A Lost Record
By- Professor Ernest Scott.
The Argus, Melbourne
26 February 1921
No one who has any acquaintance with the history of Australia needs to be reminded of the importance of Hume and Hovell's journey of exploration in 1824-5.
The discovery of the valuable country traversed by the explorers between the Murray and Port Phillip, directed attention to the possibilities of expansion in the territory which we now know as the State of Victoria.
John Batman a schoolfellow of Hamilton Hume either heard personally from his friend about the rich pastures and the many streams which had been seen, or read about the discoveries in the journals of the day; and he was thereby incited to be a pioneer in the opening up of these inviting lands.
Although, therefore, both Hume and Hovell made a mistake as to where their journey terminated - for both of them it first believed that they reached Westernport whereas in fact they camped at Corio Bay - they revealed so much that was of the highest consequence that their names will ever be associated with the outstanding pathfinders of Australian history.
The bitter quarrel which broke out between Hume and Hovell thirty years after their expedition, is not an edifying incident. One would gladly disregard the ill-tempered and vituperative wrangles of these two old men and remember them for what is most worthily distinguished in their achievement, were it not that issues of considerable importance are raised in the pamphlets and newspaper letters with which they bombarded the public during about twenty years of the last century (1855- 74).
The very great results which arose from their journey, too, sharpen the interest in everything connected with it. Generally, those writers who have committed themselves to opinions have taken Hume's side in the dispute. Such was the case with G. W. Rusden in his "Discovery, Survey, and Settlement of Port Phillip."
But none who have published their views, so far as I can ascertain, gave any attention to a piece of evidence to which it is the main purpose of this article to allude.
Undoubtedly the expedition originated with Hume; and Hovell may have been deficient in some of the qualities essentials to an explorer. But the question which evoked so much rage - which indeed nearly led to a duel between the two men as letters in the Mitchell Library Sydney, show - was whether Hovell tried to deprive Hume of the credit which was due to him. On that point it appears that some injustice has been done to Hovell, although, as will be made plain presently, the means of clearing it up are unfortunately not at present available.
The first full narrative of the expedition, apart from newspaper accounts and official reports was given in a little book which is one of the rarest things in Australian bibliography. It was entitled "Journey of Discovery to Port Phillip, New South Wales" and was compiled by Dr William Bland from the manuscript journals of both explorers. Dr. Bland explained in a newspaper letter many years later that he obtained most of his material from Hovell's journal, that of Hume being "altogether too scanty and in every respect too imperfect to afford one any assistance."
It is very strange that so far as is known, only one copy of the original edition of this book published at Sydney in 1831 and bearing the imprint, "A. Hill, Printer, George Street,” exists in Australian or elsewhere. The Mitchell Library, the Commonwealth Library at Parliament House and the Melbourne Public Library would give much to possess it. The unique copy belongs to Mr. William Dixson, of Sydney, who was good enough to allow me to examine it.
Mr. Dixson's treasure - one among many superb varieties m his collection - is, appropriately enough sumptuously bound in scarlet morocco by a celebrated London binder. It is worth about its weight in five pound notes in paper of the realm, and is likely to increase in value - we wish we could say the same about the paper. No other perfect copy exists anywhere, not even in the British Museum.
At the time of the publication of this book Hume and Hovell were on friendly terms. The cause of their dispute was not anything arising directly out of the expedition but an angry and jealous feeling generated in Hume's mind by compliments which wore bestowed upon Hovell in Victoria.
In December 1853 Hovell came over to visit the country now settled and thriving which he had traversed as an explorer before there was a house or a sheep within it. He was entertained at a banquet at Geelong on December 16. He was taken by Mr. Bondsey the police magistrate and Mr. Skene, the district surveyor, to the shores of Corio Bay, and there identified the Bird Rock, opposite Bird Island, as the place where the expedition had camped for the night in 1824.
It was the speech delivered by Hovell at the banquet which, when the report of it was read by Hume at his home at Cooma, near Yass drove him furiously into print. Then followed the pamphlet and newspaper warfare, the exchange of threatening letters, and such an outpouring of abusive and insinuating literature as has not disfigured any other phase of Australian exploration. Hume alleged that his old colleague had belittled his share in the expedition, and set himself up as its originator and chief leader.
He said in a letter to the "Empire" Henry Parke's newspaper. "My reasons for publishing the pamphlet in question are the continued expression of public compliment to Mr. Hovell on his late visit to Port Phillip and since as the discoverer of that country, to the exclusion in several instances of any mention of my name." Hovell on the other hand denied that he had ever "arrogated any superior claims over Hume."
It is important therefore to know what Hovell did say at the Geelong banquet, whether he did in any [way] underrate his old colleague, or claim too much for himself. His speech was reported in the "Geelong Advertiser of December 19. It ought to have appeared on the 17th but the editor in that issue explained to his readers that "it is now midnight when our reporter makes his appearance" from the banquet - which he thought an apology ample enough." Toasts were numerous in those days and were drunk in bumpers, so that we too can quite understand why the report did not appear on the day after the event. The shorthand notes would be clearer in the morning.
There is no file of the "Geelong Advertiser" for 1853 in the Melbourne Public Library. I therefore asked the editor if I might have the report of Hovell's speech copied from his office file. But he found, with much regret, that the report had been wickedly cut out. What an editor says when he discovers that his file has been mutilated in respect to a highly important item will surely not be scored against him by an intelligent recording angel.
I then applied to the town clerk of Geelong for the use of his file at the town hall, but it was found that the whole page containing the report had been removed.
There is a file at Parliament House but on turning to that I found that the entire number of the "Advertiser" for December 19 was missing. I do not know of any other file of the paper in question.
But it is evident that there was at the time a run on the number containing Hovell's speech. Various old scrap books have been searched but without success. It is probable that several people it the time preserved the report.
Are any copies now in existence? I should be very glad to hear of one.
Mr. Henry Gyles Turner, an indefatigable student of Victorian history, told me that he had never seen the full report of Hovell's speech though he had in his library copies of all the Hume and Hovell pamphlets except the original work by Dr. Bland, which also he has never seen.
Meanwhile, the only report of the speech available is a very short one published by "The Argus," in a letter from its Geelong correspondent on December 19. There Hovell is reported as having said that he "felt no small degree of pleasure and pride in being the man who had discovered the country which he found 29 years ago to be a wilderness but which was now a thriving seat of civilisation, an infant nation capable of producing food to feed half the world, wool to clothe half the world, and gold to buy half the world."
The exclusive personal note certainly does appear in that passage, but it is not fair, in view of Hovell's later disclaimer, to judge him from what did not profess to be more than a brief note of news. If anyone can furnish a copy of the full report it will be a very welcome lost record rediscovered.