Historical Fatal Shark Attacks in Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne.

I recently started to research fatal shark attacks that had occurred in Port Phillip Bay.  What I found surprised me.  There have been 7 since 1835.  The contemporary newspaper reports of some of these accounts are quite incredible.

In the 185 years since Melbourne’s settlement there have been 7 fatal shark attacks in Port Phillip Bay, in 1855 off Port Melbourne, 1858 off Williamstown, 1876 off South Melbourne, 1877 off South Melbourne, 1914 off Sandringham, 1930 off Brighton, and 1936 at Mordialloc. This means there have been 7 verifiable shark fatalities in Port Phillip Bay, since 1835, but none for 84 years. I suspect this may have something to do with the large number of large sharks that were purposely baited and killed right throughout the 20th century, particularly in the wake of these attacks.  There simply may be fewer large sharks in the bay now than there were in the early days of the settlement. Large sharks are rarely sighted in the bay, but they still are occasionally. In 2009, a huge 5 metre Great White Shark was photographed by two fisherman 7km off the coast of Altona. So, while rare, it is clear they do still occasionally frequent the waters of the bay.

In 1876 the city of Melbourne was a vibrant place with a population of about 250,000 people, making it one of the largest cities in the British Empire.  What’s more it was a popular destination for Europeans, Americans and Chinese who were seeking to strike it rich since gold had been discovered in Central Victoria in the 1850s.  

Peter Rooney was born in Melbourne in 1857 to Patrick Rooney an Irish labourer and Rose Rooney who was originally from Berkshire in England.  The Rooneys had married in 1847 at St. Francis’ Roman Catholic Church. By 1876, Peter was 18, and was one of 5 children to Patrick and Rose, he being the only surviving boy.  As was common for the time, 3 of Peter’s siblings, died in infancy, while he had 4 remaining sisters. As the only male heir remaining, he was his parents’ pride and joy, and it was expected he would carry on the Rooney family name.

Peter lived with his parents and sisters in Leichardt Street, a lane off Lonsdale Street.  The area was a slum called “Little Lon” and was a notorious red light district replete with poverty.  Despite this, he worked as an apprentice stonemason in Emerald Hill, what we today refer to as South Melbourne.  Peter was a strong swimmer, and would sometimes swim at the beach after a hard day’s work. The 6th of February 1876 was a Sunday, so while Peter didn’t have work on this day, he was still keen to go for a swim at Emerald Hill with his friend Robert Johnson, and some other young men.  The boys got up very early, and arrived at the beach as early as 6am. Peter and Robert set out to swim straight away, and were seen to be swimming from the Emerald Hill jetty to the Emerald Hill Company’s baths. They took rest here before Peter jumped off the piles and swam out into deeper waters, while Robert swam in the shallow waters back towards the jetty.  

What happened next would haunt Robert for the rest of his life.  Swimming in the shallows he managed to reach the jetty before Peter, and just as he climbed up onto the platform he heard a desperate scream from his mate: “For God’s sake, save me”.  Looking around Robert was horrified to see a monster of a shark, 5 metres in length, its enormous jaws clenched on to his friend’s left leg. Before Robert had a chance to react, the shark appeared to be dragging Peter further out to sea, whilst he struggled against it.  Watching these events unfold was a man by the name of James Pritchard who was riding his horse on the beach. Without thinking Pritichard rode his horse into the sea in an attempt to rescue Peter from the clutches of the shark. Peter was in about 5 feet of water and was just about to sink beneath the bloody waves when Pritchard, on horseback, grabbed his hand.  Pritichard was able to to lift Peter out of the water, but not quite onto the horse, and the shark seemed to hesitate for a second due to the presence of the horse. But, as Pritchard retreated, Peter dangling awkwardly from the horse with blood pumping from the wound to his left thigh, the shark seemed to get its bearings and swam aggressively towards them. This time it bit at Peter’s left calf to the horror of his friends.  The scene was nightmarish with the colour of the water all around turning red due to being diluted with blood.  

Pritchard struggled on though, still managing to pull Peter towards the shore.  At one point the shark swam in between their position and the shore as if to cut them off.  By this stage a small crowd had gathered on the beach and the combination of their clamoring and the horse’s frantic neighing seemed to spook the shark, and it swam out to sea. 

Peter seemed to be barely conscious, perhaps from shock and blood loss, since he had first yelled out for help.  When Pritchard’s horse arrived back on the beach Peter was completely unconscious. They lay him on the sand and rested his head on Robert’s knee.  The majority of the flesh of his left thigh and calf dangled from the bone, and blood pumped onto the sand. There was nothing the young men could do and within a few minutes Peter stopped breathing and died.

The next day an inquest was held at the Black Eagle Hotel on Lonsdale Street.  Peter’s body had been taken to his mother’s house nearby where the jury could view the body.  It was clear from the bite marks that the shark had not taken any of the flesh with it, nevertheless the bones of both the thigh and calf were visible.  Patrick, Peter’s father, spoke first at the inquest, followed by Robert Johnson and finally James Pritchard. The jury was then satisfied that Peter had died from blood loss having been bitten by a shark.

It seems that Peter’s mother Rose took Peter’s death particularly badly.  She slumped into a deep depression after the loss of her only son and died, herself, within two months of his death.  The inscription on her gravestone at Melbourne General Cemetery in Carlton North reads:

Quote ”Erected by Patrick ROONEY in memory of his beloved wife Rose age 51 years who died of excessive grief, 4 Apr 1876 through the loss of their son Peter who was killed by a shark whilst bathing on 6 Feb 1876, age 18 years” end quote.

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Peter’s father, Patrick Rooney, would go on to live a very tragic life.  Of his 4 remaining children, 2 of them would be dead within 4 years, 1 would die 12 years later at the age of 35 and the last would die in 1898 at the age of 33.  He would outlive them all and die a lonely death at the age of 77 in 1899.  

As if that wasn’t enough, barely one year later there was another fatal shark attack at a Melbourne beach.  William Marks an American from Chicago had recently arrived in Melbourne. He was working as a ferryman on the Yarra River.  According to a fellow worker, he was 39 years old, a keen violinist and a very strong swimmer. No doubt he was unaware of the attack that had occurred the year before less than 200 yards from where he decided to go swimming at 7am on Sunday the 4th of February 1877.  

On that day, a man by the name of Dorsay Dossor was bathing in the shallows at Emerald Hill.  On walking back to the shore, he observed a man, later to be established as William Marks, taking off his clothes before going for a swim himself.  Dossor noted that Marks swam out quite a distance, about 300 yards, before swimming parallel with the beach. Dossor observed the unfamiliar man swam confidently before he suddenly seemed to jump or was thrown out of the water.  He then seemed to swim a few more yards before he suddenly disappeared beneath the waves. Dossor did not notice any shark, but thought it strange that the man never resurfaced. After waiting some time, he and another man on the beach noticed the swimmer had left some clothes on the beach.  Amongst his possessions were a tuning fork, and a letter with American postage marks, addressed to a, William Marks, care of his employer, the ferry operator, on the Yarra River. The men took the possessions to the St. Kilda police station and the police conducted a search of the water using the quote “local Chinamen’s fishing nets”, to trawl the water, but no body was found.  

Two days later a man by the name of Thomas Coppin, a saddler who lived on Brunswick Street, was bathing in the local Emerald Hill baths.  He noticed a dark object floating in the waves about 300 yards away. Copping reported his discovery to Captain Levens, the owner of the baths.  With the help of a telescope Levens was able to tell that the object was that of a dead body and surmised that it must have been that of the American man who had gone missing two days previously.  The two men took a boat out to retrieve the body, and when they did, it was obvious that the man had been killed by a shark. The flesh on each leg, from the knee up had been eaten away and there was a large bite mark stretching 14 inches on both his chest and back.  

At the inquest into the man’s death, a co-worker from the ferry company he worked at on the Yarra River, identified him as William Marks, a 39 year old American from Chicago, who had been, until his recent arrival in Melbourne, working as a farmer in California.  

This attack coming so soon after the one on Peter Rooney the year before, and at virtually the same location, leads one to assume that it may well have been the same shark that killed both men, perhaps a Great White that lurked in that part of the bay in the late 1870s.  

