Mount Cottrell, a semi-rural town, situated 35km west of Melbourne is part of the fast growing western fringes of Melbourne. The town consists of mostly privately owned farms – many of which are currently listed for sale, will soon become part of new housing estates springing up in the area.
On 16 July 1836, Mount Cottrell entered Australia’s history books, when it witnessed one of the worst massacres of aborigines. Around 35 Wathaurong or Woiworrung Aboriginals were murdered on that day in retaliation for the killing of squatter Charles Franks and his convict shepherd Thomas Flinders. This retributive justice or injustice divided Melbourne on those days, but most supporting the massacre, as it ensured the survival of the new settlement.
The Port Phillip Association was formally formed in June 1835 by fifteen of the leading colonists of Tasmania with a view to purchase a large tract of land from indigenous people who lived on the south coast of Australia to establish a settlement.
Batman sailed from Launceston in the schooner Rebecca in May, 1835. In June he went up the Yarra River and noted in his journal “this is the place for a village”. That was the beginning of the process which gave birth to the great city of Melbourne.
Mount Cottrell got its name from a volcanic Cone of same name which was formed by radial eruption of many lava tongues millions of years ago. John Batman named the volcanic cone, ‘’Mount Cottrell’’, after Antony Cottrell, a member of the Port Phillip Association, who was allocated the surrounding land by the Association after the famous or infamous treaty Batman signed with the aborigines in Melbourne.
Charles Franks was allocated a run at Mount Cottrell. Charles Franks and his business overseer George Smith descended in Williamstown (Point Gellibrand) in ‘The Champion’ with 500 sheep and a shepherd named Flinders on 23rd June 1836. Franks’ business partner, George Armytage, remained in Van Diemen’s Land. On 2nd July Charles Franks, George Smith and Flinders reached the volcanic plains of Mount Cottrell with their sheep. George Smith left for Point Gellibrand to bring more stores.
On 8th July, George Smith arrived back at Mt Cottrell but there was no sign of Frank or Flinders and he found the stores appears to be ransacked. George returned to Point Gellibrand and sought the help of Mr Gellibrand and other prominent members of the Association. Joseph Tice Gellibrand was the first Attorney-General of Van Diemen’s Land (known as Tasmania since 1856) and one of the leaders of the Port Phillip Association. Gellibrand was the brain behind Batman Treaty. Gellibrand asked Henry Batman (brother of John Batman) to accompany him with few other early settlers. A small army of 17 volunteers were mobilised to investigate the incident. The party of 17 men were Henry Batman, Mr Guy, George Hollins, Michael Leonard, David Pitcairn, Alexander Thomson, William Winberry, John Wood and Melbourne Aboriginals Benbow, Derrimut, Baitlange (Ben Benger) and Ballyan, Sydney Aboriginals Bullett, Stewart and Joe the marine. The team armed with muskets went in search of the perpetrators. The party followed the trail of discarded stores left by the aborigines to find a group of nearly hundred Wathaurong people. At dawn, the party fired on the tribe killing nearly 35 Aboriginals.
All those white members of the volunteer force that engaged in the retribution were from Van Diemen’s land and one way or the other had some connection with the annihilation of the blacks there.
A few months later William Lonsdale arrived in Melbourne as Police Magistrate to formalise the illegal settlement. Then Governor of NSW, General Sir Richard Bourke instructed Lonsdale to investigate the massacre and apprehend offenders with the view to sending them to Sydney Goal for a trial. But during the interrogation, no witness (pursuing party) admitted heard shots being fired or saw anyone killed. As a result Lonsdale reported to Burke that accounts circulating in Sydney must have been very much exaggerated.