CHAPTER XIV. THE PORT PHILLIP DISTRICT

The Henty family - Batman in Port Phillip - His 'treaty' with the natives - He determines on 'the place for a village' - Fawkner's party on the Yarra - Official objection to Port Phillip Settlement - Captain Lonsdale takes charge - Bourke names Melbourne - Latrobe appointed superintendent - Batman's reward and death.

As explained in Chapter XI, when Major Mitchell came upon Portland Bay during his overland journey in 1836, he found that the Henty brothers had formed a settlement there. Their father, an English farmer, had emigrated with his whole family from Sussex eight years before, attracted by the prospect of becoming possessed of a great estate on the Swan River. But the Hentys were amongst those who discovered that the reality fell far short of the fancy picture drawn by the promoters of Thomas Peel's colony; and the family, after prospecting for hundreds of miles and finding no piece of land upon which they would care to settle, transferred their capital to Van Diemen's Land.

Thomas Henty was a man of seventy and was possessed of about 10,000 pounds, after realizing his former property in Sussex. His main reason for leaving England was not to better himself, but to establish his seven strong and enterprising sons on properties of their own in Australia. Three of them had wrestled with the Swan River disappointment for some months after their brothers had departed; a fourth, Edward, whilst on a cruise examining the southern shores of Australia, ran into Portland Bay, where not a soul then lived. He saw there the prospect of establishing a profitable farm. There was abundance of rich grass land, and there was nobody to dispute his right to build a home. Thomas Henty went to look at the place, and approved of Edward's choice; so, in November 1834, they chartered the schooner THISTLE of Launceston, loaded her with livestock, agricultural implements, tools, plants, and fishing tackle, engaged labourers, and with these Edward Henty commenced the first Victorian settlement. A little later he was joined by his brothers Francis, Stephen, and John; and the four entered upon a partnership in whaling, sheep-farming, and cattle-raising. Their father, mother, and three brothers remained in the southern island. The Hentys had their houses built, their stock at grass, their gardens under cultivation, long before the Government in Sydney knew that a single rood of land south of the Murray was occupied.

Seven years before these sturdy Sussex yeomen fixed upon Portland Bay two Launceston men, J. T. Gellibrand and John Batman, had proposed to Governor Darling that they should be allowed grants of land at Westernport, where they wished to pasture sheep, cattle, and horses to the value of 4,000 pounds. But in 1827 Darling was not eager to encourage settlement there. The Westernport settlement which had been started lest the French should select a site, was abandoned at the end of 1826, and the Governor was not disposed to allow private persons to try to succeed where an official settlement had failed. So he minuted the application: 'Acknowledge, and inform them that no determination having been come to with respect to the settlement of Westernport, it is not in my power to comply with the request.'

But John Batman, a man of dogged perseverance, fond of adventure, fixed his gaze steadily on the mainland to the north of Bass Strait, interest in which was increased when the story of Messrs. Hume and Hovell's overland journey was published. In 1834 he joined a syndicate of fifteen Launceston men who found the money for sending out a small expedition to examine Port Phillip. In a thirty-ton schooner, the REBECCA, Batman put forth in May of 1835, landed, and traversed country which made his eyes sparkle. 'I never saw anything equal to the land; I never was so astonished in my life,' he wrote in his journal.

Two very memorable things occurred during this expedition. The first was Batman's encounter with a party of aboriginals with whom he made what he supposed to be a legitimate bargain for the sale of two tracts of land, having a total area of about 600,000 acres - rather more than the whole of Warwickshire. The black-fellows were friendly, and he distributed knives, scissors, mirrors, and blankets among them. He then produced two portentous pieces of parchment, previously prepared by lawyer Gellibrand. Upon each of them was inscribed a rigmarole setting forth that the 'chiefs' granted this huge territory to him 'with livery of seisin.' They had, he solemnly wrote afterwards in an official letter, marked the trees at the boundaries of the territory assigned to him, 'and they also gave me their own private mark, which is kept sacred by them, even so much that the women are not allowed to see it.' He averred that the 'chiefs ' quite knew what they were doing, though in truth the aboriginals understood nothing of private land ownership. These untutored children of the bush were supposed to know what 'livery of seisin' meant; and they even put mystical marks against what Batman alleged to be their names. The names were such sweet-sounding strings of syllables as Jagajaga, Cooloolook, and Mommarmalar, and may really have stood for such noises as the blacks made when Batman asked them what their names were; but the alleged 'marks,' as an examination of the original parchment shows, were made by a hand accustomed to use a pen, which could have been none other than that of Batman himself. Yet on the strength of these weird documents - copies of which were formally handed to the 'chiefs' - Batman expressed the hope that 'the British Government will duly appreciate the treaty which I have made with these tribes, and will not in any manner molest arrangements which I have made.' Governor Bourke's reply, when Batman's diplomacy was brought under his notice, was the issue of a proclamation warning off him and his syndicate as trespassers on crown land.