But, these were not the first shark-caused fatalities in the Bay.  Indeed two had occurred in the bay 20 years earlier in the 1850s. Adolphe Bollander was a 21 year old sailor with the Swedish ship Constance which arrived in Melbourne on March 10th 1858 having left Leith in Scotland on November 25th the previous year.  On Sunday the 14th of March, Bollander and some of his fellow crew, were enjoying a swim under the bow of their 785 ton vessel, where it was anchored 1km off the shore, in Hobson’s Bay, at the Northern tip of Port Phillip Bay, near Williamstown. One by one the men had enough of their swim and returned to the ship until Bollander was the only man left in the water.  Suddenly, a horrific shriek was heard from his direction. The other sailors who were on the deck looked towards him, and saw that he had been seized on the thigh by a large shark that was dragging him under the water. Bollander was a fit strong man, 6 feet in height, and somehow he managed to escape from the shark’s clutches and reach the ship. The shark though seemed to reenergise and took another chunk out of Bollander’s leg as he was being helped onto the ship, to which he screamed out in agony, and blood pumped out all over the side.  It was a horrific scene. The other men used long poles with hooks on the ends and paddles to beat the shark, until it finally relented and they managed to drag him onto the deck. The men immediately took him to the shore in order to seek medical attention, but Bollander died of blood loss before they reached it.

An inquest was held the next day at Williamstown at Rees’s Steam Packet Hotel, where Bollander’s body lay.  The coroner remarked that Bollander was an extremely handsome man, but was horrified to observe that the flesh had been completely torn from his thigh.  The jury found that he had died from the effects of being bitten in the thigh by a shark, and cautioned against bathing in Hobson’s Bay.  

3 years earlier than this incident, in 1855, the earliest recorded confirmed fatal shark attack occurred in Port Phillip Bay.  Not much information has been recorded about this incident, including the name of the victim. However, there were enough contemporary media reports about it to confirm that it was a verifiable shark attack.  It was reported in Sydney’s Empire Newspaper as follows, quote: “Fatal Occurrence – Reported Destruction of a Bather By a Shark. Yesterday afternoon, two seaman belonging to the whaling brig Curlew, lying off Towns’s Wharf, jumped overboard for the purpose of bathing, and having a swim. They had not been many minutes in the water when one of them suddenly disappeared, and the other rapidly returned to the vessel, and reported that his companion had been seized by a shark.” End Quote

Thus far, we have only reported on fatal shark attacks in Port Phillip Bay that occurred in the 19th century, however, there were a handful that also occurred in the 20th century.  27 years after William Marks was killed at South Melbourne, on the 12th of June 1914, Adriah Croxford, had an encounter at Sandringham Beach that would change her life forever. She went to the beach that day with her husband John Croxford.  Mr and Mrs Croxford had eleven children from their marriage, but it is not clear from press reports whether any of the children were with them that day. John Croxford, who was 43 years old, and reportedly an excellent swimmer, was, no doubt, also fairly resistant to cold, considering he chose to swim in the Bay on this day in the middle of winter.  At around 3pm he told his wife he was going to swim in the water. He went into the Ti Tree scrub for privacy, and changed into his bathing suit before swimming out quite a distance. Soon afterwards, John returned, no doubt invigorated by the icy water, as he remarked to Adriah how beautiful it was. He told her he was going in again, and this time swam out about 100 yards.  Little did Adriah know that she would never speak to the father of her 11 children again.  

Mrs Croxford watched her husband enjoy himself for a few moments before seeing a dark object appear in the water behind him.  She recognised it as a shark and called out to her husband, but he did not seem to hear her. Abruptly, the shark disappeared beneath the water, and in the next moment John Croxford completely disappeared from view.  Adriah Croxford was convinced her husband had been taken below the waves by a shark, so immediately rushed to Sandringham Police Station where, in an extremely agitated state, she informed Constables Lane and Raven about what she had witnessed.  The officers arranged for a motor boat to scour the area for Mr Croxford, but they found no sign of him, in fact, despite an extensive search, his body was never found.  

