John Pascoe Fawkner – Biography


John Pascoe Fawkner

John Pascoe Fawkner was the leader of one of two rival parties involved in the settlement of Melbourne. Although a small man (5 feet 2 inches = 157.5 cm) he was a larger than life character.

In the winter of 1835 Fawkner was working at his hotel in Tasmania when John Batman came in, boasting that he had signed a treaty with the Aboriginal “chiefs” of Port Phillip, and was now the “greatest landowner in the world”. Fawkner and several of his customers slyly decided to set up their own expedition forthwith! So much for the value of blowing one’s own trumpet in a pub.

Fawkner acquired a ship, the Enterprise, and was about to depart when a bailiff arrived with a summons for debt, forcing him to stay behind. George Evans, who was on the ship, recalled seeing Fawkner’s diminutive form on the shore, jumping up and down and shouting to his companions to look for a place with fresh water. As a child, he had suffered terrible thirst in that same region.

Obeying his instructions, they settled on a spot by the Yarra. Not surprisingly, members of Batman’s “Port Phillip Association” were not pleased when they discovered there were rivals in the district. The animosity between the Batman and Fawkner camps led to a long-running argument about who deserved to be called the founder of Melbourne.

Fawkner resolved his legal issues in Tasmania and arrived himself in Melbourne in October 1835. He set up a hotel of sorts, at which Eyre stayed. He also produced a “newspaper”, the Melbourne Advertiser, writing the copy by hand in his own inimitable prose.

Batman died young of syphilis and “Little Johnny”, in the absence of his rival, vigorously claimed all the plaudits for founding Melbourne.

Fawkner eventually became a substantial landowner. Clever, energetic and pugnacious, he lived to become the grand old man of the settlement, though even in his latter years his sharp tongue won him few friends.

In practice, the old colonists indulged Fawkner as if he were a spoiled brat. Even those who thoroughly disliked him, and were repelled by his arrogance, conceded to him the honour of founding Melbourne along with Batman. He poked his long nose into every public event. They found him leaping about like a squirrel expressing his opinion whenever there was anything astir. Although he was a member of the Legislative Council, he was tolerated rather than taken seriously.

He died in Melbourne on the 4th September 1869, a fortnight from his 77th birthday. Recognised for the role he had played in Victorian history, there were over 200 carriages present at his funeral, and 15,000 persons lined the streets to watch his cortege.