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John Batman – The founder of Melbourne

John Batman
John Batman

In 1824, Van Diemen’s Land became an independent Colony with George Arthur as its first Governor.  The relations between native aborigines and the settlers were very hostile and a virtual state of war existed. Martial law was declared. Aboriginal warriors were defending their land, which the settlers have taken as if the natives never existed. What happened next was one of the worst cases of ethnic cleansing or genocide. Government-sanctioned militias, or Roving Parties, carried out massacres. In the middle of that chaos stood one man, who was rewarded with a grant of 2000 acres for killing 15 aboriginal men on one foray. His name was John Batman. Batman was born on 21 January 1801 in Parramatta, New South Wales to William and Mary Bateman. In 1810, William changed his surname from Bateman to Batman to hide his convict past.

Batman’s life in NSW

At the age of 15, Batman was apprenticed to a local blacksmith, James Flavell. In 1816, Flavell was sentenced to hanging for stealing clothes from neighbour’s house. Batman was one of the witnesses who gave evidence against Flavell. His apprenticeship stopped halfway through, but he was a promising bushman, confident, physically strong and was battle ready for a future ahead.

Mary Batman, mother of John Batman. Image Courtesy: SLV

In early May 1821, Batman was asked to appear before Female Orphan School Committee about a serious matter. One of their inmates named Elizabeth Richardson, who had been apprenticed to a man named Hook, had absconded from her master and was pregnant. Elizabeth named John Batman as the father of her child. The Committee wanted to exert pressure on Batman to marry her, but Batman denied being the father. He was asked to pay £50 to the institution towards the expenses incurred. John’s father William Batman worked as a shearer at the Female Orphan School in 1806 and he requested the Committee to reduce the sum to £25, which was accepted. John removed himself from the situation by moving to Van Diemen’s Land with his brother Henry in December 1821.

The two brothers published a notification in “Sydney Gazette” on 17th November 1821, which read, “Mr. John Batman, leaving the colony by an early opportunity, requests claims to be presented. Mr.Henry Batman, leaving the colony by an early opportunity, requests claims to be presented.”

As per the law at that time, no one could leave the colony without public notification of his/her intention to do so.

John Batman in Van Diemen’s Land

John began his life as a grazier in Van Diemen’s Land. With his hard work, by 1823, he was supplying meat to the Government meat stores in George Town, after tendering successfully for the contract. In 1824, he managed to acquire a grant of 500 acres near Ben Lomond and the homestead was known as ‘Kingston’. Here his liaison with Elizabeth Callaghan, an absconding convict who was sentenced for passing a counterfeit bank note in London resulted in marriage in 1828.

Kingston. Image Courtesy: SLV

Batman entered the good books of the establishment after he captured Matthew Brady, the notorious bushranger, in the Western Tiers. Mathew Brady was well educated and enjoyed good social position before his transportation for forgery. Due to a disciplinary action he ended up serving at Macquarie Harbour, which had a reputation worse than Port Arthur for the treatment of convicts. Brady and the 14 others escaped, engaged in bush ranging, which kept the island in a reign of terror. Lieutenant-Governor declared a reward for Brady’s capture amounted to three hundred guineas, or three hundred acres of land with a free pardon and a passage to England in case he is captured by a convict. John Batman set himself to hunt down the bushranger. One day during his search, he saw a man in a hillside in tattered clothes, limping along, supported by a stick, and apparently in great pain. When Brady realised, he is been followed, he dropped his stick and took a gun pointing to Batman and shouted out, “Are you an officer”, with his finger on the trigger.

Page from Batman’s diary describing land good for a village. Image Courtesy: SLV

For that Batman answered, “No, Brady.”  “I am John Batman. Surrender: there is no chance for you” Brady hesitated, then lowered his gun, and said, “you are right, Batman. My time has come I will yield to you, because you are a brave man.”

Batman received extra acreage as a reward.

