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John Batman

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John Batman

John Batman (21 January 1801 - 5 May 1839) was an Australian farmer and businessman who was one of the first settlers of the Melbourne area. He has been known as one of the few settlers who tried to reach agreement on land use with the local Aboriginal people, but this is now questioned.

Batman was born in Rose Hill, Parramatta (now a suburb of Sydney), and spent time in Tasmania (then called Van Diemen's Land) where he began farming, initially on granted land, but his holdings gradually expanded through purchases. During this time, he was involved in conflicts with the Tasmanian Aborigines, the end result of which was their near-extermination. His role in this period is debated.

He sought land grants in the Westernport area of Victoria, but the colonial authorities rejected this. So, in 1835, he sailed for the mainland and explored much of Port Phillip Bay. Batman claims to have negotiated a treaty with some local Aborigines to rent their land on an annual basis for a quantity of items such as knives and flour. While hardly representing a fair commercial value for the land under question, this has been praised as one of the few times any attempt to reach an agreement between white settlers and the local Aborigines for land use was made. Unfortunately, this treaty is likely to have been a forgery as the marks purported to be those of the Wurundjeri elders are very similar to those used by Aboriginal people around Parramatta. It is also unlikely that Wurundjeri would have understood this transfer of land or agreed to it if they had. In any case, The Governor of New South Wales deemed such a treaty invalid as the land was owned by the Crown rather than the Aborigines. The morality of Batman's actions in attempting to sign this treaty are also the subject of considerable debate.

Batman's health quickly declined after 1835, probably from syphilis, and he became estranged from his wife, convict Elizabeth Callaghan. They had had seven daughters and a son. His son drowned in the Yarra River. In his last months he was cared for by the local Aborigines.

Batman is remembered by a number of statues around Melbourne, and is buried in the Fawkner Cemetery, amusingly enough, a cemetery named after his rival colonist John Pascoe Fawkner. There is also a memorial in the Old Melbourne Cemetery.

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