But, perhaps the most notable, and eventful fatal shark attack to occur in Port Phillip Bay, occurred on the 15th of February 1930.  Norman Clark was born in 1910 in Brighton, a Bayside suburb of Melbourne. He was one of 12 children to James Clark a mechanic, who worked for Brighton Council, and Priscilla Clark.  But, James had died in 1924 leaving Priscilla and her 12 children to survive as best they could. By 1930, at just 19, Norman was a winchman at the Melbourne Wharves, where he worked hard to help support his brothers and sisters.  

This day, however, was a Saturday, and Norman intended to enjoy it at the beach with his fiance and his 14 year old younger brother, Russell.  The day was the occasion of the Interstate dinghy race being held by the Brighton Yacht Club and, as a result, there were about 200 people on Middle Brighton pier watching proceedings. 

Norman, his girlfriend, and Russell walked down to the end of the pier, and sat on the lower-level platform which is almost at the level of the sea.  This point of the pier is about 400m from the shoreline, and as such the water level is quite deep. While the three were dressed in bathing suits, witnesses described Norman’s girlfriend and brother Russell as reluctant to enter the water, as Norman seemed to spend a few minutes trying to goad his two companions to enter with him.  

Unable to convince them, Norman dived in alone and swam out about 7 or 8 metres, before returning to the landing.  At this point he began splashing his girlfriend in order to encourage her to jump in with him, but if anything it had the opposite effect to what he intended, as she recoiled away from him because of the cold.  

Norman decided this was not going to ruin his fun though, and dived in again, swimming out some distance.  He returned to his companions and treaded water about 3 metres from the platform. He once again asked them to join him, and this time it seemed like his girlfriend had acquiesced to his insistence as she approached the edge where he was.  Just before she was about to enter though, Norman seemed to raise one hand into the air while shrieking, “Oh!”, before disappearing under the water. 

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Norman Clark.

The girlfriend at first thought he was playing games, but a few seconds later, this was proven wrong when Norman reappeared as he was straddling the nose of a huge Great White Shark.  The shark clearly had a hold of one of Norman’s legs, and he was desperately struggling with it, throwing punches in a vain attempt to get the beast to let go. At the same time there was a huge commotion on the pier, as onlookers became aware of the terror unfolding in front of their eyes.  Norman’s girlfriend fainted almost immediately at the shock of what she was witnessing and was carried away, whilst Russell called pitifully to his brother. But, the shark and Norman, disappeared under the water again, and were carried to a spot about 4 metres from the end of the pier, where they could be faintly made out struggling under the water.  

Then, Norman resurfaced again, this time blood diluted the water all around, and he seemed to have been weakened by the shark, as he was not throwing as many punches as he had previously.  Again, he was dragged under and resurfaced in a spot about ten metres to the south west side corner of the end of the pier. Here he resurfaced a few times, all the time struggling more and more feebly.  This went on for about five minutes before he was dragged under and wasn’t seen again.  

Throughout this horrifying experience, about 100 hundred people stood transfixed on the pier, watching the horrifying events unfold.  News spread down the pier as to what was happening and swimmers on Brighton Beach soon exited the water, but nobody on the pier attempted to help Norman throughout his ordeal.  

A few minutes after he last disappeared, news of the incident had finally motivated someone to put 4 motorised boats into the area to search for any sign of his body.  But, they failed to locate neither Norman nor the shark.  

Witnesses, described the shark as a monster, 4 to 5 metres long.  In the weeks following the tragedy, fishermen throughout Port Phillip Bay made extra effort to catch the shark responsible for Norman’s death.  Dozens of sharks were caught and killed, but none of them were the same monster Great White.  

For decades afterwards, tales of Norman’s demise took on an almost mythical quality in Melbourne’s pubs and school playgrounds.  One apocryphal version of the story which seems to have gotten quite widespread traction was the tale of Norman Clark, the kid who jumped off Brighton pier straight into the jaws of a shark.  Of all the incidents detailed in this podcast, it was definitely the one that captured the imagination of Melburnites more than any other. For some reason, his death lived on in memories far longer than any other shark attack.  This is despite, the fact that just 6 years later there was another fatality in Melbourne’s bay.

