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
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.
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
It didnt 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
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
Cheshires 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 Hobsons choice:
You have two chances, Buckleys
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'.
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