The battle for supremacy was ranging in Tasmania on those days between the settlers and the natives. It was a battle of survival for the aborigines fighting for their right to keep their land. The colonialists proposed to capture all blacks and deport them to some other island leaving the Tasmanian land for settlers to reside. The Government sent a number of parties for it and a reward was offered for every black captured. Batman at the head of 10 crown prisoners spent many months rounding up the blacks, shooting them or capturing them.

In 1829 with the help of 2 aborigines named Pigeon and Crook from NSW and the assigned convicts, Batman hid near a black settlement until midnight planning an ambush. When the dogs belonged to the blacks sounded the alarm, Batman ordered to fire. 12 aborigines were massacred on that day. They took a woman named Luggenemenener and her two-year-old son Rolepana to Batman’s property. Against her wishes, Batman kept her son and send her to Campbelltown Gaol.

In another one of his raids he captured three women and seven other natives. They were all sent to Campbell Town Gaol. Batman kept one of the small children named Lurneminner. For this success, he was granted 2000 acres of land. He planned to train aborigines so that he can use them to educate  and convince other blacks about the real views of the colonial Government about them. Batman’s intentions were painted benevolent by the media immediately after his death taking him to the heights of a hero among settlers. But in later years, Australians had a second look at his activities, acknowledging his cruelties towards the native population. He also suggested the Government to bring some of the tame natives of NSW and use them to educate the natives. Eleven such blacks were brought to Tasmania by the Government and was placed under his direction.

Pigeon and Crook went to NSW and returned with five other aborigines. Six of these aborigines travelled with Batman to Port Phillip in 1835.

To make a living, Batman was also doing sheep farming but his Kingston property was neither suitable for farming nor grazing as it was too densely wooded for sheep and too rocky for farming, and his eyes were set on the fine sheep country, his friend Hamilton Hume explored in 1824. His restless imagination and adventurous mind that pushed him to explore that land was in the future going to earn him the title as the man who founded Melbourne. In 1827, along with his friend and solicitor, Gellibrand, he applied for a grant of land at Western Port in Today’s Victoria, but the NSW Government declined it.

On 29th March 1828, John Batman married, “Eliza Thompson, known by the name of Callaghan”, mother of his three daughters, who was a convict and an absconder. In 1833, Eliza was pardoned. The same year Batman was diagnosed with Syphilis.

Batman’s Port Phillip exploration

On 10th May 1835, Batman went onboard his craft ‘Rebecca’  at Launceston accompanied by his servants and aborigines from Sydney, Pigeon and Crook. He reached Port Phillip on 29th May 1835, nineteen days after he set sail. The first living creature they encountered at the shore was a dog belonged to the aborigines and they shot and killed it. They had anchored about St. Leonard’s, wandered over the Bellerine hills, and beheld the magnificent Geelong plains. With the help of Pigeon and Crook, Batman could foster a good relationship with the aborigines he met on the way.

Batman Meets Buckley. Image Courtesy: SLV

On 7thJune Batman decided to leave for Launceston keeping three white men, five aborigines from NSW and three dogs at Intended Head in Geelong with three months’ supply.  But the weather was not good to set sail, so he decided to raw up the Yarra. His journal reads,

“The boat went up the large river I have spoken of, which comes from the east, and I am glad to state, about six miles up, found the river all good water, and very deep. This will be the place for a village.”

Joseph Tice Gellibrand

Batman’s Treaty negotiations with Kulin peoples took place on 6th June 1835 on the banks of the Merri Creek in present-day Northcote. But in later years many historians expressed a doubt on this claiming that the document was forged by Batman and his solicitor. The treaty with Kulin peoples grants Batman the right to rent their land on an annual basis for 40 blankets, 30 axes, 100 knives, 50 scissors, 30 mirrors, 200 handkerchiefs, 100 pounds of flour and 6 shirts.