Early in the morning, on the 30th of November 1936, Charles Frederick Swann, a crippled 46 year old World War I veteran who had taken a bullet to the knee in battle, decided to go fishing for snapper in a small dinghy about 6km off the coast of Mordialloc.  Concerns were raised when he failed to return and one of the oars, and the backseat to his dinghy washed up on the beach at 3pm. The oars were recognised by a friend of his named George Anstey who had lent them to Swan two weeks previously. That night Anstey and some of Swann’s other friends from Parkdale began to search for him on the Bay in a large motor launch, but did not find him.  The next day an R.A.A.F seaplane was sent out to try to find him, and at 11 am it spotted his waterlogged dinghy. A motor boat was sent out to tow the dinghy to shore, and when they arrived they spotted a huge 4 metre Grey Nurse Shark circling the boat. There was a significant 2 by 3 feet hole in the dinghy and a shark’s teeth from the upper and lower jaws were embedded in it. Fisherman believed that the shark had followed a snapper that Swann had hooked, and attacked the boat throwing, him into the water where he was easy pickings for the shark. Numerous sharks were caught in the following weeks in an attempt to find his body, but neither he nor the shark were ever seen again. 

1936 is the last time someone was verifiably killed by a shark inside Port Phillip Bay.  There have been other incidents just outside the bay, such as the 1956 case in which John Wishart was killed by a 12 foot shark whilst surfing at Portsea backbeach.  This is not to mention the infamous case of the disappearance of the Prime Minister of Australia Harold Holt whilst swimming at Portsea backbeach in 1967, there is no evidence he was taken by a shark though.  In an extraordinary coincidence another man by the name of Wishart was killed by a shark off Wilson’s Promontory early in Vicotria’s history in 1839. There have been other claimed shark fatalities in Port Phillip Bay such as that of two teenage boys who disappeared whilst fishing from a boat in Carrum in 1916, but despite the coroner finding they were taken by sharks, there was no physical evidence suggesting this was the case and so I don’t consider it a verifiable shark attack.  So, in the 185 years since Melbourne’s settlement there have been 7 fatal shark attacks in Port Phillip Bay, in 1855 off Port Melbourne, 1858 off Williamstown, 1876 off South Melbourne, 1877 off South Melbourne, 1914 off Sandringham, 1930 off Brighton, and 1936 at Mordialloc. This means there have been 7 verifiable shark fatalities in Port Phillip Bay, since 1835, but none for 84 years. I suspect this may have something to do with the large number of large sharks that were purposely baited and killed right throughout the 20th century, particularly in the wake of these attacks.  There simply may be fewer large sharks in the bay now than there were in the early days of the settlement. Large sharks are rarely sighted in the bay, but they still are occasionally. In 2009, a huge 5 metre Great White Shark was photographed by two fisherman 7km off the coast of Altona. So, while rare, it is clear they do still occasionally frequent the waters of the bay.

In researching the podcast I used Trove and Newspapers.com to scour old newspaper reports of shark attacks.  I made a list of the newspaper articles I used.  You can find them here.

Credits: Narration and research by Eamonn Gunning

Music Track 1: elementary-wave-11 by ‘Erokia’ on Freesound.org

Music Track 2: ambient-level-location-sound by ‘Kickhat’ on Freesound.org

Music Track 3: sci-fisurvival-dreamscape by ‘Onderwish’ on Freesound.org

Music Track 4: creepy-background-noice-1-loopable by ‘Osiruswaltz’ on Freesound.org

Music Track 5: intro-electronic-loop by ‘Frankum” on Freesound.org

Eamonn Gunning

21/01/2020

The Incredible Story of William Buckley Part 1

The tale of an escaped convict who lived in the bush for 32 years with the Wathuroung aboriginal people before the settlement of Melbourne.

In 1803, when the transportation of British convicts to Australia is at its height. An attempt is made to start a settlement in Port Phillip Bay at modern day Sorrento. The mission is doomed to failure because of a lack of an adequate water supply, but before it relocates to Van Diemen’s Land and starts the settlement of Hobart Town, a handful of convicts escape their captivity by fleeing into the bush. Among them is a 6ft 5, 23 year old, former soldier named William Buckley. With the nearest sign of civilization at the time being the convict colony at Sydney, more than 850 kilometres away and with no maps or supplies the men are given up for dead.  

