John Batman

From ArticleWorld

John Batman was born in 1801 in Sydney but moved to Tasmania to become a farmer and businessman. He initially farmed on land which had been granted to him but he rapidly extended through additional purchases.

An adventurous life

In the mid 1820’s, Batman captured John Brady, a bushranger who had been injured in a shoot-out with police but had escaped. Batman tracked him down and called on him to surrender, which Brady did but only after establishing that Batman was not a policeman.

In 1830, he was involved in the Black Line incident, which was a successful attempt by the governor of Tasmania at that time, George Arthur, to rid the area of the local Aboriginals. He enlisted the aid of all white men, both free and convict, and formed a human chain that swept across the districts over a period of several weeks with the aim of corralling the native people into one area. As a result of this action, modern Tasmania has very few native Aboriginals.

The Batman treaty

When Batman’s request for further land were denied, he led a party of settlers into Port Philip Bay with the aim of gaining legal control over the area of Port Philip, which is close to the present site of Melbourne. With the party were a group of five Aboriginal men from Parramatta, outside Sydney. During his exploration of the area, Batman met with the local Aboriginal tribe, the Wurundjeri. At one meeting, Batman negotiated a treaty with leaders of the tribe, exchanging blankets, scissors, clothes and a yearly tribute of the same for land around Corio Bay and the Yarra River.

To legalise the exchange, Batman on his part signed a treaty he had prepared and the tribal leaders are said to have signed their agreement. For many years, Batman was praised for at least some attempt at paying the local tribe for their land instead of just taking what he wanted and doing away with the original inhabitants. The treaty was soon invalidated by the British crown as they maintained that the land belonged to them and anyway, any negotiations should be done for the crown and not for individual or group interests.

Some doubt remains as to whether the Wurundjeri understood the implications of what they were signing or if, indeed, they didn’t actually sign anything and the signatures on the treaty belonged to the Parramatta Aboriginals instead.

Batman died in 1939, probably of syphilis. He left behind an estranged wife and seven daughters, his only son having drowned.