John Batman’s Treaty with the Aborigines is depicted throughout Australian history as the most ridiculous, outrageous and impossible arrangement to have transpired, however, further examination will reveal quite to the contrary . . .
James Dawson, who is renowned for his thorough study and record of the Australian Aboriginal language, traditions, lifestyles, law, family, tribal structure & hierarchy, etc. wrote:
” . . . The lithograph opposite to this page is a fac-simile of a parchment conveyance of certain land near Geelong to John Batman from eight chiefs, who affixed their marks, or signatures, to the deed, and at the same time symbolized the transfer of the land by taking up some of the soil and handing it to Batman. The original document is in the custody of Messrs. Taylor, Buckland and Gates, who have kindly given their permission to its publication. The heading is not in the original document.
Another conveyance of 500,000 acres between Geelong and the Yarra was made to Batman. A copy of this conveyance is to be found in the Record Office, in the Van Diemen’s Land Correspondence, and has been published by Dr. Lang, by by Mr. Bonwick, by Mr. Arden, and by Mr. Labelliere, in their several accounts of the early settlement of Victoria.
Both of the transactions represented by these documents were disallowed by the Colonial Secretary, in London.
The marks made by the chiefs on the parchment were their genuine and usual signatures, which they were in the habit of carving on the bark of trees and on their message sticks. The reader will be interested in these traces of civilization among a people who have hitherto been considered the lease civilized of all nations . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘Australian Aborigines’ – by James Dawson – published 1881
The site at which the momentous occasion of the signing the Treaty took place (which had been prepared by barrister, lawyer and ex-Attorney-General, Joseph Tice Gellibrand) between the Aborigines and John Batman’s party always been assumed as being at Merri Creek, however, the distances in accordance to Batman’s journal do not tally nor do they include the landmarks and vegetation described, and, the fact that he distinctly mentions travelling south-west from the said location.
” . . . 1835 Sunday 7th June
Detained this morning some time drawing up triplicates of the Deeds of the Land I purchased and detailing over to them more [?] on the Banks of the Stream which I have named Batman’s Creek – after my good self. Just before leaving the two principal Chiefs came and brought their two Cloaks, or Royal Mantles and laid at my feet, wishing to accept the same on my consenting to take them. They placed them round my neck and over my shoulders, and seemed quite pleased to see me walk about with them on . . . “
” . . . I had no trouble to find their sacred marke. One of my Natives, Bangett, went to a tree out of sight of the women and made the Sydney Natives mark, after this was done I took, with two or three of my Natives, the Principal Chief and shewed the Marks on the tree. This he knew immediately and pointed to the knocking out of the teeth, this Mark is always made when the ceremony of knocking out the tooth in the front. However after this I dismiss through my Natives, for Him to make his Mark, which after looking about for some time and his taking some few minutes, he took the Tomahawk, and cut out in the Bark of the Tree, his Mark – which is attached to the Deed, and is the signature of their country and tribe – . . . “
” . . . I crossed Batman’s Creek and walked through a thinly timbered forest of Box Gum, She Oak, and Wattle but thickly covered with excellent grass. Most of the Land was so rich as I ever have seen in my life. Grass 3 and 4 feet high . . . “
” . . . We walked over this Land about 12 Miles down my Side Line in a South West direction, when we came to another Creek of good water, in a most beautiful valley – which I named Lucy’s Creek and Maria’s Valley – extending several miles and as fine Land, and all together a most enchanting spot – after leaving this we crossed some plains of good Land and then came into a forest thickly timbered with Gum, Wattle, She oaks. The Land for the first time was rather sandy with a little grass but the grass about 10 inches high and like a field of wheat – so very good and green . . . “
” . . . We then made the Rim, I had gone up a few days [?] intending to come on the opposite side of the River and hail the vessel – I [?] on the Banks of the River a large Marsh about 1½ mile by 3 or 4 long and the Richest description of soil not a tree. When we got on the Marsh, the Quails began to fly and I think at one time. I can safely say I saw 1,000 Quails flying at one time, quite a Cloud, I never saw anything like it before. I shot two very large ones as I was walking along at the upper end of the Marsh is a large lagoon. I should think from the distance I saw that it was upwards of a mile across and full of swans, ducks, geese. etc. after exploring this Marsh, we [?] through a Tea Tree scrub very high and thick, we expected on getting through this to make the vessel in an hour or two – but to our great surprise when we got through the scrub we found ourselves on a much larger River than the last – we went up and just come down . . . “
” . . . It would take two days to head the River again so after some time I made up my mind, that two of the Sydney Natives should swim across the smallest river and go to the vessel and bring up the boat. Bullet and Burgett swam and had to go about 7 miles which they did and was back again with the boat in three hours. I was glad to see them as we had got on the point at the junction of the Rivers, where the tide had moved up to our ankles and the Port was first with the dogs taken to the opposite Bank, and then the boat with old Bull, who had cut his foot took me in good quick time to the vessel where my travelling (I hope on foot) will cease for some time having done every thing I could possibly wish . . . “
Source: Excerpts – Transcripts – John Batman’s Hand Written Journal – 1835
The following transcript more logically places the location on the Plenty River – at co-ordinates some 2 to 3 miles (3.2 to 4.8 km) from its junction with the Yarra River, and, some 13 miles (20.9 km), in a straight line from the banks of the Yarra River in Melbourne, noting that the ‘Yarra’ once ran a different course until the Coodes Canal was built c 1886.
Plotting ‘straight lines’ as per the above co-ordinates places the site of the event on the Plenty River in the vicinity of Greensborough / Montmorency:
” . . . Mr. G. W. Kusden has fixed the site of this celebrated treaty on Merri Creek, Northcote, at or near the spot now occupied by the ” Old Colonists’ Home “. He does not give the evidence for this selection, and it is at variance with Batman’s record of the distances travelled, and the delineation on his map.
