The Story Of Eliza Batman
I was Eliza Batman, wife of the man who was credited with founding Melbourne, or at least buying the land from the Natives for a few blankets and trinkets.
I was wronged by John Batman as I was by many men during my lifetime.
Some said this was because I was cursed with the benefits of exceptional good looks. In my prime, I found myself attracting the advances of many men – and these were to cause my ultimate downfall, as I’ll explain if you can spare five minutes of your time.
I was born Elizabeth Callaghan in Co. Clare, Ireland, in 1803. It was said of me that I was an attractive young lady with a lively spirit. As such, I found myself inevitably drawn to the bright lights of big cities during my prime teenaged years, usually taken there by gentlemen.
That was how, at the age of 17, I was caught by the police in London and charged with passing counterfeit notes. I had not printed or produced them, of course. They were given to me by a so-called gentleman for services rendered. But that argument did not stand with the magistrates, who, at that time, were under government pressure to send women to the British prison colonies. There were many more men than women in the early convict shipments and the London magistrates had been told to transport more women in order to try to balance the numbers. So I was transported to the colony of Van Diemen’s Land for 14 years. I was not sent under my real name, because I had been convicted under the name I had used while living in London, Elizabeth Thompson.
If you look at my jail report at the time, it said one simple word: ‘Bad’.
But I would ask you to put yourself in my position – I was 18 years old, slim and attractive and very much at the mercy of the men in the Victorian prison and transportation industries. Of course I behaved awkward and independent. Who wouldn’t in those circumstances? And I also admit that I did, on occasion, use my charms to gain betterment when it was necessary.
That was, in truth, how the relationship with John Batman, began, in Van Dieman’s Land. In, let me think… early 1823. Yes, I was 20. He was a free man, an explorer and a man of influence in the colony. I was, at that time, officially a convict servant girl, but he encouraged me to abscond from the female factory and remain in his house. Officially I was then a runaway who would face a longer sentence should I be discovered, so I had no option to remain with him in secret.
I bore John Batman three daughters during this time, until eventually, in March 1828, he bought my freedom by purchasing a free pardon for me. We were married, that same year – that was when I became Eliza Batman – after which I bore him another four daughters and one son.
In all I had eight children to John Batman – but retained my good looks throughout. I accompanied Batman when he came to Port Phillip in 1835, where he bought 240,000 hectares of prime farming terrain from the Natives and from that moment became rich and influential. That was when our lives changed because he also contracted the syphilis disease from his lifestyle – and I, naturally, wanted nothing more to do with him. This was despite his showering me and the children with money and extravagant gifts.
Eventually, of course, this ridiculous lifestyle bankrupted him and he was burdened by debts as well as illness. This was when I, perhaps foolishly, began a relationship with our storeman, William Willoughby, and when this was discovered by my husband, he not only cut off my allowances, but also threatened to remove myself and our children from his will.
That was when I sailed to England, February 1839, leaving the children in his care. When I returned the following year, I discovered he had died and our children were in the care of relatives. What’s more, John Batman had left me nought but five pounds in his will.
I married Willoughby in 1841, when I was 38 with eight children. But my son drowned in the Yarra four years later and that marriage was not a happy time. I eventually left Willoughby with my seven daughters to fend for myself.
I lived in Geelong West, where I rented a house in Autumn Street which I used to entertain gentlemen for pleasure. That was where I was murdered, on 31 March 1852, by a customer.
And so I was laid to rest here in an unmarked grave on April 1st 1852. I was 49 years old.
The police originally charged two acquaintances with my murder, being John Trigg and Eliza Wilson and they were held in the Geelong Gaol for almost 3 months, but were discharged on 30 June 1852, on the grounds that the prisoners had been in confinement two sessions and not tried. No objection on the part of the Crown was made to this application, so the judge ordered the discharge of the prisoners.
But I do have the consolation that two of my daughters are buried nearby. You have already seen the grave of Elizabeth, and also buried nearby in another originally unmarked grave is my youngest daughter, Pelonamenia, who married another significant man in Geelong’s history, Daniel Bunce. Pelonamenia was born in Tasmania in 1834, and in 24 March 1851, she married Daniel Bunce, horticulturalist, explorer and director of the Geelong Botanical Gardens.
She was 25 when she died, and she’s here with two of her children who had died in infancy.