Later, when the settlement of Melbourne has just begun, and a basecamp for the settlement has been set up at Indented Head on the Bellarine Peninsula to await the return of supplies from Van Diemen’s Land, a stranger walks into the campsite. Whoever it is is a giant of a man. He has long white hair and a long white beard. He’s dressed in possum furs and carries two spears. It is William Buckley. He’s been away from civilization for so long he’s forgotten how to speak English.

This is 1835, he’s been living in the wild with the Wathaurong aboriginal people for 32 years

In researching this story I’m relying largely on the 1852 biography ghost written by John Morgan called The life and adventures of William Buckley : thirty-two years a wanderer amongst the aborigines of the then unexplored country round Port Phillip, now the province of Victoria.  It is the longest and considered the most authoritative source of Buckley’s life. However, it differs in some key respects to some other much shorter, contemporary accounts of the time which I we will discuss at the appropriate time..  Others criticise Morgan’s account for over embellishing certain aspects of Buckley’s story, however, historians tend to agree that Morgan’s account, as it is written in Buckley’s own voice, is the most accurate account we have. 

However, I will say it is impossible to know for sure the truth of all the events that occurred as we are reliant on the veracity of Buckley’s story and the integrity of Morgan to avoid using creative licence. Ultimately, I think it is up to the reader as to how much of the story they should take for fact.  The account would certainly reads as controversial to modern eyes in some respects. Particularly in its representation of the constant warfare and violence between the aboriginal ‘tribes’. There are also a number of accounts of cannibalism detailed amongst them and certainly the way this is represented by Morgan is in a extremely patronising way as he clearly looks down on what he regards as the uncivilised nature of the aboriginal savages and comes across as racist to a modern reader.  

William Buckley was born in 1780 in Macclesfield, Cheshire, England.  He had two sisters and a brother and his parents were farmers. He was adopted by his mother’s father and at the age of 15 was apprenticed as a bricklayer to a Mr Robert Wyatt.  Buckley clearly didn’t enjoy this lifestyle because at the age of 19 he ran away and joined the Cheshire Militia.  He describes receiving a bounty of ten guineas for this and remembers thinking this amount of money would last him forever.  

After a year, his money had exhausted and he volunteered in the King’s Own Regiment of Foot at Horsham in the south of England a long way from his native Cheshire.  After only 6 weeks here his unit was ordered to to embark for war in Holland where the Duke of York was in battle against the French Republic.  Buckley’s regiment under the command of the Earl of Chatham suffered heavy losses in this battle and Buckley’s hand was severely injured although he doesn’t detail how this injury occurred.  

On returning to England Buckley received another bounty for extended service.  His officers had a good opinion of him because of his height, he was six foot five, and his good conduct.  But, soon afterwards he fell in with a bad crowd he had met in the regiment and was arrested for receiving false goods. 

Buckley always maintained his innocence in this affair saying that a woman asked him to collect some items for her and then he was arrested by authorities for receiving stolen goods.  He was found guilty in court and after this sentence he never heard from his family again.  

As a prisoner he initially worked on fortifications being built at Woolwich, but as a mechanic he was identified as possibly being useful to a new penal colony that was to be set up at Port Phillip in what was then New South Wales.  

Buckley saw this as an excellent opportunity to redeem his sullied name and so he embraced being sent for transportation to the other side of the world.            This is noteworthy when you consider the hardships that often went hand in hand with a marine trek to the Antipodes. 

A journey from England to what was called New Holland at the time took the best part of a year to complete and trips were arduous affairs that often involved the deaths of upwards of 10% of those who embarked.  

This is not to mention the exceptional remoteness of the colony.  The convicts were expected to build infrastructure when they arrived in a complete wilderness.  This says a lot about Buckley’s character that he was willing to embrace his transportation in order to redeem himself. 

On top of this, prisoners were often treated cruelly in a time when severe punishments were the rule.  Lieutenant Colonel David Collins was chosen to lead the expedition and to be the governor of what was to be the first settlement in modern day Victoria.  They set sail in two ships, the Calcutta and the Ocean.Buckley was treated well on the journey and spent most of the time helping out the crew. 

