John Batman's treaty

Learning intention

Students examine some of the problems historians have with John Batman's 'treaty' with the Wurundjeri people through primary source analysis.

Students will:

  • Understand the role that a significant individual or group played in shaping a colony (ACHHK097)
  • Locate information related to inquiry questions in a range of sources (ACHHS102)
  • Identify points of view in the past and present (ACHHS104)


In 1835, John Batman travelled to Port Phillip with the intention of ‘purchasing' the land around the bay on the behalf of the Port Phillip Association. Batman brought with him legal documents, which were allegedly signed by Indigenous leaders on the Yarra. However, what became known as ‘Batman's Treaty' was never recognised by the colonial government, which insisted that the land belonged to the crown according to the concept of terra nullius.

You can find background information for students in the the Pioneers section of Explore history and the Select resources section of Learn skills.


Primary sources from ergo:

Evaluating sources - student template [Word 8.52KB]


Brainstorm why John Batman thought it was necessary to 'buy' Wurundjeri land even though the Crown did not ackowledge Indigenous ownership of Port Phillip.

Ask students to consider terra nullius, who Batman thought would question his claim and the scarcity of fertile farm land in Van Diemen's Land.

Introduce primary sources from ergo. Each source provides contextual information (including transcripts where relevant) and a zoom function so students can investigate detail. Use the evaluating sources template [Word 8.52KB] as a basis for analysis.

Use questions like those below to guide the discussion:

  • Why did Batman think he needed a contract in order to 'claim' Port Phillip considering Britain had claimed Australia with no thought to the rights of its indigenous owners?
  • What were the key problems historians have with the treaty? What evidence from primary sources do they use to support their arguments?
  • Why were men like Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner trying to claim land in Port Phillip?
  • Why is Batman generally shown treating Aborigines kindly?
  • As no images of Batman were created before his death, how do artists decide what he looked like? Why do you think he is generally handsome in paintings?
  • Find out about Batman's time in Tasmania and his involvement in the 'Black line'.
Reproduction of the original manuscript of John Batman's treaty with the Wurundjeri.
Journal of John Batman from the time he left Van Diemen's Land and signed the Melbourne treaty.
A depiction of Batman's meeting with the Wurundjeri Aborigines at Merri Creek.