The remarkable story of William Buckley
Macclesfield convict whose name lives on in Australia
(by Mark Bevan)

Many sons of Cheshire have left their mark on the four corners of the world, but one whose story is stranger than fiction
was William Buckley.

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 King’s Own Regiment of Foot, serving in Holland, but by the turn of the century he was in trouble...big trouble.

He stood out as a young man by virtue of his size, 6ft 7ins,and, apparently, he was “as plucky as they make ‘em.”

Afterwards he fell in with men of bad character and was tried at Chatham, accused of attempting to murder the Duke of Kent. Found guilty he was initially put to work on fortifications at Woolwich and then, at the age of twenty-three, he was transported, on board the “Calcutta”, to Port Phillip, in New South Wales, to labour as a mechanic.

The rigours of convict life were not to Buckley’s liking and he was determined to make his escape. A plan was hatched with three comrades, but in making their dash for freedom, one of them was shot and killed.

Buckley and the other two continued into the bush, but the prospect of striking through wild country was too much for his companions who decided to return to the settlement. Buckley would have none of it, better to die than to become a captive again.

After plodding on for many days he was almost dead for want of food and in despair lay down alongside what turned out to be the grave of a aborigine chief. As fortune had it, the widow of the chief visited the grave, found Buckley and was convinced that her husband had returned from the dead in the form of this giant white man.

There was great rejoicing throughout the village of Wathaurong natives and Buckley was instantly made chief of the tribe... and he stayed with them for thirty two years. They were a wild people and some accounts say they even practised cannablism.

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 of Melbourne.

It didn’t work and although King William IV granted him a free 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 left.

The authorities granted him a free pardon and he acted as interpreter between natives and settlers for several years. His astounding story is perhaps better known in Australia than Cheshire, for Buckley’s Falls, on the Barawon River, were named after him and three miles from Geelong is a cave in which he was said to have lived. He departed for Tasmania in 1837 and was eventually granted
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 Cheshire’s William Buckley ranks not far below the infamous outlaw, Ned Kelly.

They even have a saying in Australia associated with Buckley, rather like our own Hobson’s choice:
‘You have two chances, Buckley’s or none!’

To mark the bi-centenary of his escape and his remarkable life amongst the aborigines, a series of activities was staged in 2003/04, the main celebration on Australia Day. In addition, the Victoria state govenment agreed to finance an extension of the ‘Buckley Trail’, a popular tourist attraction.

There is also a Friends of William Buckley society that helps preserve and develop the legend in Australia of the: ‘Wild White Man, one of the greatest survivor tales of all time'.