William Buckley

William Buckley

William BuckleyWilliam Buckley (1776 - 1856) known as the 'Wild White Man' was an English convict who was transported to Australia, escaped, was given up for dead and lived in an Aboriginal community for many years.

Buckley's improbable survival is believed by many Australians to be the source of the vernacular phrase "you've got Buckley's or none"(or simply "you've got Buckley's"), which means "no chance", or "it's as good as impossible".

Buckley left England in April 1803 aboard convict ship HMS Calcutta, one of two ships sent to Port Phillip to form a new settlement under Lieutenant-Colonel David Collins.

They arrived in October 1803, and anchored off the south-eastern side of the bay, near modern day Sorrento. The new settlement, called Sullivan Bay, subject to drought and poor soils, soon ran into problems and they started to abandon the site in January 1804, with the remainder leaving in June.

William Buckley's escape

After hearing that the settlement was about to move to Tasmania, on Christmas Eve 1803 - knowing that the officers had been drinking and would be less alert than usual - some of the convicts stole a kettle, a gun, boots and medical supplies. At 9pm on 30 December, the group made its escape. One convict, Charles Shaw, was shot and severely injured, but the others escaped into the bush.

They made their way around the bay, and the party split up in the vicinity of present day Melbourne. His companions went north-east, hoping to reach Sydney, which they thought was not far, although it was 1000 km away. Buckley, tired and dehydrated, continued alone around the bay.

Buckley and his companions made slow progress on foot but managed to walk around most of Port Phillip Bay. They survived on shellfish, succulent plants when they could find them. But hunger and fear of the Aborigines wore down Buckley's companions, who soon decided to return to Sullivan Bay. Buckley stayed behind:

...to all their [...] entreaties to accompany them I turned a deaf ear, being determined to endure every kind of suffering rather than again surrender my liberty. - William Buckley

Buckley continued his journey alone until he reached the area near Barwon Heads, where he lived with the Wathaurung Indigenous people for the next 32 years. Over this time he was accepted into the Aboriginal community and culture, and made a crucial first step towards understanding between white settlers and the Indigenous people.

In 1835, William Buckley met John Batman and his party at Indented Head. There are several different accounts of this event.

There are also various explanations as to why Buckley left the Wathaurung. Todd's journal suggests that it was because Buckley saw there was a threat to the settlers and he couldn't watch them be ambushed by the Aboriginals.

Whatever his real reason, Buckley left with the settlers and worked in Melbourne as a labourer, building Batman's house on the hill where Southern Cross Station is today. He also became an interpreter and mediator between Europeans and Indigenous people.

He often faced prejudice from other settlers however, and he felt that both Aboriginals and Europeans suspected him of conspiring with the other.

Buckley left the colony after only two years, arriving in Hobart Town in early 1838. He married widow Julia Eagers in 1840, and lived a relatively quiet life until his death in 1856.

In Black and White: Podcast

When escaped convict William Buckley was found on the Bellarine Peninsula by the Wadawurrung clan in 1804, they thought he was one of their own returned from the dead.

Convinced he was their departed relative - a great warrior - they gave him a hero's welcome and took him in.

For almost 32 years, Buckley lived as a Wadawurrung man, learning the language, culture and survival skills of his adoptive clan.

Buckley is the subject of the latest episode of the free In Black and White podcast on Australia's forgotten characters.

His incredible tale is told in a new book, The Ghost & the Bounty Hunter, by Adam Courtenay, the son of the late Bryce Courtenay, one of Australia's best-known novelists.

Courtenay says the clan concluded Buckley was their kin - a warrior who had been killed - because of one simple life-changing decision.

Buckley had taken a distinctive spear from a gravesite around present-day Torquay.

When the clan saw Buckley carrying that spear, they concluded he was the spear's original owner, their dead kinsman.

Buckley, or Murrangurk as he became known, was feted as a hero and greeted with a "reverse wake".

"They went nuts. They're wailing and screaming because this person they love very much has come back to them," Courtenay says.

Initially, Buckley was terrified. At the time, white settlers believed indigenous people were cannibals.

"He got the idea that he was being really feted. But he still seemed to think he was going to be eaten the next day."

But Buckley was embraced by the clan and lived with them for almost 32 years, until he walked into a campsite of John Batman's men in 1835, the year Melbourne was founded.

Listen to the podcast

❊ Web Links ❊

William Buckley 

❊ Also See... ❊

Buckley's Chance | Garry Linnell

John Batman

The Ghost & the Bounty Hunter: William Buckley, John Batman And The Theft Of Kulin Country

Buckley in the bush: Podcast

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