You are in site section: Engage & learn

The Deed

The Deed

Photograph of the Batman Land Deed.
Batman Land Deed 1835. Photo: George Serras.

The Batman Deed is sometimes called the Batman Treaty, the Dutigullar Deed, the Dutigullar Treaty (variously spelt) or the Melbourne Deed. At the same time, Batman also made the Geelong Deed. The documents and the circumstances of their making have passed into historical legend in Australia.

John Batman and his companions had left Launceston nearly a month before, but the Rebecca had to beat hard into the wind.

They finally landed and Batman wanted to make contact. Without any horses, they all walked. Batman climbed hills to look around. He kept a rough journal. After finding women and children, he met the men with whom he thought he could deal. Beside a pleasant creek (of uncertain location still) he made two treaties with the Jagajaga brothers and five other 'chiefs.' Batman purchased Dutigullar and Geelong in exchange for goods. Or so he said.

Illustration of John Batman signing a treaty with Aboriginal people.
John Batman's famous treaty, Merri Creek, Northcote 1835. By George Rossi Ashton. National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an9025854

Batman poured some earth into their hands as a legal ceremony under ancient European feudal law. He marked trees on the boundaries of the land. He gave axes, clothing, mirrors, scissors and flour and promised more. The eight 'chiefs' each made their mark. They understood. Or so he said.

The next day he made copies of the documents and began the journey home, impatient to tell the story. 'I am the greatest landowner in the world.' So he said.

Photograph of the signatures on the Batman Land Deed.
The Batman Land Deed signatories. Photo: George Serras.

Food for thought

Batman said he exchanged goods and had lucid conversations through Aboriginal interpreters from Sydney. He made two treaties. The same 'chiefs' signed both. He said he walked the boundaries, but when?

His directions are not clear. His journal is imprecise. He later told contradictory stories and for some reason lied in his report to Governor Arthur about the dates.

Points of view

Batman and Co.

The deeds had been drafted by JT Gellibrand, a leading lawyer in the colony but an enemy of Arthur. The Treaty plan required the signatures of some 'chiefs' with whom a deal could be made. A hard bushman with long experience of the island's Aboriginal people, Batman, assisted by half a dozen Sydney natives, was the man for the job. Wedge would soon draw the map. The names and marks on the deeds would set the plan in motion.

The Governors: Arthur and Bourke

Although rumours of an expedition were alive in Launceston, both Governors Arthur and Bourke were taken by surprise. The audacious plan was new and presented a test for orderly land administration. The gentlemen of the Port Phillip Association were influential and respectable, mostly. The financial cost to the government was potentially great and the land settlement policy would be wrecked. What would London think?

Colour painting of John Batman signing a treaty with Aboriginal people.
Batman signing the treaty with the Aboriginals 1875. By John Wesley Burtt. La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H92.196

The Woi wurrung

The day was cold. There was work to be done: hunting, gathering wood for the fires and tending children as always. There were strangers around, nearby. Then they came out of the scrub. Black men and white men. What did they want? The meeting was friendly, if tentative, at first nervous. Some gifts were offered. Much sign talking and strange language. Some of their intentions could be understood, more or less. The strangers camped that night and were very busy. Then they left.