Although it's not widely known, John Batman's final years were hardly as prosperous as the rest of his life. Battling syphilis and soaring debt, he watched his wife leave him for another man. After his death, his children were separated and stripped of their inheritance.
After he established the treaty with the Wurundjeri people in June 1835, Batman built a considerable fortune through property and business ventures in Port Phillip. Aware that his life would be cut short by venereal disease (contracted in 1833), he tried to build an inheritance for his wife, Eliza, and their eight children (7 daughters and one son), yet he still showered gifts on them. His generously extravagant lifestyle slowly led to a string of debts.
To make matters worse, as his physical appearance deteriorated, including his nose, Eliza began a relationship with Batman's storeman, William Willoughby. Realising that Eliza wasn't going to stay and care for him, Batman revised his will. He left Eliza only five pounds on the event of his death, and tried to remove her legal right to his assets.
Eliza went to England in February 1839, and returned to hear that Batman had died alone, with just a couple of indigenous servants in their Batman's Hill cottage on 6 May 1839. While she was away, Batman's children were separated and sent to live with friends and relatives.
In 1845, Batman's eight year old son drowned in the Yarra River while fishing. After this, Eliza disappeared, leaving Willoughby and her daughters in Melbourne. A beautiful fiery lady, there is evidence to suggest she was murdered in a bar fight in Geelong in 1852.
Batman's tragic final years and the sad fate of his wife, children and fortune are echoed in the final verses of Monody on Batman's Hill:
Monody on Batman's Hill
There is a solemn music on the breeze,
So sadly sighing over Batman's Hill;
There is a desolate language from the trees
Upon its mount, whose plaintive murmurs thrill.
Hush, they have ceased, but thro' the tendrils green,
A hollow moaning voice, the sound prolongs—
'Tis Batman's spirit hovering o'er the scene.
Weeps o'er his own and his children's wrongs.
– Anonymous, The Gazette, 1843
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