An Expedition South 150 Years Ago

17 August 1974 The Canberra Times

By Jan Hodgkinson

This year marks, the 150th anniversary of the epic journey by Hume and Hovell from Sydney to Port Phillip, in 1824.

Their great feat of exploration began where the road from Sydney ended, not far from Gunning. The trail they marked from there is not that followed, in NSW bythe present Hume Highway (see map).

Both Gunning and Albury have organised festivities to celebrate the journey and hope to attract visitors and former residents back to the areas to join in the celebrations.

Gunning, 60 miles from Canberra, has   planned a number of activities, culminating in a procession, barbecue and dance on October 19th.

Other attractions organised by the townspeople include a variety of sporting activities, the opening of a restored pioneer cottage, a pop concert, a rodeo and an antique auction.

The City of Albury will centre its celebrations on November 19, the date the expedition reached the Murray River 150 years ago.

Its program will include the planting by Mr A. R. Hovell, of Canberra, the great grandson of Captain William Hovell, of a tree to eventually replace the historic Hovell tree beneath which the expedition is supposed to have camped.

Despite the comparatively short time since the explorers criss-crossed their trails over the empty map of Australia many of us fail to realise how closely we still live with some of the great expeditions which opened up this vast country.

October will see the 150th anniversary of an epic journey of discovery from what was then the farthest point of civilisation in the young colony of NSW through completely unknown territory to the southern coast.

Hume and Hovell's 1824 expedition to find a route from Sydney to Port Phillip was accompanied by disharmony and disagreement from its inception. 

Years after the expedition, when the rich lands they discovered were dotted with homesteads and  the various areas of settlement were contributing in no small way to the prosperity of the colonics, arguments were still being aired and statements published prolonging the differences between the pair.  

The joint leaders of the expedition were completely dissimilar in character and back ground.

Alexander Hamilton Hume was born in the colony in 1797, brought tip in the bush and educated by his mother.

William Hilton Hovell was 11 years his senior, had been born in Yarmouth in Britain and had spent years in the merchant navy before retiring as a captain to a 700-acre farm at Narellan, south-west of Sydney, in 1819.

Hume was Australia's first native-born explorer.

He thrived in the bushland setting of the family farm at Appin, south of Sydney, becoming an excellent bushman and friend of the Aborigines and was encouraged by his parents to learn some of the native dialects.

In 1814, when he was 17, he led his brother John Kennedy Hume and an Aboriginal in blazing a track to rich grazing lands in the Berrima district.  

Two years later the explorer Oxley hired Hume to lead a party of his men and cattle to his land grant at Illawarra, and the following year Governor Macquarie sent Hume with surveyor James Meehan and Throsby to the Shoalhaven area.

The party returned by an inland route and discovered Lakes George and Bathurst.

In 1821 Hume discovered the rich Yass Plains and took up land there; next year he accompanied the Shoalhaven pioneer Alexander Berry up the Clyde River.    

By the time Governor Brisbane began looking for men to find a way from Port Phillip north to Sydney through completely unknown terrain Hume's was a name which sprang readily to mind.

When approached by the Governor, Hume was horrified at the proposal that the journey should be from south to north: to push outwards from civilisation seemed far more sensible as there would always be a track to retrace in case of trouble.

Official parsimony led to months of protracted negotiations and it seemed that the overland trek would never take place.

Then William Hovell, the ship's captain turned settler, offered financial help providing he could be co-leader of the expedition.

Eventually the party, equipped partly through their own efforts (Hume records he was forced to sell a "fine imported iron plough" to raise some necessary money) consisted of the two leaders, six convicts, clothing, blankets and saddlery, six muskets and ammunition, a tent and a tarpaulin.

They look with them five bullocks, two carts, three horses, flour, sugar, salt pork and other stores and a number of dogs.

The party left from Appin on October 3, 1824 and followed the track from Sydney as far as Hume's property at Collingwood north-east of the present town ship of Gunning, where the track ended.

Today's occupants of Collingwood, Mr and Mrs John Emery, are descendents of Hume's younger brother John Kennedy Hume, who was shot dead in Gunning by bushrangers.

The family believe the expedition left the property from a spot which is now immediately outside the rear courtyard of the existing homestead.  

Leaving Collingwood on October 17 they followed a south westerly line crossing the Mundoonen range between Gunning and Yass and reaching the banks of the Murrumbidgee close to Goodhope about October 25.

The river was swollen with late winter rains and stretched between 40 and 50 metres wide so Hume improvised a punt with a dray and a tarpaulin "skin". 

Tom Boyd, the convict servant of Hume's uncle, John Kennedy, swam a line across the swirling river so that men and stores could be got across on the punt. Stock and dogs had to swim.

Because of the difficult terrain which confronted them Hume and Hovell decided to leave the drays behind with the stores they could not carry.

They plunged on through mountainous country slashed by streams that seemed to lead nowhere.  

Days of ploughing up and clown the ranges brought them to the Tumut River.

Climbing out of the river valley they found themselves with a breathtaking view of the Australian Alps.

Here the animosity which had been simmering between the two leaders flared into open hostility. 

Hume wanted to travel south west around the foot of the alps.

Hovell disagreed and the party split.

Within hours, despite Hovell's prowess as a navigator, his party had lost its way and was forced to return and rejoin Hume and his three men.

By November 16 the party was camped at the Murray.