Difficult as it is to follow Batman’s itinerary on a modern map, his own being hopelessly out of scale, careful computations, and comparisons of the original diary, the touched-up report furnished to Governor Arthur, and the narrative of Captain Robson of the Rebecca, place it beyond doubt that the celebrated treaty took place on the river Plenty, two or three miles above its junction with the Yarra, and distant about thirteen miles in a straight line from the site of Melbourne.
In a vague sort of way the Merri Creek has been generally referred to as the site, having been adopted without examination by Dr. Lang, Bonwick, Lloyd and other writers whom Mr. Rusden has followed. But in 1885, in a lecture delivered before the Historical Society of Australasia by a well-known surveyor, Mr. James Blackburn, C.E., the locality as set forth above was established beyond question.
After leaving the camp Batman and his party marched, according to the diary, twelve miles in a south-westerly direction, crossing a small stream, which the explorer called Lucy’s Creek, after his favourite daughter, and which was evidently that now known as the Merri Creek. Soon after passing this they entered a thinly timbered forest abutting on a swamp, which they overlooked from the ridge now covered by the borough of Flemington. When they reached the swamp their attention was for a time diverted by the clouds of quail that arose about them, and getting entangled in the dense ti-tree scrub which grew around the marsh, they found on forcing their way through that they were on the banks of a river that was larger than the one they had gone up. This was the Yarra, which they had struck somewhere below the site of the present Gasworks, and as they were unable to find a ford and night was approaching, when they got to the junction with the Salt Water River [Maribyrnong River], two of the Sydney natives were deputed to swim across, and go to the vessel for the purpose of bringing up a boat. Three hours’ waiting in the dark, with the tide risen to their ankles, was an unpleasant experience ; but the boat came at last, and the long Sunday’s work ended comfortably on board the Rebecca, where Batman recorded in his diary, ” My travelling I hope on foot will cease for some time, having done everything I could possibly wish “.
Self-congratulatory as are these last words, they appear to have been penned on the eve of his accomplishing his most important discovery. His intention had been to start for Launceston next morning, but when the day broke a strong southerly wind prevented the Rebecca from getting out of the river. To utilise the time lost by this enforced detention, and if possible to replenish their supply of fresh water. Batman and Robson took a boat’s crew and pulled up the large river which came from the east. They found it good water and very deep for six miles above the junction, and where the old ridge of rocks stopped the inflow of the tide, the spot now spanned by the Queen’s Bridge, they filled their casks with water, and Batman marked in his rough diary, ” This will be the place for a village “. . . “
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 110-111
And so, the site that John Batman had marked out and allocated as the ” . . . place for a village . . .” was to become the capital city of the state of Victoria, Australia. It was to be the only time in Australia’s history the the proposed site of a town determined by an explorer, was taken up . . .
The territory included in the treaties was defined:
” . . . All that tract of country situate and being at Port Phillip, running from the branch of the river at the top of the port about seven miles from the mouth of the river, forty miles north-east, and from thence west forty miles across Iramoo Downs or Plains, and from thence south-south-west across Mount Villanmarnartar to Geelong Harbour, at the head of the same, and containing about five hundred thousand more or less acres, as the same hath been before the execution of these presents, delineated and marked out by us, according to the custom of our Tribe, by certain marks made upon the trees growing along the boundaries of the said tract of land “.
The other deed conveyed the tract of country known as Indented Head, ” extending across from Geelong Harbour, about due south for ten miles more or less, to the Head of Port Phillip, taking in the whole neck or tract of land, and containing about 100,000 acres “. . . “
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 108-109
” . . . In this he says that, after all the formularies were completed, a tree was marked four ways to know the corner boundary, and he returned next morning to his ship . . . “
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 109
John Batman was the first, and the only, European to recognise Aborigines as the owners of the lands of Australia – that is, until 1992 . . .
This treaty, was in fact recognisable under the international law of ‘Terra Nullius’ – the occupation of the land by the British was not – as would be proven in the ‘Mabo’ case of 1992.
Interestingly, one of the many mockings of ‘Batman’s Treaty’ with the Aborigines was the concept that Australia’s Aborigines did not have rank nor chiefs within their tribal structures. This is quite contrary to the writings of many of the first European explorers and settlers, one of which was Mr. Tuckey, First-Lieutenant of H.M.S. Calcutta selected to convey Lieutenant-Governor David Collins and party to ‘Bass’s Strait’ in the attempted settlement of Port Phillip in the year 1803. He wrote:
” . . . Among these savages, gradations of rank could be distinctly traced, founded most probably upon personal qualities and external appearance. In these respects the chief far excelled the rest; his figure was masculine and well-proportioned, and his air bold and commanding. When first he was seen approaching the boat, he was raised upon the shoulders of two men, and surrounded by the whole party, shouting and clapping their hands. Besides his cloak, which was only distinguished by its superior size, he wore a necklace of reeds, and several strings of human hair over his breast. His head was adorned with a coronet of the wing-feathers of the swan, very neatly arranged, and which had a pleasing effect. The faces of several were painted with red, white, and yellow clays, and others had a reed or bone run through the septum of the nose, perhaps increasing in length according to rank, for the chiefs was by far the longest, and must have measured at least two feet. Ornamental scars on the shoulders were general, and the face of one was deeply pitted as if from the small pox, though that disease is not known to exist in New Holland . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘Port Phillip Settlement’ by James Bonwick, F.R.G.S. – Published 1883
– Located within the Melbourne Town Centre – obtain Directions here
– Facilities available at Greensborough
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