Launceston Up Close

  Stories, tall and small about Launceston, Tasmania

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Batman or Fawkner?

Posted on 6 October, 2017 at 2:35

While I was researching my Heritage Walking Tours, I came across the interesting story of John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner and just who established the first settlement on the shores of Port Philip Bay?  Which of the two could rightfully claim to be the father of what was to become Melbourne?

Perhaps a little about each bloke.

John Batman, born in Sydney 1801, was a colonial grazier who was described variously as a cheat, a liar, a thief and a murderer of Aborigines.

He was credited with the capture of bushranger Matthew Brady in 1826 when he stumbled upon the injured Brady who was in severe pain. Batman scored a grant of land, and Brady got the noose.

So he moved onto land in Northern Van Dieman’s Land that was ‘large in acreage but poor agriculturally’. Between 1828 and 1830 he took part in the round up and removal of aborigines in a dark part of Tasmanian history.

In 1833, Batman was diagnosed with Syphilis which would kill him in the end. In the meantime, he crossed paths with John Pascoe Fawkner and was awakened to the possibilities of the Western Port area of Port Philip Bay.

In 1835, as a member of the Port Philip Association, he sailed for Port Philip Bay where he signed an exploitative treaty with local indigenous people. He secured for himself 600,000 acres land in what today would be North Melbourne for some axes and some blankets.

Colonial Governor Bourke later declared the treaty to be invalid as the land had already been claimed for the Crown. Others later said that the aboriginal signatories would not have had any real notion of the legalities or of the transfer of ownership of land, which by lore, they did not actually ’own’ as much as they were ‘a part of’ the land.

John Batman in the meantime had returned to Launceston to get together a settling party and to return to set up ‘Batmania’. When they arrived in late 1835 at the mouth of the Yarra River, he was dismayed, and angry to find the crew of John Pascoe Fawkner had already set up camp and were settling in nicely, thank you very much!

Batman and his family settled at what was to become Batman’s Hill, but as his health rapidly failed due to the aforementioned syphilis, his wife left him and his son drowned in the Yarra. He spent his final months, ironically, in the care of local aborigines. He died in 1839.

Batman has been held up as the father of Melbourne by many, but is that title valid?

And then there was John Pascoe Fawkner.

In 1803, as a ten-year-old, Fawkner travelled with his convict father, mother and sisters as part of a settling party to colonise what was the southern part of Port Philip Bay. Under the leadership of Lt Gov David Collins, the party persisted under very trying conditions until Collins chose to abandon the area in 1804 and move to the new colony at Hobart Town in Van Dieman’s Land.

Fawkner grew up in Hobart Town, working various jobs until he fell afoul of the authorities when he innocently assisted some escaping convicts. He ended up being a convict himself!

After doing his time, he moved to Launceston with his lady where they married in 1822. Fawkner was particularly industrious, establishing a bakery, a timber business, a bookshop, a newspaper – The Launceston Advertiser, a nursery and an orchard. And in 1826, he obtained a license to operate the Cornwall Hotel.

It was in the Cornwall Hotel, allegedly, that Fawkner and John Batman sat down over a pint to discuss the possibilities that Port Philip Bay might present to an enterprising pair like themselves!

In April of 1835, John Pascoe Fawkner became a shipowner, with the ‘Enterprize’ to take him and a settling party to explore Port Philip Bay. In May 1835, Batman got the jump and led his party to an area west of the Yarra River. But when Fawkner made ready to leave in August 1835, creditors insisted he settle all debts beforehand, so his boat left without him.

The Enterprize arrived in Port Philip Bay with Captain John Lancey in charge of the expedition, and set down to build their store and grow veggies. They were the first settlers on the site of what became the City of Melbourne.

Fawkner arrived on the next trip of the Enterprize in October of 1835 and he continued his industrious ways. He opened Melbourne’s first hotel on the corner of William St and Flinders Lane.

He published Melbourne’s first newspaper, the ‘Melbourne Advertiser’ in 1838, the first ten editions of which were handwritten in ink. An old printing press was sourced from Hobart and 17 more editions were produced until it was closed down by the Governor because he didn’t have a newspaper license! So in 1839, with a new license, Fawkner published ‘The Port Philip and Melbourne Advertise’.

John Pascoe Fawkner also served in office – as a Market Commissioner, and in 1851 as a Victorian Legislative Councillor, a seat he held til he died in 1869, aged 77.

He was the grand old man of the Colony and was given a state funeral.

In another irony, Batman was originally buried in the old Melbourne Cemetery, but was exhumed and re-buried in the Fawkner Cemetery, named after his adversary.

So who was the first to settle Port Philip Bay? John Batman? John Pascoe Fawkner? Or should credit go the Captain Lancey and crew of the Enterprize, after all, they did set up camp where Melbourne is now.

As mentioned above, when John Batman and party returned to Port Philip Bay after his initial exploration and treaty signing, he returned to find Fawkner’s settlers already in place, he was quoted as saying there is more than enough room for everyone.

When you come to Launceston, the Cornwall Hotel is now The Batman Fawkner Hotel and Backpackers, but Macquarie House, where both settling parties were equipped with food and stores are here for your Kodak moments.

Cheers :)

The Old Cornwall Hotel of the early 1800s


The Cornwall Hotel today!

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