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Document known as the 'Batman Land Deed', between John Batman and Aboriginal 'chiefs' of the Kulin nation, Port Phillip area, 1835

1997.0019.0001

On display

Document known as the 'Batman Land Deed', between John Batman and Aboriginal 'chiefs' of the Kulin nation, Port Phillip area, 1835

Object information

Description

The transcription is: "Know all Persons that We, Three Brothers Jagajaga, Jagajaga, Jagajaga, being the Principal Chiefs and also Cooloolock, Bungarie, Yanyan, Moowhip, and Mommarmalar also being the Chiefs of a certain Native Tribe called Dutigullar situate at and near Port Phillip, called by us the above-mentioned Chiefs Iramoo being possed of the Tract of Land hereinafter mentioned for and in consideration of Twenty Pairs of Blankets, Thirty Tomahawks, One Hundred Knives, Fifty Pair of Scissorrs, Thirty looking Glasses Two Hundred Handkerchiefs and One Hundred Pounds of Flour and six shirts delivered to Us by John Batman residing in Van Diemens Land Esquire but at present sojourning with us and our Tribe, Do for ourselves our heirs and Successors Give Grant Enfeoff and confirm unto the said John Batman his heirs and Assigns All that tract of Country situate and being at Port Phillip, Running from the Branch of the River at the top of the Port about 7 miles from the mouth of the River Forty miles [erased word] East and from thence [erased word] West Forty miles across Iramoo Downs or Plains, and from thence south south-west across Mount Vilanmarartar to Geelong Harbour at the head of the same and containing about Five Hundred Thousand more or less Acres as the same hath been before the execution of these presents delineated and marked out by Us according to the custom of our Tribe by certain marks made upon the Trees growing along the boundaries of the said tract of Land To hold the said Tract of Land with all advantages belonging thereto unto and To use of the said John Batman and his heirs and Assigns for ever, To the Intent that the said John Batman his hiers and Assigns may occupy and possess the said tract of Land and place thereon Sheep and Cattle Yielding and delivering to Us and our heirs or Successors the Yearly rent or Tribute of one hundred Pair of Blankets, One Hundred Knives, One Hundred Tomahawks, Fifty Suits of Clothing, Fifty looking Glasses, Fifty Pair scissors and Five Tons of flour. In Witness whereof We Jagajaga, Jagajaga, Jagajaga, the before mentioned Principal Chiefs and Cooloolock, Bungarie, Yanyan, Moowhip, and Mommarmalar the Chiefs of the said Tribe have hereunto affixed our seals to these presents and have signed the same Dated according to the Christian Era this sixth day of June One thousand eight hundred and thirty five. Signed sealed and delivered in the presence of us the same having been fully interpreted and explained to the said Chiefs - James Gumm, Jagajaga [his mark], Alexander Thomson, Jagajaga [his mark], Will'm. Todd, Jagajaga [his mark], Cooloolock [his mark], Bungarie [his mark], Yanyan [his mark], Moowhip [his mark], Mommarmarmalar [his mark], John Batman. The reverse side of the Deed: 'Be it Remembered That on the day and year within written possession and delivery of the Tract of Land within mentioned was made by the within named Jagajaga, Jagajaga, Jagajaga, Principal Chiefs, and Coololock, Bungarie, Yanyan, Moowhip, Mommarmaler also Chiefs of the Tribe of Natives called Dutigallar to the within named John Batman by the said chiefs taking up part of the soil of the said Tract of Land and delivering the same to the said John Batman in the name of the whole - Jagajaga [his mark], Jagajaga [his mark], Jagajaga [his mark], Cooloolock [his mark], Bungarie [his mark], Yanyan [his mark], Moowhip [his mark], Mommarmarmalar [his mark], In the presents of James Gumm, Alexander Thompson, Will'm Todd.

Physical description

Handwritten document in black-brown ink on vellum, known as the Batman Land Deed, 1835.

Statement of significance

The Christensen Fund collection no. 3 contains an historic document, handwritten in 1835, known as the 'Batman land Deed'. The Deed, one of three originals covering the purchase of land in the Port Phillip region, was drawn up by colonial lawyer and member of the Port Phillip Association, Joseph T Gellibrand. A similar deed, for the exchange of land at Geelong, was also prepared. The type of conveyancing used, known as a 'feoffment', or 'gift', involved a transfer of land by 'livery of seisin'. The term livery of seisin, meaning 'transfer of possession' referred to a process of transferring land, commonplace in England from medieval times to 1925. The transfer ceremony sometimes included a symbolic gesture, such as giving a handful of soil or a twig by the transferor the 'feoffor'. The transferee was known as a 'feoffee', and the land, the 'fief'.

