Image 'John Batman's famous treaty with the blacks', c1914

TLF ID R4385

This is a black-and-white engraving, measuring 40.4 cm x 57 cm, made by George Rossi Ashton (1851-1942) in about 1914. It depicts John Batman (1801-39) and an elderly Indigenous Australian man leaning over what is probably a treaty document on the decayed trunk of a large fallen tree. They are surrounded by 16 men, many of them holding spears. In the foreground is a small fire, some Indigenous weapons, an axe and a pistol. At the bottom is the text: 'JOHN BATMAN'S FAMOUS TREATY WITH THE BLACKS / MERRI CREEK NORTHCOTE JUNE 6,1835. / Presented to the Commonwealth Library (Petherick Collection) By R. Tobin. 11/3/1914'.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset depicts John Batman signing a treaty with representatives of the Wurundjeri people - Batman 'bought' 200,000 hectares of land, on behalf of a Van Diemen's Land property syndicate, from Indigenous Australian elders in exchange for £25 worth of blankets, knives, scissors and clothing, thus paving the way for the establishment of the colony of Port Phillip and the settlement of Melbourne; Batman promised to pay an annual rent in material goods.
  • It shows members of the Wurundjeri people - the Wurundjeri belong to the Kulin nation, who occupied the Yarra River valley and its tributaries in what is now Melbourne and they spoke the Woiwurrung language; the Woiwurrung country extended from north of the Great Dividing Range, east to Mount Baw Baw, south to Mordialloc Creek and west to the Werribee River.
  • It represents an important moment in the history of the development of Melbourne, but one which had vastly different meanings for the two parties involved - while Indigenous people may have believed the treaty signified that whites could camp on their lands, they had no concept of private property and could not read or understand English.
  • It depicts farmer and businessman John Batman - Batman was the head of an expedition sent from Van Diemen's Land by the Port Phillip Association, a group of businessmen and farmers; the expedition aimed to purchase land in the Port Phillip district, which was then part of the colony of New South Wales; the intention was to raise sheep on the rich grasslands in the area.
  • It represents one of the very few instances in which white settlers attempted to negotiate with Indigenous people in Australia, thereby recognising Indigenous ownership - the treaty was later declared void in a proclamation by the Governor of New South Wales, Lieutenant-General Richard Bourke (1777-1855).
  • It was the incident that directly provoked the passing of Bourke's proclamation - the proclamation, approved by the Colonial Office in October 1835, formally declared that the British Crown owned the whole of the continent of Australia.
  • It shows that, prior to contact with Europeans, Indigenous people wore little or no clothing - traditionally, clothing was worn as protection from the cold and consisted mainly of cloaks made of animal skins or woven grasses; flannel jackets and red shirts formed a large part of Batman's payment to the Wurundjeri, which indicates the interest and curiosity surrounding the clothing that Indigenous people observed being worn by the newcomers.
  • It is an engraving by George Rossi Ashton - the brother of famed artist, teacher and founder of the Sydney Art School, Julian Rossi Ashton (1851-1942); the image, produced nearly 100 years after the event, is a romantic view of the occasion; engravings, in which grooves to hold ink are cut into a metal plate, can produce both fine lines and dense colour, and so were considered perfect for printed publications.
Year level

3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • history;
  • studies of society and environment
  • History/Historical knowledge and understandings
  • Studies of society and environment/Time, continuity and change

Other details

  • Content provider
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: National Library of Australia
  • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of National Library of Australia
  • Author
  • Name: George Rossi Ashton
  • Remarks: artist
  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 02 Sep 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
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Learning resource type
  • Image
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  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements