celebrates bicentenary of William Buckley
story of William Buckley is stranger than fiction. At 6ft 5ins (or
6ft 7ins, according to some records) he was a giant in his time,
a one-time soldier, an escaped convict and a man who remarkably
wrote his name in the history of colonial Australia.
William Buckley was born in Marton, near Macclesfield in 1780, to
Eliza Buckley and was brought up by her parents John and Mary Buckley.
He trained as a bricklayer and then joined the Kings Own Regiment
of Foot, serving in Holland, but by the turn of the century he was
in trouble...big trouble.
Legend has it that he began associating with men of bad character
and as a result was tried at Chatham, accused of attempting to murder
the Duke of Kent, though he himself always claimed that he stood
trial for receiving stolen goods.
Whatever the truth, he was sentenced to transportation for fourteen
years, though his incarceration in the colony was short-lived. In
1803, he escaped, with three other convicts, from Sorrento, Victoria.
In a desperate attempt to reach Sydney they spent days wandering
the Bush, in a circle around the Mornington Peninsula and the Yarra
Buckleys companions decided to give themselves up and return
to a certain flogging, rather than remain at liberty without food
and destined for certain death.
Buckley, however, pressed on...without weapons, food or water.
Eventually he was discovered by the Wathaurong natives and the Wild
White Man incredibly spent the next thirty-two years wandering
extensively throughout the region, living much of the time with
the local Aborigines. Most of his years on the run were spent around
what is now Geelong, through the Otaway Ranges and along the coast.
It was an amazing story of cunning, bravery, endurance and survival,
but it all came to an end in 1835.
As the land rush became a deluge, the aborigines were being swept
aside and to avert bloodshed with the settlers, Buckley gave himself
up, to try and broker a peace with those who came to be the founders
It didnt work and although King William IV granted him a pardon,
the aborigine nation was doomed. In total, it crashed from a population
of 15,000 in 1835 (the year Buckley turned himself in) to 850 by
1880, and within fifty years there was no full-blood Wathaurog people
With his free pardon in his pocket, Buckley acted as an interpreter
between the founders and the settlers, but with acrimony and mis-trust
on both sides he departed for Tasmania in 1837.
Here, with journalist John Morgan, he co-wrote The Life and
Adventures of William Buckleyand eventually received a pension
of £30 per annum from the state government, for services rendered
in the colony of Victoria.
He died on January 30th, 1856, aged seventy-six, and was buried
in an unmarked grave in Hobart.
His extraordinary story, the stuff of legend, has never been forgotten
in Australia, especially around Melbourne and Geelong, and in folklore
Cheshires William Buckley ranks not far below the infamous
outlaw, Ned Kelly.
Some places around the Geelong region carry his name, including
Buckley Falls, on the Barawon River and a small settlement about
30km out of Geelong.
They even have a saying in Australia associated with Buckley, rather
like our own Hobsons choice: You have two chances, Buckleys
Now, to mark the bi-centenary of his escape and his remarkable life
amongst the aborigines, a series of activities is being planned
to take place during December 2003 and January 2004. The main celebration
will be on January 26th, Australia Day, and the Australian Broadcasting
Corporation is planning a major documentary. In addition, the Victoria
state govenment has agreed to finance an extension of the Buckley
Trail, a popular tourist attraction, which currently includes
There is also a Friends of William Buckley society and Suzy Keys
who has been instrumental in helping preserve and develop the legend
in Australia, says: The story of the Wild White Man ranks
among the great survivor tales of all time. William Buckley deserves
to be given his rightful place in history.
For more information on William Buckley and the Australian celebrations,
Editors Note: It would be fascinating to discover if
any descendants of William Buckleys family survive in the
Macclesfield area, or perhaps someone out there can tell us more
about his young life and, intriguingly, whether he was associated
with those who tried to murder the Duke of Kent?
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