The 'treaty' between John Batman (1801-1839), as representative of the Port Phillip Association, and eight Aboriginal elders of the Kulin nation (an alliance of five Aboriginal nations, Wurundjeri, Bunurong, Wathaurong, Taungurong and Dja Dja Wurrung as traditional owners of lands around the Yarra River prior to European settlement), granted Batman and his associates freehold ownership of 240,000 hectares - almost all of the ancestral lands of the Kulin peoples. The treaty signing is believed to have taken place at a bend in Merri Creek, a tributary of the Yarra River, in what is now the Melbourne suburb of Northcote. According to the entry in John Batman's journal for 6 June 1835, "This took place alongside of a beautiful stream of water, and from whence my land commences, and where a tree is marked four ways to know the corner boundary. The country about here exceeds anything I ever saw, both for grass and richness of soil. The timber light, and consists of sheoak and small gum, with a few wattle." As a privately drawn-up treaty, this document was unusual at this time, because, under English feudal law, all land belonged to the crown. Under this scheme, private individuals could not own land absolutely but were merely tenants of the crown. It is unlikely that Aboriginal people understood what the document represented, or would have agreed to it if they had. The deed was effectively annulled on 26 August 1835, when Governor Bourke proclaimed that the Batman 'treaty' was "void and of no effect as against the rights of the Crown". Burke's document became the basis for the concept of terra nullius, upon which British settlement was based, which did not recognize prior ownership of Australian land by Aboriginal peoples. The principles expressed in Bourke's proclamation did not change until the Australian High Court ruled in the Mabo v. Queensland case in 1992 that land title of the Indigenous Peoples, the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, is recognised at common law.

Educational significance

This is one of two deeds signed by the Port Phillip Association and local Aboriginal people. It is known as the Dutigalla or Melbourne Deed. The second is known as the Geelong Deed and is held by the State Library of Victoria. This is a handwritten document in black-brown ink on vellum. The text begins with 'Know all Persons...' in bold and encased in scrolls. In the lower right corner are eight signatures and/or marks. It has wax seals for each signature and/or mark mounted on ribbon laced into the document. This resource is supported by an enlarged image of the deed and a transcript.

The Batman Deeds were drawn up in 1835 by an influential group of settlers from Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania), who wanted large areas of land in the Port Phillip district. The group, led by John Batman, an entrepreneur, struck a deal with the local Aboriginal people. He offered 20 blankets, 30 axes, 100 knives, 50 scissors, 200 handkerchiefs, 100 pounds of flour, six shirts and an annual payment in exchange for 500,000 acres of land. William Todd, a member of Batman's party, described in his diary how Batman had asked him to get the Aboriginal leaders to make 'a signature of the country and tribe - on the bark of a tree'. Batman transcribed those marks onto the land deed. Despite the agreements, both the colonial authorities in Sydney and the British Government declared the treaty null and void.

John Batman is famous for his attempts to settle what is now Melbourne based upon the 'purchase' of lands from resident Aboriginal owners. The acquisition was not recognised by the authorities at the time. The legality of the exchange and the subsequent debates over whether it acknowledged or voided Aboriginal ownership of land have continued till the present day. John Batman has thus become a significant public figure in Australia's history. The significance of these documents is that they provide a complementary history, illustrating select and significant moments in Batman's private life and the life of his family.

John Batman remains an enigmatic colonial figure. For some he was a rogue, for others he remains the noble founder of a city. He was born in 1801 in Parramatta and died in 1839 in Melbourne. He moved to Van Diemen's Land in 1821 with his brother Henry and took up a property in the north-east near Ben Lomond. He married Eliza Callaghan, an escaped convict. Batman captured the bushranger Mathew Brady in 1826 and was a member of the 1831 'Black Line' - a failed attempt to round up all remaining Tasmanian Aboriginal people. He died of syphilis on 6 May 1839, abandoned, debilitated and crippled.

Physical description

On display at the National Museum of Australia.

Object information

When

  • Date of event

  • 1851
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  • The land around Port Phillip was settled and declared the Colony of Victoria in 1851

Who

  • Producer

  • John Batman
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  • Batman executed the plan of the Port Phillip Association to buy land from the Aboriginal people in 1835. The plan failed and Batman, like everyone else, had to buy land from the government

Where

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