The discovery of this great westerly flowing river was to increase the colonistsí interests in the destinations of the inland rivers.

It had previously been thought that the land west of Albury and south of Hay would be useless because of the lack of water.

After ferrying themselves and their goods across the Murray the members of the party came upon several more rivers, including the Ovens and the Hovell, later the Goulburn.

They veered west to skirt the ranges but found the country almost impenetrable in places. Somewhere just south of Kilmore the assigned servant Claude Bossawa threw away the perambulator or measuring wheel which surveyor Meehan had lent to Hume.

This wheel was perhaps the most historic survey instrument the colony could claim.

It had been used by Meehan to measure every farm and road in the colony from 1803 to 1820.

From that point onwards the going became easier.

Through an error in navigation the group reached the western side of Port Phillip rather the Western Port and this added yet another bone of contention, to the arguments in which the co-leaders had taken part since leaving Sydney.

 Hume always contended that he realised it was Port Philip while Hovell insisted it was Western Port.

On the strength of the favourable reports which the expedition made, on the coastal area Governor Darling sent a small party of settlers by sea to Western Port.

They found the area unsatisfactory for agriculture, the enterprise was abandoned, and exploratory settlement was diverted to areas to the far north of Sydney.

This navigation blunder at Port Philip caused settlement in that area to be delayed at least 10 years.

Although the outward journey to Port Philip had taken the party two months Hume was able to lead the members home on a more westerly course in half the time.

There were two immediate outcomes of the expedition. The   reports of so many streams flowing north and west reinforced the impression of a great river outlet in the Spencer Gulf area and ultimately led to Sturt's explorations.  

The second result, delayed 10 years by the navigational error at Port Philip, was the overlanding of vast herds of cattle along the track into Victoria marked by Hume and Hovell.   

Huge numbers of stock were continually on the move, bullock trains hauled freight and supplies to the new settlements on the track and settlers established themselves firmly on the thousands of acres of fertile and well-watered grazing lands which were there for the taking.

Hamilton Hume's closest descendent, Mr Stuart Hume of Garroorigang, Goulburn, is the great grandson of Hume's brother, Francis Rawdon Hume.

Mr Hume says the tangible rewards to the two explorers were meagre compared with indulgences granted to others who did far less by comparison.

Both men were forced to sell their 1,200 acre grants to defray expenses although Hume did receive an additional grant for other exploratory work.

The Government fell down on its promises of cattle and complained bitterly about the state of the equipment returned to it by the party.

That Hume at Yass and Hovell at Goulburn ultimately became prosperous citizens of their respective towns was entirely due to their own efforts.

Mr Stuart Hume has spent considerable time and effort in gathering biographical data on the assigned servants who accompanied Hume and Hovell.

He has found that Harry Angel, Tom Boyd and James Fitzpatrick became substantial and respected landowners.

Harry Angel was sent to the colony for life, having been framed by an uncle over the theft of £40.

When the uncle repented on his death bed years later and Harry was offered a pardon and free passage home he accepted the pardon but refused the passage.

He had become a well-established land owner on the South Coast and near Wagga and is buried in the Church of England cemetery at Wagga with his belated pardon and family bible.

James Fitzpalrick was a political prisoner sent from Ireland for seven years for "attacking a dwelling house with firearms". 

On arrival in NSW he escaped but was recaptured.

He was faced with a term working on the roads when the chance came to accompany Hume.

He survived the rigors of the journey, including being chased and speared at by blacks near Geelong to own large tracts of land near Cootamundra, Yass and finally Campbelltown.

Tom Boyd was transported for life for highway robbery.

Perhaps the strongest of the six servants, he was first across the Murrumbidgee and the Murray and played an important part in ferrying the party and its goods across both rivers.

In later years he was a pioneer of the Tumut district but did not seem to amass the amount of money that Angel and Fitzpalrick had.

He was present at the opening of the rail link between Sydney and Melbourne at Albury in 1883 and was the last member of the expedition to die, in 1885.

Mr Hume found that records of the other three assigned servants' were vague.

Claude Bossawa, who spent much of the great southern journey wheeling the perambulator or measuring wheel is supposed to have died at Goulburn before 1855.

Little is known of William Bollard apart from the fact that he was an inn keeper in Gundagai in 1868.

John Smith is thought to have been a constable at Campbelltown at some stage.

Hamilton Hume married Elizabeth Dight and they lived at Cooma Cottage, three miles north of Yass.

This lovely old home almost at the junction of the Hume Highway and the Barton Highway is badly in need of repair but despite the ravages of the years the house and the large stables still retain an air of gracious and handsome living.

The house has been classified by the National Trust and is now owned by the Trust and leased privately.

Restoration work is being accomplished slowly but it will be some considerable time before the building can be opened for public inspection.

Both Hume and his wife are buried in the Yass Cemetery where their graves are cared for by Yass Rotary Club.

William Hovel became a magistrate in Goulburn and died there in November 1875, nearly 90 years old.

He is buried in the old St Saviour's Cemetery. His grave was restored by public subscription in the 1930s.

The old sea captain's great grandson, Mr Albert Ross Hovell, lives in the Canberra suburb of Aranda.

The expedition's link with our local area has been reinforced lately with the proposed building of a new section of highway between Collector and Tumut.

If this comes about the main road could follow almost identically the route taken by Hume and Hovell on their historic journey 150 years ago.