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John Batman, Pastoralist & Melbourne Pioneer (1801-1839)

Tin - Phoenix Biscuit Co, Centenary of Melbourne, 1935

Image: Tin - Phoenix Biscuit Co, Centenary of Melbourne, 1935

Source: Museum Victoria

John Batman is considered one of Melbourne's pioneers. He was born in 1801 in New South Wales, son of a convict cutler and grinder from Middlesex; his mother was a free settler. John, the second son, attended John Tull's elementary school and was apprenticed to a blacksmith at Sydney in 1816. Within a few months, however, his evidence led to his master's execution for burglary, and during the next five years he apparently worked as a jack-of-all-trades farmer.

In 1821, at the age of 20, John Batman and his brother Henry moved to Van Diemen's Land. John Batman worked as a leasehold grazier, and within two years was contracted to supply the government meat stores at George Town. Just one year later, in 1824, he had enough capital to obtain a grant of 600 acres (243 ha).

In 1828 he married Eliza Thompson, a convict. Liaisons such as these were not uncommon, and he was not ostracised. Instead he developed associations with men above his social standing, showing persistent vigour, logic, and bold sensibility. Amongst his efforts at this time was the first conciliation campaign amongst the Tasmanian Aboriginals.

In 1834 Batman was instrumental in the formation of the Port Phillip Association with John Helder Wedge, seeing an opportunity for expanding their interests into a new region.

In May 1835 the syndicate explored Port Phillip Bay, looking for suitable sites for a settlement. Batman claimed to have signed a 'treaty' or deed with Aboriginal leaders, giving him ownership of almost 250,000 hectares of land, in return for some blankets, axes, flour and other goods, and a promise of annual rent. Three months later, another syndicate of farmers, led by John Pascoe Fawkner, entered the Yarra River aboard the Enterprize, establishing the first permanent settlement.

New South Wales Governor Richard Bourke declared Batman's treaty illegal and the settlers to be trespassers. But within two years, more than 350 people and 55 000 sheep had landed, and the squatters were establishing large wool-growing properties in the district. Bourke was forced to accept the rapidly growing township.

Batman brought his wife and seven daughters to the new settlement in in April 1836, and they settled at Batman's Hill. Their only son, John Charles, was born a year later. Batman by then had improved about 20 acres (8 ha), including buildings, garden and an orchard, west of the town boundary, with the aid of about 30 servants. Caroline Newcomb was his children's governess.

But syphilis disabled Batman; he borrowed too much and lent without security. He died on 6 May 1839, aged 38.

Releated Stories
The Founding of Melbourne

References:
Museum Victoria website http://www.museum.vic.gov.au/marvellous/early/index.asp, accessed 15 March 2004.
Australian Dictionary of Biography website http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/adbonline.htm

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