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Have Buckley's chance

Posted by Pamela on January 09, 2007

In Reply to: Have Buckley's chance posted by Paul D on January 09, 2007

: There is an Australian saying you may want to consider including in your list.

: To "have Buckley's chance" or to "have two chances, Buckley's or none". I was told it referred to an escaped convict called Buckley who survived in the outback for 30 years after being rescued by Aboriginals. It was considered impossible for convicts in Australia to survive in the outback - hence the saying.

: There was a recent campaign to change the saying to "Bradbury's chance" following Australian Steven Bradbury's gold medal win in the 1000m short track speed skating at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics when all the other competitors fell over.

Our first ever gold medal in the Winter Olympics (wasn't it?) so nobody cared how he got it (and neither did he, it seems). But for information about "Bukley's chance" see's.html It's well worth reading, but to summarise, there a many Buckleys who have been claimed as the Buckley of the phrases. The earlies recorded use was in 1896 'Freemasonry and R.C.-ism ... are worked for all they are worth in Q'sland. ... Unless you are a "child" of either party your chances of promotion are 'Buckley's' (Bulletin (Sydney) 25 Jan., p. 25) and 1896 'Old man Parkes hasn't "Buckley's chance" for the Waverley seat' (Bulletin (Sydney) 22 Feb., p. 13).

In his book Australian Folklore, Bill Wannan discusses various Buckleys and concludes: 'It would appear that until further research is undertaken there is Buckley's chance of solving the problem of how this phrase first came to circulate' (p. 97). However, the convict that you mentioned is listed as one of the more likely Buckleys (but not the only likely one):

"William Buckley (1780-1856), the British convict transported to Australia. He escaped from custody in 1803 and lived with the Wathawurung people near Geelong for thirty-two years, becoming so much a member of the tribe that when he was found by John Batman in 1835 he could no longer speak a word of English. He was known popularly as 'the wild white man': and this popular perception is caught in an engraving which depicts him as heavily bearded, with hair long and unkempt, dressed in skins, and carrying a club and spears. He received a pardon on condition that he acted as a liaison between settlers and local Aboriginal groups..."

The author of the ANU page (Frederick Ludowykwo) raises two serious problems with this theory: William Buckley was 'recaptured' in 1835 and died in 1856-and yet we don't begin to hear the phrase Buckley's chance until the 1890s. Secondly why would William Buckley be associated with the notion of having no chance at all given that he evaded capure for 32 years? The phrase Buckley's chance is also used in New Zealand and is first recorded in 1906. A correspondent to a New Zealand newspaper in 1934 makes the point: 'A correspondent ... writes that Buckley was one of the earliest convicts ... to escape from Botany Bay and take to the bush. It was then thought impossible to do this and live. ... Any other convict who talked of escaping was invariably told that he would have "Buckley's chance"-hence the saying' (Press (Christchurch), 27 Jan. 1934, p. 15).