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From 1804 until settlement in 1835 the escaped convict William Buckley was probably the only white man living in Victoria. He was certainly the only white man to reside with local Aboriginal tribes and live among them as one of them.
At around 6’5”(196cm) tall, born near Macclesfield, Cheshire, England, the former bricklayer and veteran of the Napoleonic wars, Buckley had been sentenced to transportation, accused and convicted of receiving stolen goods.
Along with seven other convicts Buckley escaped from David Collins camp at Sorrento on 27 December 1803, heading off around the bay to freedom. He was the only one to stay free. One was shot in the escape attempt; others turned back after just a few days on the run. Buckley and two others made it past the mouth of the Yarra, across the Werribee Plains and ended up at Indented Head near Queenscliff. His fellow absconders had had enough and turned back, Buckley stayed on and was eventually adopted by a group of Aborigines who believed he was the incarnated spirit of a deceased warrior. He lived among the Aborigines of the Port district for the following 32 years. He is known to have had two Aboriginal wives, and is believed that he had fathered a daughter with one of them.
Buckley gave himself up at the campsite of the Port Phillip Association on 6th July 1835. His reminiscences give us the only eyewitness account of tribal life before the arrival of the white man.
Once he returned to live amongst his fellow Europeans his unique knowledge was sought. John Wedge thought he would be a valuable intermediary and obtained his pardon from Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur. John Batman employed him as interpreter at a salary of £50, and he later became government interpreter.
Buckley was a man of divided loyalties. On the one hand he sought, and was granted a pardon, and able to live once again free among his own people, on the other hand he remained loyal to his Aboriginal friends and at times acted to protect their interests rather than the interests of the settlers. Neither black nor white could truly rely on him anymore.
Dissatisfied with his ‘new life’ in the colony he sailed for Van Diemen’s Land in 1837; the ultimate destination he had avoided some three decades earlier. He was employed as the gatekeeper at the Female Factory after a short time as a storekeeper at the Immigrant’s Home in Hobart. In 1840 he married Julia Eager the widow of Daniel Eager who had been killed by Aborigines. Daniel and Mary Anne had one child, a daughter named Julia whom Buckley adopted as his own. She was a particularly short woman, and he particularly tall. They walked together through the streets of Hobart-town holding a looped handkerchief between them, their hands unable to touch without difficulty. He died in 1856, aged 80 years, the result of falling from his gig at Greenpond near Hobart.
Marjorie J. Tipping, 'Buckley, William (1780–1856)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/buckley-william-1844/text2133, accessed 15 April 2013.