When they arrived the ships anchored 2 miles within the heads at a place Collins named Sullivan Bay. This site was chosen as a penal settlement because it was over 600 miles from Sydney which meant escape would have been practically futile.  

The marines and convicts landed and encamped and Buckley mentions how, while most of the convicts had to camp inside a line of sentinels, he and the other mechanics were permitted to camp outside it and were set to work on the first buildings of the settlement.  

Life, though, was tough at the new settlement.  There was no access to a reliable fresh water supply and the soil proved poor for growing crops. So, after 3 months of roughing it Buckley and 3 others decided to make an escape from their bondage. 
Buckley in 1852 freely admitted to the madness of this plan, as it involved walking to Sydney 600 miles to the north.  

With no maps though and no idea which direction Sydney lay in, the attempt was utterly pointless and perhaps speaks of the desperation he felt at the time, especially considering the settlement was attempting to survive on brackish seawater. 
Buckley and his 3 companions had been entrusted with a gun to shoot kangaroo in the area they were working in.  

One dark night they absconded with the gun, an iron kettle and as many supplies as they could take.  They were spotted however, by a sentinel who shot at them, taking down one of Buckley’s companions.  He never found out if this man survived as he never heard from him again.

In fear for their lives the 3 remaining men ran for 3 or 4 hours before stopping for a break. Not long after renewing their march they came to a river now known as Balcombe Creek in Mouth Martha.  

At daylight they began to renew their trek when they encountered a party of natives.  This was the first encounter Buckley had with any of the natives that we know about.  He says he fired the gun in order to scare them off and they ran into the bush.

Buckley crossed first to test the depth and then helped the others across and went back for their clothes.

That night they reached to about 20 miles from the modern city of Melbourne and rested there until the morning when moved on again until they crossed the Yarra River a few hours later.  

They crossed the river and continued their way up the Mornington Peninsula crossing the Yarra River the next day.  After this, they headed away from the coast and travelled through vast plains until they reached the Yawang Hills (today knows as the You Yangs).  Here they finished the last bit of bread and meat they had taken with them.  

As they were incapable of finding any food Buckley told his friends they must return to the bay to find shellfish or they would die of starvation and they agreed so they returned to the coast after what Buckley called  “a long and weary march.”

They were able to subsist off shellfish, travelling down the west coast of Port Phillip Bay through the areas of modern day Corio and Port Arlington.  But, life was becoming a serious struggle.  Water was hard to come by and the only thing they had to eat was shellfish and which caused the men to suffer from diarrhea.

By this stage the men had been gone for a few days. There were thirsty, tired, suffering from diarrhea and they had started seeing native huts dotted about the place.  

The indigenous people who lived in the area at the time, known as the Wathaurong people, were a nomadic hunter-gatherer people much like the other Australian indigenous peoples.  They would often build these temporary huts made from bark and tree branches and then they would abandon them or perhaps come back to them at a later date. So, these 3 European men were seeing these types of huts around the place, but they were not occupied.

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Buckley and his companions must have felt great fear at the prospect of bumping into these tribes as they referred to them.  The common early 19th century trope that was in the backs of their minds was that these were untamed savages who would eat them as soon as greet them, so it can be imagined that they were somewhat concerned about this inevitable meeting. But, apart from the meeting they had had on their second day from the settlement on the other side of the bay, in this area they were only encountering vacant huts.  

The next day they reached an island the Wathaurong called Barwal, which is called Swan Island in modern parlance.   Buckley mentions how they could reach the island during low tide.  Even today if you look at Swan Island on Google Maps you’ll see that the island is separated from the mainland by a very narrow strait of water. 

Melbourne sits on the Northern tip of a large bay, but the point of entry to the bay is a very narrow strait at the Southern end.  The Calcutta had anchored just inside the Eastern head of the bay and so the 3 escapees had walked around the entire length of the bay from the eastern head to the western head a journey of well over a hundred and close to two hundred kilometres.  From Swan Island which lies just inside the Western head of the bay they could actually see the Calcutta at anchor on the other side as the bay considerably narrows the closer to the Heads you get.   So, these men were exhausted, dehydrated and hungry, and in their minds they were in danger of being captured and potentially eaten by roaming packs of savages.  

