William Buckley: the Wild White Man
William Buckley was an escaped convict who was discoverd by the Wathaurang people, and lived with them for many years until Batman's party came across him in 1835.
Des Cowley introduces us to the various items held at the State Library that relate to Buckley and his legend.
DES COWLEY: My name's Des Cowley of the Rare Printed Collections at the State Library, Victoria.
What I'm going to show you is a range of early documents and printed material relating to the story of the escaped convict William Buckley.
Now, the earliest recorded document relating to the story is John Batman's journal.
Batman travelled in May of 1835 to Port Phillip with the express purpose of making a treaty with the local Aborigines to acquire 600,000 acres of land. And it was on the 6th of June in that year that he records having made a treaty with the Aboriginal population.
This is the deed that according to Batman was signed during that visit to Port Phillip and this records the transaction between Batman and the local Aborigines.
Now, we can see the supposed mark of the local chiefs as Batman referred to them and also the marks of the witnesses including Todd.
Batman also had with him seven Aborigines from New South Wales who were meant to act as interpreters. But of course with different dialects, they were unable to carry out that role.
When Batman returns to Hobart on the 8th of June, 1835, he leaves at his camp three of his servants including William Todd.
Todd's the only literate member of the group and in fact, Batman leaves a small journal with Todd and asks him to keep a record of activities at the camp until he returns.
This is in many ways where the documentary recording of Buckley's story really takes place because it's Todd who records for the very first time Buckley coming into Batman's camp at Indented Head on 6th July and he describes him in some detail.
And Todd, in fact, interestingly enough, records the tattoo on Buckley's arm which has a WB for 'Buckley' and it has a sun and a moon and a small creature.
Buckley at this stage has lost most of his language skills and is unable to communicate. But when he's given bread, the word 'bread' triggers something and he's suddenly able to start to remember the language he hasn't used since 1803.
Todd's journal, in a sense, records the first meeting, the pivotal moment when Buckley in fact re-enters European society.
In August 1835, John Batman returned to the Port Phillip district, the camp at Indented Head, and brought with him John Helder Wedge, a surveyor who was also a member of the Port Phillip Association. It was Wedge's role to actually survey the claim of land that in fact had been part of the treaty with the local Aborigines.
This is the very first manuscript map which documents the area and we see on it the camp marked at Indented Head, we see what's referred to as Wedge's Range, we have the track that Batman took on his original survey of the area.
Buckley assisted Wedge on his surveying of the region. He assisted with Aboriginal words for regions and we see here that Geelong is taken from the Aboriginal. He helped as an interpreter and in fact, Wedge also names Buckley Falls after William Buckley.
When Wedge carries out his survey of the Port Phillip district, he keeps with him a field book, records the notes of his journey as well as illustrations. He records, again, details of Buckley.
But what we also find is the very first illustration of William Buckley, sitting there in the camp looking extremely unhappy with his situation.
And again, we see Buckley clothed on the very next page.
When Governor Bourke in New South Wales first hears of Buckley's tale, he finds it fascinating and in fact states,'It would be good if someone could actually take down Buckley's story.'
In 1837, the Reverend Langhorne who was based in Port Phillip records Buckley's story for the very first time. This is actually the manuscript of Langhorne's account. It only runs to several pages but in fact it's the earliest document that we have where Buckley in fact tells his own story.
Langhorne stated that he found it difficult to converse with Buckley.
Buckley's language skills were still very basic at the time but it's recorded in the first person and Buckley tells a narrative recounting those 32 years.
It's an important document because it's the closest we have to the source and the account of Buckley at the actual time of the events.
It was a little-known document and it wasn't published until the first time in 1911 in The Age newspaper.
In 1848 in April, a fiction about the life of Buckley was published in the Geelong Advertiser. It was entitled Waroon The Strong: A Tale Illustrative Of The Times Of Buckley. And it was serialised through a number of issues in the paper over the coming weeks.
It's entirely fictitious work and at one stage has Buckley wielding a cutlass in one of his many battles.
Buckley in fact wrote to the Geelong Advertiser to complain about the inaccuracy of the tale and stated that forthcoming would be a book that told his own story.
In 1852, the story that Buckley mentions in his letter to the Geelong paper is published. It's entitled The Life And Adventures Of William Buckley. It's ghosted by John Morgan who was a journalist in Tasmania at the time in Hobart and he states in the introduction that he was approached by Buckley with a view to telling his own story. The title page and the frontispiece includes a portrait of Buckley done by Ludwig Becker who would later gain fame as the artist on the Burke and Wills expedition.
Now, Morgan's book is extremely important because it's the fullest account we have. It's hard to know where the ghosting starts and stops but many later commentators believe in fact it's probably a quite accurate record.
A second book on Buckley is published in 1856 by the local historian James Bonwick. It's entitled the Wild White Man And The Blacks Of Victoria. In many ways, this is where the phrase 'the wild white man' really enters our culture.
Bonwick never actually met Buckley. He's very critical of Morgan's account and some commentators have assumed that may be sour grapes because he didn't have the first-hand story himself. He's quite harsh about Buckley, talks of him being of low intelligence, etc.
Bonwick would in fact offer a much more sympathetic portrait later, in 1883 when he published his massive history of the Port Phillip settlement.
Up till now, it's been very much an Australian story but the News Letter Of Australasia in 1857 publishes the William Buckley story. Buckley's story for the very first time reaches across to England and is popularised there through the News Letter Of Australasia.
In the last 20 years of the 19th century, an Aboriginal artist Tommy McRae who lived in the Upper Murray region painted a number of sketches. Amongst these, he included the image of Buckley and it's a very different Buckley that we see from an Indigenous standpoint.
We see Buckley participating in a corroboree. The title of this particular work is Buckley Ran Away From The Ship, from 1870. It goes back to the Langhorne account where Buckley speaks of the fact that he was aware at various times of Europeans in the coastal area, possibly sailors, and yet had made decisions not to make contact.
And it's not really until 1980 onwards that Buckley's story returns to us. One of the key works was Craig Robertson's novel, Buckley's Hope which was published in 1980.
And we also have Barry Hill's - a long sequence of poems - Ghosting William Buckley which was an important work that did a lot to restitute Buckley in the popular imagination.
And Buckley's also been an influence on writers such as David Malouf whose work Remembering Babylon gives a similar account of a European who spends many years in Australia with the Aborigines.
You'll also find imagery that turns up in painters such as Jan Senbergs and Juan Davila so it's interesting in ways that Buckley, as a sense, returned as part of the dialogue that's ongoing in terms of reconciliation today.
Buckley (sketch of William Buckley)
Buckley with a group of Aborigines
Buckley ran away from ship
Reminiscenses of James Buckley who lived for thirty years among the Wallawarro or Watourong tribes
Journal of William Todd
William Buckley painting
William Buckley engraving
Government Residence, Melbourne 1837
J. P. Fawkner's first house
The first settlers discover Buckley
Batman's first meeting with Buckley
Buckley discovering himself to the early settlers.
Melbourne. Buckley and Nunns Limited. Bourke St.
Story education resources
Education State Library of Victoria: Batman meets Buckley
These resources and worksheets relate to a meeting between William Buckley and John Batman, which reportedly took place at Indented Head on 6 July 1835. Buckley was in fact met by other members of Batman's party, including William Todd, whose journal is one of the sources that describe what ‘really happened'. Students evaluate sources, compare images and study a single image in detail. Suitable for VCE Australian History.