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Buckley’s Chance

Following his conviction for stealing, William Buckley (1780–1856) was transported from England to Port Phillip in the convict ship Calcutta. Arriving in October 1803, Buckley and three other convicts absconded from Sullivan’s Bay near Sorrento and set out north in the hope of reaching Sydney. Instead, they continued around Port Phillip Bay and reached the Bellarine Peninsula. His companions turned back and were never heard of again.

Buckley is reputed to have lived in a cave near the Point Lonsdale Lighthouse and then spent 32 years living alongside the local Wadawurrung community. He learnt their language and was the only white man to give an account of Aboriginal society before European occupation. He appears to have understood the deep spiritual bonds between First Nation’s People and Country.

In 1835, Buckley emerged to meet an advance party of John Batman at Indented Head. He became an interpreter for Joseph Gellibrand, Captain William Lonsdale, and surveyor John Wedge. Buckley mediated between ambitious squatters and the Wadawurrung. Early colonists saw him as favouring the Wadawurrung who grew to mistrust the new arrivals. Buckley escaped the fractious situation by moving to Hobart where he married Julia Eagers.

He died in a carriage accident in January 1856. While some of Buckley’s story may be myth and legend, his survival is testament to his immense courage in an isolated, unknown, and rugged environment.

The Buckley story was told in two contemporary accounts, the first by the Reverend George Langhorne who interviewed Buckley in 1837, and the second by newspaper editor John Morgan in 1852. These accounts were brought together in a single book by Tim Flannery (Text Classics, 2002). Other books include Buckley’s Hope by Craig Robertson (Scribe, 1980) and Buckley’s Chance by Garry Linnell (Penguin, 2019).

Image: William Buckley by Frederick Grosse August 1857. Wood Engraving. Credit: State Library Victoria

Image: The first settlers discover Buckley by Frederick Woodhouse 1861. Oil on canvas. Credit: SLV

Image: Inside Buckley's Cave 1952. Credit: SLV