William Buckley,
wild white man


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Why is William Buckley a wild white man? That is how he was described by Aboriginals from the Watourong tribe.

But that's jumping ahead - let's go back a little...

Buckley was born in England in 1780, the son of a farmer. He grew up to be quite a tall man - 6 foot 6 inches in height!

A member of the military, he was wounded while in action in the Netherlands. On his return to England, he was sentenced to transportation for receiving a stolen roll of cloth.

This is how he came to be on the ship Calcutta, bound for Port Phillip (Melbourne). On arrival, camp was set up. From there, Buckley managed to escape with two others.

Eventually, the unfamiliar surroundings, hunger and exhaustion got the better of the escapees. They tried to signal the Calcutta but without success. Buckley's companions turned back but were not heard from again.

Buckley continued to make his way through the bush. When we say "you've got Buckley's chance" we are saying that you haven't got much of a chance. And by Buckley's chance, we are referring to what was thought of his chances of surviving in the bush.

Well it turns out that Buckley did pretty well in the bush. He survived on shellfish and berries. He befriended Aboriginals of the Watourong tribe. They apparently thought this "wild white man" might be the reincarnation of their dead chief.

He learnt the language and culture of the Watourong tribe. The tribe even gave him a wife, with whom he claimed to have a daughter. For more than thirty years he lived in a hut, near a creek on the Southern Victorian coast.

What a guy - a survivor! Maybe the military experience had something to do with it. I think his appearance also played a part, because that's what made such a good impression on the Watourong tribe. Encountering them would have been a great help with settling into his new life in the bush.

William Buckley must have been the sort of person who was quite willing to learn and adapt to a new situation. I really do admire that, I must say.

In 1835, Buckley gave himself up to the white authorities. Initially he could not remember his own language. He was actually identified by his tattoo containing the initials WB.

He must have impressed John Wedge too because Wedge obtained pardon for Buckley from Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur.

Now a free man, Buckley was employed by John Batman as interpreter. He later became government interpreter. However he was not very certain that he was trusted entirely either by whites or Aboriginals.

This confusion led to him leaving for Hobart in 1837. He found work as a store-keeper, and later as a gate-keeper at the Female Factory, prison for female convicts.

Later he was able to retire on a pension, which was increased substantially thanks to the Victorian government.

In 1840 he actually got married (to a white woman this time). Buckley married Julia Eagers at St John's Church of England, New Town.

William Buckley died at Hobart on 30 January 1856. 76 strikes me as a ripe old age, particularly for that time, and considering the life Buckley had.

More information on William Buckley can be found at
The Australian Dictionary of Biography Online website


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