William Buckley’s escape as a convict and survival is an extraordinary tale. Buckley was convicted of knowingly receiving a bolt of stolen cloth, he insisted that he was carrying it for a woman and did not know it was stolen. He was sentenced to transportation to Australia as a convict for 14 years.
He traveled to the Sorrento colony at Sullivans Bay on board the HMS Calcutta. He escaped from the ill-fated settlement in 1803 after finding out they were going to be transported to the convict settlement in Tasmania. He made his way around the bay (Melbourne didn’t exist until the 1830s) and evaded capture and lived with the Wathaurong people. During this time, he is said to have lived in a cave located under what is now the Point Lonsdale Lighthouse and others like it along the coast. Today, the seaside cave is known as Buckley’s Cave.
After 32 years, Buckley walked into John Batman’s camp near St. Leonards on the Bellarine Peninsula. A tattoo of his initials, WB, confirmed he was the same convict who had escaped in 1803 and had long been presumed dead.
Batman moved his “camp” from St. Leonards to the site of Melbourne. Buckley received a pardon and acted as an intermediary and interpreter between the whites and Aborigines for two years but he was divided in his loyalties and felt he lacked the trust of both sides. Disillusioned he later went to Tasmania, obtained employment, and married. He died in 1856 at the age of 76.
Buckley’s extraordinary story of survival is remembered today in the classic Australian saying, “Buckley’s chance.”
Know Before You Go
The Cave is located near the beach in the cliffs under Point Lonsdale lighthouse.