Suddenly the prospect of returning to the settlement started to look appealing.  Sure they might be punished, they might have their sentences lengthened, but at least they would have a roof over their heads and something to eat and drink, and didn’t have the threat of being cannibalised at any moment hanging over their heads.

Buckley relates what happened next:

“The perils we had already encountered damped the ardour of my companions, and it was anxiously wished by them that they could rejoin her (meaning the Calcutta), so we set about making signals, by lighting fires at night, and hoisting our shirts on trees and poles by day.  At length a boat was seen to leave the ship and come in our direction, and although the dread of punishment was naturally great, yet the fear of starvation exceeded it, and they anxiously waited her arrival to deliver themselves up, indulging anticipations of being, after all the sufferings they had undergone, forgiven by the Governor.  These expectations of relief were however delusive; when about half way across the bay, the boat returned, and all hope vanished. We remained in the same place, and living in the same way, six more days, signalizing all the time, but without success, so that my companions seeing no probable reply, gave themselves up to despair, and lamented bitterly their helpless situation.”

Buckley goes on to relate how at the end of the next day, his companions decided to retrace their steps round the bay and return to the settlement.  He spells it out thus:

“To all their advice, and entreaties to accompany them, I turned a deaf ear, being determined to endure every kind of suffering rather than again surrender my liberty.  After some time we separated, going in different directions. When I had parted from my companions, although I had preferred doing so, I was overwhelmed with the various feelings which oppressed me: it would be vain to attempt describing my sensations.  I thought of the friends of my youth, the scenes of my boyhood, and early manhood, of the slavery of my punishment, of the liberty I had panted for, and which although now realized, after a fashion, made the heart sick, even at its enjoyment. I remember, I was here subjected to the most severe mental sufferings for several hours, and then pursued my solitary journey.”

Now you may be wondering at this point what Buckley was doing on the Western side of Port Phillip Bay considering he was trying to reach Sydney.  The elder Buckley wonders this himself in 1853 and reflects at how futile the quest of his younger self was.

On the first day of his solitary wanderings one of Buckley’s greatest fears was realised in that he encountered a group of about 100 aborigines in and near some huts made of bark and branches and some of them made towards him.  Fearing for his life, Buckley jumped into a river with his clothes on whilst carrying his firestick. Luckily the natives didn’t follow him into the river, but in quickly jumping into it all his clothes were drenched and he had no longer any means by which to start a fire to keep warm.  He had to sleep on the bank of the river that night in wet clothes in early Spring, which must have been close to unbearable.

The next day he returned to the beach making sure he wasn’t seen by the natives.  As it was low tide, he found lots of abalone which the natives called Kooderoo. He continued on up the coast, subsisting on what the Watharoung called Kooderoo, which we know as abalone, which was abundant in the area.  He passed through the Karaaf River and the River that pass through modern day Torquay at the beginning of what is today the Great Ocean Road. Buckley was just travelling further into the wilderness. 

Adding to Buckley’s suffering throughout this time was the fact that water was hard to come by.  On top of this, when he ate the abalone it made him thirstier. He would have to rely on the dew that collected on the branches in order to survive. 
If we look at the direction Buckley was travelling in at this point we will see that he was actually going in the opposite direction of Sydney, his supposed destination.  Sometimes he would spot the abandoned huts of the natives. At others he would see wild dingoes and their howlings haunted him at night.

He continued travelling along the coastline in a South-Westerly direction passing through the areas of modern day Angelsea and Airey’s Inlet.  Luckily he found the natives had been burning the bush here and managed to procure a firestick for himself. At this location he also found a native well, some berries in bushes and a great supply of shellfish which he was able to cook on his new fire.  Buckley talks of giving up great thanks to God for this because he had been growing weak all the time due to the conditions he had been living under.

He continued on down the coast and two days later came to Mt. Defiance which the natives called Nooraki.  Here he decided to settle down for a while as his body had begun to break out in strange sores, probably as a result from suffering from scurvy from malnutrition.  He created a more permanent shelter and found some edible plants nearby that could sustain him and stayed in the area for a few months.

Eamonn Gunning 2017

William_Buckley_portrait