Melbourne's founders

The names John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner often appear side by side, even though the two were bitter rivals during their lives. Both men believed they were the rightful founder of Melbourne, and supporters on both sides still argue the point:

Circumstances, as far as I know, point to honest John Batman as the real founder of Victoria [...] From all I have heard for years past I do believe that Mr Fawkner, knowing that Batman was about to cross over to Port Phillip, followed in his wake.

– Hamilton Hume, 1867

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

This quote emphasises Batman as the founder of Melbourne, and downplays Fawkner's claim to the title. This illustrates the importance of reading widely to get a variety of perspectives.

One of the arguments against Batman's claim is the location of Melbourne's city grid. The place Batman chose for the settlement was around the Port Melbourne area, on the opposite side of the Yarra to where Melbourne city is today. Fawkner's camp, however, was in the right location, although his party arrived in Port Phillip without him because he was stuck in Launceston due to unpaid debts.

John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner are credited as Melbourne's first pioneers, but the question ‘who really founded Melbourne?' is still being asked today. One of Melbourne's first chroniclers, Garryowen recorded what, as far as he could tell, were the facts of the matter:

There has been much disputation as to whom should be accorded the honour of the ‘white foundation of the colony', and, after much consideration of the question, I have arrived at the following conclusion, which, to my mind, appears irresistible; That the Grimes party were the first European arrivals at the site of the future capital [...] That Batman was the first prospector of Melbourne and Geelong. That (not Fawkner, but) Fawkner's party – five men, a woman, and the woman's cat – were the bona-fide founders of the present great metropolis.

– Garryowen, chronicles of Early Melbourne, 1888

Finn, E 1888, The chronicles of early Melbourne, centennial edition, 1976, Vols 1–3, Heritage Publications, Melbourne Vic.

Garryowen's Chronicles of early Melbourne includes his observations of people and everyday events, without the formality of most other documents from the time.

According to Garryowen, it was Fawkner's party, not Batman or Fawkner, who settled first on the modern site of Melbourne. His reference to the survey or Charles Grimes, who first explored what was to be called Port Phillip in 1803, introduces yet another element to what is already a very complex issue. But while there is a certain amount of evidence to support each man's claim, the question of Melbourne's true founder may forever remain somewhat of a mystery.

An early view of Melbourne from the south of the Yarra.
Engraving of John Batman, in profile.
Engraving of John Pascoe Fawkner, in profile.
View of early Melbourne across the Yarra circa 1839.