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Past and Present, and Men of the Times.

Chapter V

page 27

Chapter V.

A Big Bank Robbery—I go on a Whaling Cruise—We put into Port Philip to refit—The Runaway—Early Settlement—Batman and Faukner—William Buckley, the "Wild Man"—The Genesis of Melbourne—Trouble with the Natives—An Ingenious System of Warnings—The Foundation and Naming of Melbourne.

While I was staying in Sydney this trip, the Bank of New South Wales was robbed, and there was very considerable excitement in the town at the time. There were two or three empty buildings on the opposite side of the street from the Bank. The robbers effected an entrance, and sunk a shaft in one of them, from which they drove a tunnel across the street and under the Bank premises. They were thus enabled to get at the safe, which contained a large sum of money and securities, the whole of which the daring burglars carried off. In spite of the vigilance of the police, and the large rewards offered, the perpetrators were never brought to light. There were forty men brought up at various times on suspicion, and discharged. These men, some of whom became wealthy colonists, were afterwards known as the "Forty Thieves."

Mr. Smith, with a kind view of providing for my future, Put me to learn a trade. I was now, in the year 1834, fifteen years of age, and a very strong, healthy lad, and a good rough-rider. For one year I kept at work, learning my trade as a butcher, but in 1835 I made up my mind to try the sea. One day, as I was standing against the post-office, I met a boy named Winton. He told me he was on a barque belonging to London. The barque's name was the "Mary." Winton told me the captain would ship me if I wanted to go whaling. I made up my mind page 28and shipped. The captain's name was Fowler. He was a great tyrant. The ship was at last ready for sea, and I left Sydney on a whaling cruise. This was in 1835. Cruising off Port Phillip Heads, our ship got stranded in a very heavy gale of wind. We lost our mast, and the tryworks got knocked down by the sea. Captain Fowler ran into Port Phillip to refit his ship, and we anchored under Queenscliff. While we were lying at Queenscliff, John Batman arrived in the "Rebecca" from Tasmania. John Batman was a native of Parramatta, but had crossed over in early life to Tasmania, where he had prospered through care and honesty. He was a very experienced bushman. It was he who captured Brady, the bushranger, and he had been of great service to the Tasmanian settlers in inducing the blacks to submit themselves to the colonists. For these services he had received large grants of land, and had stocked them with great flocks of sheep. He married and settled down, with a numerous family to enjoy his wealth in peace and comfort, but a picnic party which he gave to some friends one Christmas Day was the means of changing the course of his life, for as they ascended the mountain on which they were to lunch, the talk of his friends was about the glorious new country discovered around Port Phillip; and so enchanting a picture was drawn that, in their enthusiasm, a small association was formed for the purpose of colonising Port Phillip. John Batman was not the man to relinquish a project to which he had pledged himself, and before long he had increased the association to fourteen members, and purchased a little vessel in which to cross to Port Phillip. In this sloop, the "Rebecca," after tossing about for nineteen days in Bass Strait, he succeeded in entering the port, and landed at Indented Head on the 29th of May, 1835. We were lying under Queenscliff when the "Rebecca" came in with her sails tattered and torn, and her hull very much damaged. As Batman passed us they gave three cheers. On that day he walked a few miles inland through the country, which he declared was better suited for sheep than any land he had ever seen. Next day he took his vessel to Geelong, and on the third day he landed at the mouth of the Werribee, and proceeded on a walking tour round the bay. He found an encampment of about forty native women and children, with whom he was soon on very friendly terms, and the report they gave to the other natives of his kindness and generosity was of great service to page 29him afterwards. The "Rebecca" sailed into Hobson's Bay, and anchored off the lonely point where the busy docks of Williamstown now are. Batman again started on foot to explore the country, taking with him, as interpreters, one or two Sydney natives whom he had in his employment. He followed the Saltwater River for some distance, and then struck across the Keilor Plains to Jackson's Creek, and so up to Sunbury, keeping a good look-out for the natives, whom he did not fear, but rather wished to find. From the hill at Sunbury he could see fires about twenty miles south-east, and making towards them till he reached the Merri Creek, he met a native man with his wife and three children, By these he was informed that, on account of his kindness to the native women at the Werribee, all the aboriginals of Port Phillip were his friends; and being conducted by them nine miles down the creek to their encampment, he was received by the whole tribe with great favour. He stayed with them all night, sleeping on the banks of the Merri Creek, close to the spot where the Northcote Bridge now stands. In the morning he offered to buy a portion of their land, and gave them a large quantity of goods, consisting of scissors, knives, blankets, looking-glasses, and similar articles. In return they granted him all the land stretching from the Merri Creek to Geelong. Batman had the documents drawn up, and on the Northcote Hill, overlooking the grass-covered flats of Collingwood and the sombre forests of Carlton and Fitzroy, the natives affixed their marks to the deeds by which Batman fancied he was legally in possession of 600,000 acres. Trees were cut with notches, in order to fix the boundaries, and in the afternoon Batman took leave of his black friends. He had not gone far before he was stopped by a large swamp, and he slept for the night under the great gum trees which spread over the ground now covered by the populous streets of West Melbourne.

