The Batman Deed, circa 1966
Image: John Batman
Source: Museum Victoria
Question: Is it true that there are three copies of the Batman Deed?
Answer: In 1835, John Batman arrived in Port Phillip to acquire 600 000 acres land for the Port Phillip Association (the association formed in Tasmania to colonize Port Phillip). He brought with him a 'deed' to be signed by Aboriginal elders, promising remittance for the land, as well as a yearly 'rent'.
The original deed was written in triplicate, though only two of the original copies were known to exist until the early twentieth century: one held by the British Museum; the other by the State Library of Victoria. However, in the 1930s the third copy was found in a legal office in Geelong among papers of the Port Phillip Association.
After its discovery, Dame Mabel Brookes, a wealthy Melbournite with a passion for Australian history since European settlement, acquired the deed and displayed it in her home. Eventually she sold the deed (this deed was acquired by the National Museum of Australia), but not before making 30 copies which she distributed to friends and other interested parties. Museum Victoria has one of these copies in its collection, donated by Dame Mabel Brookes' hairdresser.
Ultimately the deed had no legal value, as the land was considered to belong to the Crown and not to the Wurundjeri elders who signed it. The Wurundjeri had lost their land twice; once to John Batman, and finally to the British Empire.