57, and horned cattle about 100, the value of the whole, including farming implements, etc., representing an investment of fully £80,000. In the twelve months that had elapsed since Batman’s first discovery, this energetic little body of adventurers had spread over an area of about one hundred miles of country, had established many stations within that radius, and even pushed their explorations some seventy miles to the north. The general tenor of the report is favourable to the settlers, who are accredited with humane and judicious treatment of the aborigines, and with a, stern desire to keep the country free of any convict taint . . . “
Source: Excerpt – “A History of the Colony of Victoria from its Discovery to its Absorption into the Commonwealth of Australia in Two Volumes” – Volume I – A.D. 1797 – 1854 – by Henry Gyles Turner – published 1904 – pp 149-150
In the testimonies of those who knew him intimately; in the numerous letters, communications, journals and records of the time, the term ‘Batmania’ as the name for ” . . . the place for a village . . . ” NEVER appeared. John Batman named many landmarks after those he loved, for example, ‘Lucy’s Creek’ (later renamed ‘Merri Creek) after one of his daughters, and ” . . . the natives led them a mile or so to their camp on the banks of a beautiful stream of water, which Batman in the glory of his discovery named after his ” good self ” . . . “ – however, the “village” was the only term referred to in his journal of 1835. The first few huts that were the settlement of Melbourne c 1835 were most commonly referred to as ‘The Settlement’. The term “Batmania”, an invention of the media, was publicised in the Launceston newspapers amidst the exhilaration of the discovery of this exciting new land – it seems to re-appear in a newspaper article published in the ‘Perth Daily News’ on the 3rd June 1924. 1933 and 1943 saw a few more articles brandishing this term – and still to this very day, publications would have you believe that John Batman had purported to have invented this name for his village . . .
Incidentally . . .
” . . . The “Prince George,” revenue-cutter, and H.M.S. “Rattlesnake,” arrived with Government officers from Sydney in 1836. Mounts Martha and Eliza were so named by a “Rattlesnake” lieutenant, after Mrs. Batman and Mrs. (Captain) Lonsdale . . . ”
Source: Excerpt – ‘Chronicles of Early Melbourne – 1835 to 1851’ – by Garryowen published 1888
Not even two years passed since John Batman declared that ‘ . . . This will be the Place for a Village . . . ‘, before Sir Richard Bourke proclaimed that the name of the village would become ‘Melbourne’. Robert Russell’s ‘Map Shewing the Site of Melbourne’ dated 1837 confirms the same..
” . . . The ghost stories were even much more unreliable, though strictly they could not be denied a “shade” of probability. Whenever a person at all notable died, the body was hardly cold in the earth, when it was rumoured the deceased appeared in some place or other ; and though no person in sober senses was ever forthcoming to bear witness to the fact, the mystic canards obtained a large share of belief. John Batman, it was solemnly averred, perambulated his favourite hill at “high twelve” every night, and continued “beating the boundaries” until even after the first crow of cock. His ghost-ship was effectually laid when in 1870, the levelling of the hill commenced, and he never troubled it after. Twice he was said to have haunted his venomous rival “Johnny” Fawkner; once at Pascoe Vale on the Moonee Ponds, where J. P. F. resided for several years, and once in Smith Street, Collingwood, Fawkner’s habitat for some time before he died . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘The Chronicles of Early Melbourne – 1835 to 1851 – Vol II’ – by Garryowen – published 1888
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