One hundred and eighty years have passed since John Batman arrived in the Port Phillip District from Van Diemen's Land to make a treaty with the local aborigines, and the actual site at which the meeting with the aborigines took place remains a contentious issue, but one which John Daniels thinks he has solved.
It was understood that the Treaty was signed on the Merri Creek in Coburg until J. A. Blackburn suggested in 1885 that the site was the Plenty River at Eltham. Sutherland (1888) proposed Darebin Creek near Epping. More recently (1986) John Stuart Duncan suggested Edgar's Creek in Thomastown and Alastair Heriot Campbell (1987) chose the Darebin Creek in Bundoora. Merv Lia (2008) decided on the Merri Creek at Coburg Lake.
Batman's party included himself, Captain J. B. Harwood, mate Robbie Robson, sailor Henry Shern (1), James Gumm (an employee of Batman), Alexander Thompson (2) (also an employee of Batman), clerk William Dodd (3) and seven aborigines, including Pigeon, Joe the Marine, Old Bull, Bungett, Jacky and Steward.
Gifts for the Melbourne Treaty included fifty pairs of scissors, 20 blankets, 30 tomahawks, 100 knives, 30 mirrors, 200 handkerchiefs, 6 shirts and 100 lbs. of flour and so each man carried goods weighing about 15 kilograms. This included food, clothing, weapons, camping gear, and the clerk had to carry his writing equipment.
Daniels has taken into account physical descriptions of the land given by Batman in his journal, comparing them with modern aerial map views, writings from early settlers and visits he has made to the area. Unfortunately Batman's journal is inaccurate as regards to distances travelled.
On 3 June 1835 Batman recorded travelling alongside the Maribyrnong River, which is salty, as follows: "I followed up this river in all about twenty-six miles and found that on both sides, as far as the eye can see, open plains, with a few she-oak trees. . . We did not fall in with any fresh water the whole of this day, and just at sunset, when about to stop for the night on the banks of the river, I saw a damp place."
James Gumm dug here and found a strong low of fresh water. Whilst Duncan thinks this spot is now on the Medway Golf Course site (Melways Street Directory 27 F9), Daniels thinks the site was opposite Afton Street Reserve (Melways Directory 27 K6) because the Medway site was too flat for a strong flow of water.
The next day from whichever place they camped, they set off and before reaching the Canning Street ford (Melways Directory 27 C8) the party left the river and travelled in a North-West direction cutting across Sunshine North, St. Albans and Kealba and rejoined the River at Horseshoe Bend, Keilor. They saw the Australian Hollyhock or 'marshmallow' growing, just as they do today, where Taylor's Creek joins the Maribyrnong River. The Maribyrnong River at this point goes north towards Melbourne airport however the party travelled West-North-West to Redstone Hill (Melways Directory 382 K12) from where they could see the Macedon Ranges.
On 5th June they saw smoke in an easterly direction and followed it, crossing plains whilst heading for today's Oakland Road, Woodlands park, Mickleham Road and Greenvale Reservoir (Melways Directory 179 A5), before camping amongst the tea trees at Yuroke Creek.
The following day they met a family of natives and travelled with them, Daniels believes, in a South-East direction until they reached the Merri Creek where there was a large gathering of natives at a bend in the river where the Lakeside Schools used to be in Reservoir (Melways Directory 18 A4). this is the site where Daniels believes the Treaty was signed.
Here the Merri Creek has high banks on the western side which would provide shelter from westerly winds and the lower grounds on the other side would have sufficient space for a large gathering of people. Duncan had chosen a spot on Edgar's Creek just east of Daniels' site.
After the treaty documents were signed, Daniels believes Batman's party made their way back to their boat passing through what is now Fawkner Cemetery which was at that time just east of a forest of box and gum, called Box Forest in the early days of settlement. - "I crossed Batman's Creek and walked through a thinly timbered forest of box, gum, she-oak, & wattle but thickly covered with excellent grass."
They headed towards Pascoe Vale crossing the Moonee Ponds Creek , before heading in a more southerly direction towards today's Flemington Racecourse, and then joining the Maribyrnong River again.
On Batman's return to Launceston, Wedge drew up maps with simplified lines to indicate Batman's wanderings and the area he claimed to have purchased. The maps showed a bigger area was purchased than was written in the Deeds.
The journal which Batman made recording his trip is unreliable in terms of distances travelled and directions taken and its vagueness makes interpretation very difficult. It appears to have been worded such as to meet conditions expected in the Treaty Deeds, and to suit approval from governing bodies.
Daniels' theory is interesting and adds to an ongoing story.
(1) Newspaper article in "The Argus" (Wednesday, 17 June 1925, page 8)
(2) In newspaper articles sometimes called "Thomson"
(3) Name may be "Todd" but is definitely Dodd in Batman's Diary. "Argus" newspaper articles give both W. Dodd and W. Todd.
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