William Barak, the last traditional elder of the Wurundjeri-willam clan who attended the government’s Yarra Mission School from 1837 to 1839, in an interview confirmed that he had witnessed the signing of the treaty in a ceremony. So it is sensible to assume that the treaty did happen. Barack was 16 or 17 when the treaty was signed.

John Batman’s treaty with Aborigines. Image Courtesy: SLV

Batman reached Launceston on 11th June 1835 and “The Cornwall Chronicle” was the first to give particulars of the visit on June 1835. The report went on saying, “He describes the whole of the land he noticed as being well watered and luxuriant in kangaroo grass, and so lightly timbered and level that—to use Mr. Batman’s own expression—a horse might run away with a gig for twenty miles on end without fear of upsetting from irregularity of the ground.”

Batman’s house in Melbourne. Image Courtesy: SLV

In Launceston, Batman explained John Helder Wedge the areas he explored in Melbourne and the division of land between association members. Based on that Wedge made a map of Melbourne. Later Batman wrote to Governor Arthur with particulars of the treaty and the Association’s plans to run 20,000 sheep on the lands purchased. Arthur was not happy with the Association’s actions and wrote a letter to the New South Wales Governor, Richard Bourke.

Batman’s Deed. Image Courtesy: SLV

Batman began plans to establish a large settlement in Melbourne. Surveyor Wedge and Henry Batman with his wife and four children arrived at Indented Head in August 1835. On 2nd September 1835, when Batman and his team reached the Yarra, John Fawkner’s people were already in possession of the land. Wedge observed that there were no tribal chiefs among Port Phillip aborigines from whom Batman could have negotiated land purchases. He wrote a confidential letter to his friend James Simpson, another member of the Port Phillip Land Association. The letter stated referring to the aborigines – “ There is no such thing as Chieftainship among them, but this is a secret that must , I suppose be kept to ourselves or it may effect the deed of conveyance, if there is any validity in it”.

Batman’s Treaty with the Aborigines was annulled by the New South Wales government on 26 August 1835 but provided compensation to Batman’s Port Phillip Association.  Batman sold ‘Kingston’ for 10,000 pounds and came to Melbourne with his family in April 1836. His son John Charles was born in Melbourne. They settled at what became known as Batman’s Hill at the western end of Collins Street, where he built a house in April 1836. This was the first brick building in Melbourne.  Later it was cut away to make way for Spencer Street Railway Station. Batman was also a purchaser at Melboutrne’s first land sale, the half-acre block at the corner of Collins and William streets for £65. Here he built a two-story brick building

First Land sale of Melbourne. Image Courtesy: SLV

Batman’s health was deteriorating, and he was crippled and disfigured due to Syphilis. His wife left him with his storeman, William Willoughby and he was cared by his aboriginal servants. Batman left only five pounds to her in his will. He died alone at Batman’s Hill cottage on 6 May 1839. On 11th January 1845, Batman’s one and only son John Charles Batman drowned in the Yarra River while fishing. There is a record of the letter Batman’s estranged wife wrote to her daughter Elizabeth, who was staying with her uncle John Stevens of Norfolk Plains in Van Diemen’s Land explaining particulars of the  sad incident.

1882 Memorial for John Batman. Image Courtesy: SLV


30th January 1845

My Dear Elizabeth,

I am sure you were much distressed when you heard of the death of your dear brother. I wrote a hurried letter to your aunt, acquainting her of the sad circumstances of the sad event, and also sent a newspaper with the particulars. It seems he was catching some small fishes which are left by the tide among the stones at the falls, and in getting up in haste, one of the stones gave way and he was immediately carried away a considerable distance by the current into the middle of the unlucky Yarrow Yarra, and before any assistance could be procured, my lovely boy had sunk. Every effort was made to get the body, but to no purpose, until next morning, when several of the blacks dived in different parts of the river and were successful in finding him. Oh, my dear child, had you but have seen him you would never have forgotten his countenance. No person would have thought he was dead; he looked as if he was in a quiet sleep, with a heavenly smile on his sweet face. I am almost heart-broken when I think of him, and, believe me, Elizabeth, all my happiness in this world is buried in the grave with him. I loved him to excess.

