On this day: William Buckley

By Ellin Williams November 7, 2013
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Over 200 years ago on this day, William Buckley’s unlikely emergence spawned the phrase: ‘Buckley’s chance’.

ON JULY 7, 1835, a bearded giant wearing animal skins and carrying spears emerged from the Australian bush. And it was Buckley’s chance that he was there.

It’s been over 200 years since escaped convict William Buckley handed himself over to explorer John Batman’s landing party.

Long assumed dead, Buckley fled Port Phillip Bay at Sorrento and lived for 32 years with the native Wathaurong people in the Victorian wilderness.

Originally from Cheshire, England, Buckley was convicted at the Sussex Assizes in August 1802 and was sentenced to transportation to Australia for life, for having received a roll of stolen cloth.

After he arrived in Australia in April 1803 on the Calcutta, Buckley and two companions escaped Port Phillip into the surrounding bushland. Fearful, weary and starving, Buckley’s two companions eventually turned back and were not heard from again.

Struggling to survive, Buckley fatefully leaned against a spear entrenched in a grave and was mistaken by the Wathaurong Aboriginals for the reincarnation of their dead tribal member, Murrangurk. For 32 years he lived with the tribe and his wife in a hut near the mouth of the Bream Creek in Southern Victoria.

Upon becoming a Wathaurong member, Buckley witnessed many battles, cannibalism and various tribal customs that had existed before European intervention.

In 1835, he overheard the tribesmen plotting to rob and murder white intruders that made up John Batman’s advanced landing party. On the 7 July, 1835, Buckley surrendered to the party at Indented Head. At first he had forgotten how to speak English, but he was finally identified by the tattoo on his arm.

Buckley was awarded pardon and John Batman employed him as interpreter at a salary of £50. He later became government interpreter.

Today, the Australian saying ‘Buckley’s chance,’ meaning ‘no chance in the world,’ originated from the story of William Buckley’s unlikely survival caused by his determination to be free.