The Notion of exploring Port Phillip

John Batman had been toying with the notion of exploring the area now known as Port Phillip Bay, Victoria, Australia for years.

Batman was of a unique character that attracted many of the most highly noted members of society.  His expertise in the bush as well as with the pen, his sparkling imagination, his research and drive, his persistent enthusiasm, logic, and bold sensibility captivated men like Charles Swanston (banker and member of the Legislative Council), John Helder Wedge (surveyor and farmer), and Joseph Tice Gellibrand (barrister, lawyer and former Attorney-General).

He had effected the capture of the notorious “gentleman bushranger” Matthew Brady, and lead the first conciliation attempts with the Tasmanian Aborigines, certain that he could negotiate with them being ‘one of the few who supposed that they might be influenced by kindness‘ as quoted by the Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, George Arthur.

Australia Ben Lomond - SmallHis research lead him to to believe that a magnificent land lay just to the north of his island home.  Following Hume & Hovell’s (Hamilton Hume and John Batman were lifelong friends – having met as children) expedition to the southern extremity of the mainland in 1824, Batman was more convinced that ever that there was the place to form a new settlement.

” . . . Some few years after the journey of Hume and Hovell, Batman visited Sydney and heard from Hume of the great plains they had seen and over which they had then passed on their way to Geelong.  On this occasion it is very probable also that Hume gave him a copy of the map he and Hovell had made of their earlier journey into the south, which would have served to heighten his interest.  There was no further room for pastoral expansion in Van Diemen’s Land, so that the plains of the ‘Imaroo’ beckoned across the short space of waters of Bass Strait to an ambitious and restless Batman . . . “

– Source:  Excerpt – The Native-born: The First White Australians by ANU Emeritus Professor of History, John Molony, published 2000

Incidentally, Hume and Hovell were in disagreement as to where their expedition had lead them.  Hume was certain that it was Port Phillip, however Hovell insisted that it was Western Port.

Hovell’s theory, being the older and “more experienced” of the two, was deemed correct which lead to the formation of a settlement at Westernport.  Hume, however, remained convinced that they had stumbled upon Port Phillip as the body of water they had witnessed was devoid of any islands.

The Western Port Settlement was organised by Governor Darling from Sydney, shipping an expeditionary party comprising of twenty soldiers, twenty convicts, a few women, and, William Hovell.  William Thomas’ Map, drawn in 1839, clearly notes the site of  the “Old Settlement 1826”.

The vessels arrived at Western Port, in the December of 1826, near what is now known as Corinella.  Once the camp had been established, exploration of the surrounding area began.  Hovell soon realised, much to his immense embarrassment, that he had in fact, incorrectly calculated the location of his expedition camp of 1824.  He, as Hume had tried to inform him at the time, had confused Port Philip with Western Port.

As had happened to the earlier failed settlement near Sorrento, Victoria, of 1803, the settlers faced the lack of fresh water and were unable to find any land fit for cultivation.

The settlement was abandoned some twelve months later, in the January of 1828, at Governor Darling’s request:

” . . . I have not found any disposition on the part of the Inhabitants to Settle in that part of the Country, which should Your Lordship consider that the object of taking formal possession of it has been answered, might be sufficient reason for withdrawing the Persons sent to establish the Settlement . . . “

– Governor Darling, 1827

In the interim, Batman and Gellibrand had applied for a mainland grant in the January of 1827.  The application was refused.

” . . . In the meantime there was a decided reluctance in Sydney to permit private initiatives in the new territory called the Port Phillip District.  Westernport had proved unattractive as a place of settlement sanctioned by government and, were there to be settlement, it was going to take place as the government decided.  Unaware of any obstacles, in January 1827 Batman applied together with Joseph Tice Gellibrand, for a land grant in the territory, which Governor Darling refused.  The result was that any authorised move to develop settlement, including what was to be Melbourne, was set back for another eight years . . . “

– Source:  Excerpt – The Native-born: The First White Australians by ANU Emeritus Professor of History, John Molony, published 2000

As Wedge and Batman advanced their ideas of continental exploration, they again approached the governance.  Presenting their plans and ideas to Arthur in the February of 1834 which resulted in yet another void.

During 1834, Wedge visited Batman’s Farm ‘Kingston’ (located at the foot of Ben Lomond, Tasmania) frequently.  He also attended baptisms held by the Batmans at the end of November of that year and, visited again at Christmas, for an ascent of Ben Lomond.