The only thing that reconciles me to this bereavement is that I am sure that he is now in heaven. The Lord has taken him from the evil to come; He gave him to me, and He has, in the order of His Divine will, taken him from me; and, blessed be His holy name, I send you a piece of his hair, which I cut off myself before he was put into the coffin. He was buried very respectably. Several gentlemen attended; they wore white bands and scarfs. He was carried in a hearse, and about one hundred and fifty children followed carrying flowers in their hands, which they strew over his grave, he was buried in the vault with his father, and placed on the top of his coffin, which looked as fresh and as new as the first day it was placed there, although six years have elapsed since the unfortunate occurrence. Lucy has been living with Mrs Solomon for some time and intends to remain until they return from V. D. Land; they go over in the next Shamrock. The wax candles Lucy has now in her possession, they are very good. Give my affectionate love to my sister, and Mr Stevens, and accept the same.

Your affectionate and afflicted MOTHER

The body of John Batman was interred in the Old Melbourne General Cemetery. For 42 years his grave was not marked. A memorial was erected in 1882 by public subscription. When the city council reclaimed the land for the extension of Victoria Market. The bodies were exhumed and reinterred at the Fawkner cemetery or in other burial grounds, the relatives deemed fitting. Batman’s relatives have written to the authorities to allow his remains to be permitted to lie undisturbed in its original place. In 1924, Batman’s remains were re- interred in an old Pioneers Section at the Fawkner cemetery along with 220 other early pioneers.

John Batman
John Batman. Image Courtesy: SLV

IMAGE CREDIT: Charles Nuttall/National Library of Australia

There was no portrait of John Batman ever existed. A portrait of John Batman was published in the “Illustrated Australian News” on 10th June 1882. It was made from a likeness supplied by Batman’s grandson, Austin Batman Weire . The sketch was made by James Charles Nuttall, a well-known Melbourne artist of yester years.

Batman’s Deed

The Batman deed recorded the purchase of land for the Port Phillip Association, and was executed in triplicate. Two documents were prepared in triplicate—one having to do with 500.000 acres, situated north and west of Port Phillip, embracing the site of Melbourne, and the other with 100,000 in the Geelong district. The first copy of the deed was drawn up by John Batman and William Todd on 6 June 1835; the second and third copies were drawn up by William Todd on 7th June. The deed had been previously prepared in Hobart by Mr. Gellibrand, and set out in proper legal language

John Batman’s deed with the natives was found at a shop in Marylebone in London. The shop was owned Francis Edwards, a dealer in books and ancient manuscripts. The deed was originally in the office of Gellibrand, the solicitor of John Batman and the Port Phillip Association. One of the Associations members were a nephew of then Governor Macdonell. The Association made representations to the Government for compensation and it is assumed the deed was sent to London as a duly, in proof of the claim. After the matter was settled it remained in the offices of one of solicitors engaged in the prosecution of the claim. When Governor Macdonell returned to England it came into his hands. It was placed among number of papers of no apparent value, which was bought by book dealer Francis Edwards. He offered it to the Melbourne Public Library at a price of 25 pounds, of which he received no reply. Later British Museum purchased it.

Batman signing the deed
Batman signing the deed. Image Courtesy: SLV

The Deed is as follows:

Know all persons that we three brothers. Jagajaga, .Jagajaga. Jagajaga. being the principal chiefs, and Cooloolock, Bungaree, Yanyan, Moowhip, and Moinmacmalar. Aiso being the chiefs of a certain native tribe called Dutigaller, situate at and near Port Phillip, called by us, the above-named chiefs Tramao, being possessed of the tract of land here in after mentioned, for and in consideration of twenty pair of blankets, thirty tomahawks, one hundred knives, fifty pair of scissors, thirty looking-glasses, two hundred handkerchiefs, and one hundred pounds of flour and six shirts, delivered to us

by John Batman, residing in Van Diemen’s Land, Esquire, but at present sojourning with us and our tribe, do for ourselves, our heirs and successors, give, grant, enfeoff and confirm unto the said John Batman, his heirs and assigns, all that tract of country situate and being at Port Phillip running from the branch of the river at the top of the Zort about seven miles from the mouth of the river, forty miles north-east, and ‘ from thence forty miles across Tramoo downs or plains and from thence .