In the morning he found his way round the swamp, and in trying to reach the Saltwater he came upon a noble stream, which, was afterwards called the Yarra. In the evening he reached his vessel in the bay. Next day he ascended the Yarra in a boat; and, when he came to the Yarra Falls, he wrote in his diary, "This will be the place for a village," unconscious that he was gazing upon the site of a great and busy city. Returning to Indented Head, he left three white men and his Sydney natives to cultivate the soil and retain possession of the page 30land, which he supposed he had purchased. Then he set sail for Tasmania, where he and his associates began to prepare for transporting their households, their sheep, and their cattle to the new country. About the time Batman left in his little sloop, the "Rebecca," for Tasmania, Tom Winton and I ran away from the "Mary." After travelling three days without food we made Indented Head—this was on the 10th July, 1835—and met three men belonging to Batman's party. Their names were John Elder Wedge, Bannister, and Coloning. These gentlemen took Winton and myself by the hand and gave us shelter in their camp until John Batman returned from Tasmania, when he took us into his service. Meantime the rival association, consisting of John Faukner and five friends, had also been making preparations to settle at Port Phillip. They bought a small vessel, the "Enterprise," and set sail in her, but the winds proving contrary, and the waves running high, Faukner became so sea-sick that he asked to be put ashore again, and allowed Captain Lancey and the rest of his party to sail without him. They arrived safely in Hobson's Bay, bringing with them horses and ploughs, grain, fruit trees, materials for a house, boats, provisions? and indeed everything that a small settlement could require. Getting out their boat, they entered upon the stream which they saw before them; but, unfortunately, they turned up the wrong arm, and, after rowing many miles, were forced to turn back, the water all the way being salt and unfit for drinking. For this reason they called the stream Saltwater River; but next morning they started again, and tried the other branch. After pulling for about an hour and a half they reached the basin in the river, whose beauty filled them with exultation and delight. A rocky ledge over which the river flowed kept the waters above it fresh. The soil around was rich, and covered with splendid grass, and they instantly came to the conclusion to settle in this favoured spot, Next day they towed the vessel up, and landed where the custom house now is. At night they slept besides the falls, where the air was oderiferous with the scent of the wattle trees just bursting into bloom. Faukner's party had not been on the river many days when a dispute took place between them and Batman's party, which took a long time to settle. Mr. Wedge, one of Batman's party, in crossing the country from Indented Head to the Yarra, was surprised to see the masts of a vessel page 31rising amid the gum trees. On reaching the river bank, what was his surprise to find in that lonely spot a vessel almost embedded in the woods and the rocks! Mr. Wedge informed Mr. Faukner's party that they were trespassers on land belonging to John Batman and party. Captain Lancey having heard the story of the purchase, declared that the transaction could have no value. A month afterwards Mr. Faukner crossed over, and at once began to build his house upon the side of the gully which was afterwards turned into Elizabeth Street. Great crowds of white and black cockatoos raised their incessant clamour at the first strokes of the axe, but soon the hillside was clear and man had taken permanent possession of the spot.

One morning when Winton and I and Bannister, one of Batman's company, and two of Batman's blacks were getting our dinner, a circumstance happened which favoured Batman's party in no small degree. We were surprised to see an extremely tall figure advancing towards us. His hair was thickly matted; his skin was brown, but not black like that of the natives. He was almost naked, and he carried the ordinary arms of the aborigines. This was William Buckley, the only survivor of the three convicts who had escaped from Governor Collins' expedition. He had dwelt for thirty-two years amongst the natives, sometimes joining them in their encampments, but more frequently living by himself in a cave near Queenscliff. He was content to sink at once to their level, and live the purely animal life they led. Bat when he heard from them that there was a party of whites on Indented Head whom the Geelong tribes proposed to murder, he crossed to warn them of their danger. Batman's party clothed him and treated him well, and for a time he acted as interpreter, smoothing over many of the difficulties that arose with the natives, and rendering the formation of the settlement much less difficult than it might have been.

The news taken over by John Batman caused a commotion in Tasmania. Many settlers crossed in search of the new country, and, before a year had passed, nearly two hundred persons, with more than 15,000 sheep, had landed on the shores of Port Phillip. They soon spread over a great extent of country from Geelong to Sunbury, living in the midst of numerous black tribes, who now, too, began to perceive the nature of Batman's visit, and commenced to seek revenge. Frequent attacks were made, in one of which a squatter and his servant were killed on page 32the banks of the Werribee. Their bodies he buried in Flagstaff Gardens. Many of the settlers were ten or twenty miles apart, and, for their safety, they fixed heavy bells on posts near their houses. When anyone was atracked by natives he rang his bell. His nearest neighbour then rang the bell on his station, to warn the settler next to him; and so, in an hour or two, all the squatters in the district would gather to deliver the family besieged by the infuriated natives.

These were not the only troubles of the settlers, for the Sydney Government declared that all purchases of land from ignorant natives were invalid, and Governor Bourke issued a proclamation warning the people of Port Phillip against fixing their homes there, as the land did not legally belong to them. Still new settlers flocked over, and a township began to be formed on the banks of the Yarra. Batman's Association found that their claims to the land granted them by the natives would not be allowed; and, after some correspondence on the subject with the Home Government, they had to be content with 28,000 acres as compensation for the money they expended.

Towards the close of 1836, Governor Bourke found himself compelled to recognise the new settlement, and sent Captain Lonsdale to act as Magistrate. Thirty soldiers accompanied him to maintain order and protect the settlers. Next year (1837) the Governor himself arrived at Port Philip, where he found the settlers now numbering 500. He planned out the little town, giving names to its streets, and finally settling that it should be called Melbourne, after Lord Melbourne, who was then the Prime Minister of England.

In the beginning of 1837, and at the time Melbourne was named by Governor Bourke, the ship "Mary" made her appearance. This was the ship That Tom Winton and I ran away from in 1835, when we joined Batman's party at Indented Head. We were in John Batman's employ about three months when we left him, and in crossing the country to the Yarra, met Captain Lancey and John Pasco Faukner and told them our story about running away from our ship and what we had been working at for Batman. Mr. Faukner took us by the hand and gave us shelter, and with Faukner's kindness towards us, Winton and I got on well. We joined his party, and gave our labour for six shillings a week, and remained in his employ until Governor Bourke came from Sydney to plan out the town.