BATMAN, John (1801-1839)

BATMAN, John (1801-1839)
a founder of Melbourne
was born at Parramatta, New South Wales, on 21 January 1801. (A. S. Kenyon papers at the public library Melbourne.) His father, William Batman, came to Sydney in 1797. In 1821 John Batman, with his brother Henry, went to Tasmania and took up land in the north-east near Ben Lomond. In this wild country Batman became an experienced bushman, and took a prominent part with other settlers in hunting down the bushrangers who were terrorizing that part of the country. For his services in connexion with the capture of Brady, a notorious bushranger of the period, he was given an additional grant of land by the government. About this time Batman became interested in the aborigines who, in their conflicts with the settlers, seemed likely to be exterminated. With the approval of the government, Batman tried methods of conciliation, and induced many to come in and surrender themselves. It was felt at that time by the more humane members of the white community that the only hope for the blacks lay in their being segregated in some special area. Flinders island was selected for this purpose, and though the experiment was not a success, it seemed to be a great improvement on the "shoot at sight" principle that was being adopted by many colonists. Batman's efforts were commended by the governor, Colonel Arthur (q.v.), and a further grant of 2000 acres of land was made to him. A great deal of Batman's land, however, was of a wild character. He had heard from various sources of the possibilities of developing what is now southern Victoria, and as early as 1825 he had discussed with John Helder Wedge (q.v.) a project to send an exploring expedition across the Strait. In January 1827 this idea was revived, and Batman, in conjunction with J. T. Gellibrand (q.v.), sent a letter to Sir Ralph Darling (q.v.) applying for a grant of land on the mainland, and suggesting that it should be proportionate to the amount of stock proposed to be sent over under the management of Batman, who would permanently settle there. The governor replied that he had no power to grant their request. Batman at this time was in prosperous circumstances and was employing a large number of station hands. Some five years passed and it was then decided to form a syndicate, afterwards named the Port Phillip Association, to carry the question further. Fifteen men including Batman, Wedge and Gellibrand were associated in this movement, and on 10 May 1835 Batman, accompanied by three white assistants and six blacks, sailed from Launceston for Port Phillip, where they arrived on 29 May. Batman's journal of this expedition, now preserved at the Melbourne public library, may be found printed, with trifling amendments in the spelling and composition, in chapter IX of Bonwick's Port Phillip Settlement.
After a preliminary examination of the country to the west of Port Phillip Batman sailed up to near the present site of Williamstown, landed at the mouth of the Yarra, and followed it up to where it is joined by the Saltwater, now Maribyrnong, river. He followed the course of this river for some distance in a northerly direction, and then proceeded east to the Merri Creek. There Batman met a party of aborigines and purchased about 600,000 acres of their land. Batman tells us he explained fully to them what his object was, but it is problematical what the aborigines thought they were doing when they affixed their marks to Batman's documents. No doubt the blankets, knives, tomahawks, etc., that he gave them were very welcome. Batman then made his way back to the Saltwater River and came to the Yarra on 7 June. He had intended sailing next day for Tasmania, but the wind being adverse it was decided to explore the Yarra in a boat, and fresh water was found near the present site of Melbourne. It was on this day that Batman made the famous entry in his diary:—"This will be the place for a village." He left some of his party at Indented Head and returned to Tasmania, having given his representatives instructions to put off any person who might trespass on the land he had purchased. The Port Phillip Association then wrote to the secretary of state for the war and colonial departments requesting him to ratify the title to the land obtained from the natives. This was refused, and it was not until April 1839 that the representatives of the association were informed that they would be allowed compensation to the extent of £7000.
Meanwhile the party at Indented Head had been reinforced on 7 August 1835 by the arrival of J. H. Wedge and Henry Batman and his family. On 29 August a party organized by John Pascoe Fawkner (q.v.) sailed up the Yarra and started to make a settlement on the site of Melbourne. Four days later Wedge arrived and informed the members of Fawkner's party that they were trespassing. But Wedge had no means of enforcing his claim, and indeed in the eyes of the law all were trespassers. Fawkner himself arrived on 11 October and Batman on 9 November, but it was not until 20 April 1836 that Batman's family reached Melbourne. They lived for a time on Batman's Hill near the site of the present Spencer-street railway station, and Batman conducted a store, and farmed land. He was apparently in fairly good circumstances for, at the second sale of Melbourne town allotments, he gave the highest price, £100, for the allotment on the north-west corner of Flinders- and Swanston-streets, but when he died on 6 May 1839 after a long illness, his affairs were found to be very involved. Five years later a petition addressed to the queen by his widow and children for a grant of land was refused, on the ground that there was no power to accede to it. His only son was drowned in the Yarra before he was 10 years old. The family survives through his daughter Maria who married for the second time Robert Fennell, and his fourth daughter Elizabeth Mary who married William Weire of Geelong.
Batman was a courageous and adventurous man, with all the resources of a bushman used to working in virgin country. Good-looking in his youth, he was well-mannered and kindly, and his humanity to the blacks was far in advance of his age. There is no possibility of obtaining general agreement on his claim to be the founder of Melbourne. Batman certainly wrote in his diary "This will be the place for a village", but it is not unlikely that he was more concerned with obtaining grazing country than founding a town. The party organized by Fawkner erected the first buildings in Melbourne, and Fawkner actually settled in Melbourne before Batman did. Both played an important part in the founding of the colony of Victoria and its capital. It would be futile to try to apportion the credit due to each.
No contemporary portrait of Batman has survived. The drawing in the historical section of the public library at Melbourne was done by Charles Nuttall (q.v.) from a picture by Frederick Woodhouse called "The Settlers' first meeting with Buckley" in which Batman appears as the central figure. This was painted in 1861 and it is possible that the artist had something to work from, as Batman's daughter Mrs Weire considered it to be "a remarkable likeness" of her father. Her testimony, however, has little value as she was less than 10 years old when her father died.
R. D. Boys, First Years at Port Phillip; J. Bonwick, John Batman the Founder of Victoria, and Port Phillip Settlement; H. Gyles Turner, The Victorian Historical Magazine, vol. VII; W. Moore, The Victorian Historical Magazine, vol. I.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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