Batman's early days

John Batman was born in Parramatta, New South Wales on 21 January 1801. His father, William Batman, was an ex-convict transported for receiving stolen goods. John was the first child to be born in the new colony, but the family soon grew to five sons and one daughter.

When John was 15, he was the apprentice to local blacksmith, James Flavell. On 4 November 1816, Flavell – with convict William Tripp – was sentenced to hanging for stealing clothes from a neighbour's house. Fierce punishments for petty crimes were not uncommon in colonial Australia, but what was significant about this event was that John Batman was one of the witnesses who sent Flavell, his employer, to his death.

Throughout his life, John – the son of a convict – was always conscious of his ‘lowly' standing in society, and made efforts to improve his position. Perhaps by cooperating so willingly with the authorities, Batman hoped to remove the stigma associated with being a currency lad.

Little is known about Batman's last few years in Parramatta, although historian Alastair Campbell has found evidence to suggest that he left New South Wales because he had an affair with a young orphan woman:

He was a youth of considerable intelligence and vigour, with a merry eye, a handsome face, and a flattering tongue to please the other sex.

– James Bonwick

Bonwick, J 1868, John Batman: the founder of Victoria, Fergusson & Moore, Melbourne.

The earliest known image of Batman was created in 1885, almost 50 years after his death. There may not actually be any images of Batman created in his lifetime.

The woman, Elizabeth Richardson, became pregnant in 1821 and named John Batman as the father. Batman was only 20 years old at the time. On 4 May 1821, the Orphan Institution Committee (which was responsible for the young woman), suggested Batman marry the girl. Batman refused. When the Institution requested Batman pay £50 for their expenses, John's father stepped in and the amount was reduced to £25.

Whether or not he was actually the father, John's involvement with Elizabeth Richardson would have been deeply embarrassing for his father, a devout Christian. He may have asked his son to leave Parramatta to save face in the community. Three days after the Institution made its final decision, John Batman and his brother Henry left New South Wales for Van Diemen's Land on 29 November 1821.

Engraving of Sydney and the mouth of the Parramatta River.
Photograph of John Batman's home in Tasmania.
Postcard showing two men in bush.
Frontispiece of Bonwick's 1868 book.