Batman, John (DNB00)

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BATMAN, JOHN (1800–1840), the reputed founder of the colony of Victoria, was born at Paramatta, New South Wales, in 1800, and early in life became a settler in Van Diemen's Land. In 1827, conjointly with another settler, J. T. Gellebrand (afterwards lost in the South Australian bush), Batman applied for a grant of land at Port Phillip Bay. A convict settlement attempted there in 1803 by Lieutenant-colonel D. Collins, of the Royal Marines, had been immediately abandoned, and Port Phillip, by reason partly of the alleged predominance of ‘scrub’ and scarcity of water, had remained unoccupied; but in 1826, in consequence of a rumour that the French designed to form settlements at unoccupied points on the Australian coasts, a detachment of troops had been sent from Sydney to Port Western. Batman and his colleague stated that, on receiving a grant in that locality, they were prepared to ship thither from Launceston 1,500 to 2,000 sheep, and 30 head of choice cows and horses, &c., ‘the whole, to the value of 3,000l. to 4,000l., being under the direction of Mr. John Batman, a native of New South Wales.’ The New South Wales government replied that ‘no decision had yet been come to in respect of Port Western, and therefore the request could not be complied with.’ After this Batman, who had a thriving farm in Van Diemen's Land, rendered useful service to the authorities there in the ‘black war.’ In 1835 the former project was renewed. An association or company for colonising Port Phillip was formed in Van Diemen's Land, and Batman, as its head, was sent over from Launceston secretly to report on the climate and general capabilities of the district for grazing and agricultural purposes. He proceeded thither with his family and a small party, and on 6 May 1835, within view of what now is known as Collingwood Flat, made a treaty with certain chiefs of the aborigines, whereof the estimated number in the locality was 7,000, by which, in consideration of some small gifts and a promised annual tribute of knives, scissors, axes, and slop-clothing, they agreed to make over to him two tracts of land of the aggregate area of 600,000 acres, which included the present site of the city of Melbourne. The text of one of the deeds of conveyance, with which Batman had provided himself beforehand, will be found in Heaton's ‘Australian Dictionary of Dates,’ setting forth that the chiefs Jagajaga, Cooloolick, and others ‘agree to give, grant, enfeoff, and confirm to the said John Batman, his heirs, executors, and assigns’ the lands in question. A curious illustration of the way in which the signatures were obtained is afforded by the following extract from Batman's private diary, given in the same work: ‘Sunday, 7 June. Detained this morning drawing up triplicates of the deeds of the land I have purchased, and delivering over to them (the natives) more property. Just before leaving, the two principal chiefs (described by Batman in another place as over six feet high and very handsome men) came and laid their cloaks or royal mantles at my feet, wishing me to accept the same. On my consenting to take them, they placed them on my neck and over my shoulders, and seemed quite pleased to see me walk about with them on. I had no trouble to find out their secret marks. One of my natives went to a tree, out of sight of the women, and made the Sydney natives' mark. After this was done, I took with me two or three of my natives to the principal chief and showed him the mark on the tree. This he knew immediately, and pointed to the knocking out of the teeth. The mark is always made when the ceremony of the knocking out of the teeth in front is done. However, after this I desired, through my natives, for him to make his mark, when, after looking about some time, and hesitating for a few minutes, he took the tomahawk and cut out in the bark of the tree his mark, which is attached to this deed, and is the signature of the country and tribe.’ The Australian biographer says that only those acquainted with the natives' ways can understand this, and charitably suggests that although others may regard him as a self-deluded enthusiast or worse, to Batman himself, who was a favourite with the natives and had been initiated into some of their mysteries, it all had a satisfactory and sufficient meaning. The colonial authorities did not see matters in the same light. The governor of Van Diemen's Land, to whom on his return Batman sent copies of the deeds, had no authority on the mainland, even had he approved the transaction. The Sydney authorities held that the sovereignty of Australia was vested in the British crown, and that acts, real or alleged, of the native chiefs could not be recognised. Some of Batman's party, however, remained at Port Phillip, and another settler, G. Fawkner, whom Batman appears to have regarded as an interloper, and who was a rival claimant to the honour of having founded the settlement, also established himself there, the first house on the present site of Melbourne being erected in November of the same year. In 1836 the Batman Association wound up its affairs, selling whatever interest it had to two of its members, who proceeded to Sydney, and in October of that year succeeded in obtaining a sum of 7,000l. from the government ‘in consideration of the expenses incurred in the first settlement.’ A resident magistrate, and a party of convicts under a guard of the 4th foot, were sent to Port Phillip. A census of the settlement, taken at the same time, showed a total population of 168 males and 38 females. The town of Melbourne (it was originally named Glenelg) was laid out in the year after, 1837. Batman removed from Van Diemen's Land to Melbourne, and died there in May 1840, whilst what is now the colony of Victoria was still an outlying district of New South Wales.

[Heaton's Australian Dictionary of Dates; Fox-Bourne's Origin of British Colonies.]

H. M. C.