south-south-west across Mount Vilaumarnartar to Geelong Harbour at the head of the same, and containing about live hundred thousand more or less acres, as the same hath been before the execution of these presents delineated and marked out by us according lo the custom of our tribe by certain marks made upon the trees growing along the boundaries of the said tract of land. To hold the said tract of land, with all the advantages belonging thereto and to the ‘ use of the said John Batman, his heirs and assigns for ever. To the intent that the said John Batman, his heirs and assigns may occupy and possess the said tract of land and place thereon sheep and cattle. Yielding and delivering to us and our heirs or successors the yearly rent or tribute of one hundred pairs of blankets, one hundred knives, one hundred tomahawks, fifty suits of clothing. fifty looking-glasses, fifty pair {Scissors, and five tone flour, in witness wherof , Jagajaga, Jaga, jaga, Jagajaga, the before-mentioned ;principal chiefs, and Cooloolock, Bun-garie, Yanyan, Moowhip, and Mommarlar, being the chiefs of the said tribe, have hereunto affixed our seals to these presents, and have signed the same. – Dated according to the Christian era this sicth day of .lune, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-five.

JAGAJAGA. his (‘) mark.

JAGAJAGA, his (*) mark.

JAGAJAGA, his (*) mark.

COOLOOLOCK. his (*) mark.

BUNG ARII2, his (*) mark.

YANYAN, his (*) mark.

MOOWHIP. his (*) mark.

MOMMARMALAR, his (*) mark.


Signed, sealed and delivered in the presence of us, the same having been fully and properly explained and interpreted to the said chiefs.




On the back of the document — Be it remembered that on the day and year within written possession and ‘ delivery of the tract of land within mentioned was made by the within named Jagajaga, Jagajaga, Jagajaga, principal chiefs, and Cooloolock, Bungarie, Yanyan, Moowhip, and Mommarmaiar. also, chiefs of the tribe of natives called Dutigaller. To the within named John Batman by the said chiefs taking up part of the soil of the said tract of land and delivering the same lo the said John Batman in the name of the whole.

JAGAJAGA. his (*) mark.

JAGAJAGA, his (*) mark.

JAGAJAGA. his (*) mark.

COOLOOLOCK. his (*) mark.

BUNGARIE, his (*) mark.

YANYAN. his (*) mark.

MOOWHIP. his (*) mark.

MOMMARMALAR, his (*) mark.


Batman – From Hero to Villain

John Batman’s tomb at Fawkner Cemetry

According to John Glover, Batman’s neighbour in Van Diemen’s Land, Batman was “a murderer of blacks and the vilest man I have ever known”. Within 150 years of establishment, Melbourne became a multicultural society with people from more than 210 countries around the globe calling it home. As the colonial mindset faded away and reconciliation became the new mantra, John Batman’s atrocities towards the aborigines became a matter of discussion. This cruel legacy of him led to calls for the removal of the Batman name from the streets, parks, railway stations and other establishments given in honouring the founder of Melbourne. The Melbourne electorate of Batman was renamed as Cooper, after Yorta Yorta activist and leader William Cooper, when the boundaries of the division were changed in 2019.

Darebin Council planned to change the name of Batman Park in Northcote in Melbourne to Gumbri Park, in honour of a late Wurundjeri tribe elder, who was also known as Jessie Hunter. But the state Office of Geographic Names has rejected the proposal.




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      In 1824, Van Diemen’s Land became an independent Colony with George Arthur as its first Governor.  The relations between native aborigines and the set
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