The following excerpt from “John Batman, The Founder of Victoria” written by James Bonwick describes the circumstances of this New Years celebration and the discussions that ensued:

Having received a communication from the worthy and respected Under-Sheriff of Launceston, William Jardine Sams, Esq., giving his story of the Port Phillip enterprise, I gladly lay it before the public.  Though the circumstances may appear both homely and trivial, all who value historical truth will appreciate a record, even of the domestic character, which will throw light upon the beginning of our colony.  How much before this Mr. Batman had thought of the affair Mr. Sams stays not to inquire; his purpose is to speak of his own connection with the movement. Here is the tale.

“At the latter end of the year 1834 the late Mr. John Batman, who was then the owner of a very fine estate in this colony, ‘Kingston’, near Ben Lomond (a mountain 5019 feet high), invited a party of friends to his house, I being of the number.  We there found that preparations had been made for an excursion to ascend Ben Lomond, and on the summit of that majestic mountain to pass the last night of the year 1834 and welcome the sun’s rising on the new year.  Three or four days were to be occupied in the excursion, preparations for our comfort and enjoyment having been previously made by our kind host, aided by a party of New South Wales natives, ten or twelve of whom had been brought from Sydney by Mr. Batman, and were domiciliated on his estate.  On the second day the party gained the top of the mountain with the exception of Mr. Batman, who had stayed behind at a resting place, two-thirds of the way up the mountain, with three or four of his natives, his youngest child and its nurse (all his children, eight in number, were of the party) intending to follow us up, after having rested awhile.  When the sun was fast sinking, and we were anxiously expecting Mr. Batman, two sable messengers arrived, bearing a note from their master to Mrs. Batman, the purport of which was to inform her that he had been seized with illness, and requested her to go to him.  Wherefore Mrs. Batman immediately left the party, I accompanying her, guided by the two natives, who each carried a fire stick, the night being very dark.  After a long and perilous descent we reached the resting-place, and there happily found Batman comparatively well, he having been attacked with cramp in the stomach, which had so seriously alarmed him as to induce the summons for his wife.

A fire having been lighted a short distance from the camping ground, where Mrs. Batman, with the child and its nurse passed the night.  Batman and I sat by the fire, whiling the time away in conversation on our several prospects in the colony.  It was then that I first heard Port Phillip spoken of as a desirable place for a settlement, Batman telling me that when he was in Sydney he had heard from a schoolfellow (Hamilton Hume, who with Captain Hovell, had explored the neighbourhood of Port Phillip) that the country there was of the finest description, and that this information had dwelt on his mind, and made him anxious to verify the truth or otherwise of the report.  It then occurred to me to suggest the formation of a company, in order that the expenses incidental to the exploration should be light, when borne by a number.  This idea was at once agreed upon, and forthwith proceeded with.

The following are the names associated:—*John Batman, Charles Swanston, Joseph Tice Gellibrand, James Simpson, John and William Robertson, *John Helder Wedge, *Anthony Cotterell, George Mercer, Thomas Bannister, *Henry Arthur, John Sinclair, John Thomas Collicott, Michael Connelly, and *William Jardine Sams. (Those names at which I have placed a * were of the party on the mountain).  Batman very shortly after began to make preparations for the expedition, and on the 10th May, 1835, he sailed for Launceston on board the schooner Rebecca, taking with him three white men and seven of his New South Wales natives.  I accompanied them a few miles down the river.”

” . . . On landing he came to my house.  It was then evening.  I very naturally looked to be informed of the results of the expedition, but Batman would not satisfy my curiosity that night, except on the condition that I accompanied him home, which I did.  We arrived there about three o’clock in the morning, after a frightful ride of upwards of thirty miles through-incessant rain and darkness, much of the way by wild bush tracks.  After having changed our wet clothes and taken refreshment, Batman then related the whole of his proceedings from the day of his departure, referring from time to time to his diary.”

This account I esteem greatly, because derived from a gentleman of methodical, official habits, keeping notes, and accustomed to observe with intelligence, and express with caution and exactness.  He possessed educational advantages not favoured to George Evans, and his recital is, therefore, more valuable for its precision.

– Source: John Batman, The Founder of Victoria by James Bonwick, published 1867

On the 1st May 1835, Batman supplied Gellibrand a definite departure date requesting that the draft of a treaty with the Port Phillip natives be completed.

The following excerpt is of the very first entry in John Batman’s Journal recording the expedition to Port Phillip:

Mr Sams

Excerpt from John Batman’s Diary – 10 May 1835


“Sunday, 10th May 1835

Arrived on board the Rebecca at half past twelve with Mr Sams, who remained about 20 minutes and returned about 4 miles down the River Tamar.  I gave the men who brought me down one Dollar . . . “

The voyage to Port Phillip on the schooner ‘Rebecca’ was delayed due the heavy winds, rain and hail – finally exiting the heads of the Tamar River on Monday, the 18th May 1835 . . .

View other important events in Tasmania’s History . . .

View other important events in this Region’s History . . .

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