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The Batman Deed for Melbourne

State Library of Victoria - Joy of Museums - The Batman Deed for Melbourne

The Batman Deed for Melbourne

The Batman Deed for Melbourne is often called Batman’s Melbourne deed or Melbourne Treaty. It was executed in triplicate, the first copy was drawn up by John Batman and William Todd in 1835. This is the first and only time that Europeans claim to have negotiated their presence and occupation of Aboriginal lands directly with the traditional owners.

The deed describes a tract of country 40 miles in length or 500,000 acres covering land in the Melbourne area and along the western arm of Port Phillip Bay including Geelong. The deed represented Batman’s view that he negotiated to purchase the land from the Aboriginal people of the area for a quantity of blankets, tomahawks, knives, scissors, looking glasses, handkerchiefs, flour, and shirts, with an additional yearly rent or tribute of similar goods.

John Batman, was an Australian grazier, businessman and explorer and he arrived in Port Phillip in 1835, he approached local Indigenous leaders with a contract, to ‘buy’ their land. His regarded his negotiations as legitimate and created this deed. However, this transaction was one-sided. Batman’s claim to this land was based on European ideas of land ownership and legal contracts. These concepts were completely foreign to the Indigenous people of Australia. For Aborigines the land was not about possession, they belonged to the land, land could not be bought or sold. Batman was negotiating with the tribal elders who weren’t, in a position to sell their people’s land, even if they had wanted to.

The validity of the treaty has been widely disputed. Some historians claim that the marks which Batman claimed were the signatures of the eight Wurundjeri elders were instead made by Aboriginal men he had brought with him from Parramatta, since they resemble marks commonly used by Aboriginal people from Parramatta.

Map of part of New Holland showing the territory of Geelong and Dutigalla

Map showing the area of Port Phillip, stating that this is the land “Acquired by Treaty with the Native Chiefs, 6 June 1835”

Batman’s treaty was almost immediately declared invalid by Governor Bourke of New South Wales. He declared the British Crown owned the entire land of Australia and that only it could sell or distribute land.

Among the many historical objects in the State Library of Victoria, the following are some of the highlights:

The Batman Deed for Melbourne

  • Title:               The Batman Deed for Melbourne
  • Year:               1835
  • Medium:        Paper
  • Dimensions:  35.4 x 67.7 cm, 4.5 cm.
  • Museum:        State Library of Victoria


” Some mistakes are too much fun to only make once.”
– Australian Proverb


Photo Credits: 1) GM 2) By Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, DL Q83/71 [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons