Captain Hovell the Explorer

The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil

27 November 1875

The death of Captain W. H. Hovell, the companion of Mr. Hamilton Hume, in the celebrated overland journey from Goulburn to Port Phillip in the year 1824, occurred at Sydney on November 9.

He bad attained the ripe age of 90 years before he, passed away, and he lived to see the country of which he was one of the early explorers become the most flourishing colony of the Australian group.

His name must always he intimately associated with the early settlement of this colony, for the discoveries made in this first overland journey to Port Phillip were among the strongest inducements which led to the after colonisation of Victoria from Tasmania.

At the time that this expedition took place Australia Felix was a terra incognita, and was regarded amongst the settlers in New South Wales as uninhabitable and impassable.

In 1817 Surveyor-General Oxley reported, as demonstrated beyond doubt, that the country south of the parallel of 34deg., and west of 1471/2deg., was uninhabitable and useless for all the purposes of civilised men.

The proposal of an overland journey for the purposes of exploration originated with Sir Thomas Brisbane, then Governor of New South Wales.

He conceived the idea of landing a number of convicts at Cape Howe or Wilson's Promontory, supplying, them with a certain quantity of provisions, and leaving them to make their way overland to Sydney, a reward, being offered to those who successfully accomplished the journey.

His idea, however, was found to be impracticable, and was abandoned.

Mr. Hamilton Hume, who even at that time had done good service in the cause of exploration, was applied to, and he expressed his readiness to undertake the journey overland from Lake George in the Goulburn district to Western Port.

Captain W. H. Hovell, who had spent his early years at sea, but who at that time was following squatting pursuits in the district, was at his own request associated in the expedition.

On October. 2, 1824, Messrs. Hume and Hovell commenced their journey from Appin, in the county of Cumberland, New South Wales, accompanied by six men.

The outfit supplied by the Government was of the most meagre description, and the cost was defrayed in part by the two leaders.

The instructions given to them were to take departure from Lake George, and push on at all hazards to Western Port, and, in the event of meeting any river not fordable, if practicable, to trace its course to the sea, or as far as means would permit.

On the 19th October they reached the Murrumbidpee River, at Marynrigong, near Yass, but were unable to cross on the same day, as the river was flooded and unfordable.

On the 22nd, however, the river was crossed by means of a punt improvised by covering the cart with a tarpaulin, and this difficulty was overcome.

On the 16th November the Murray was reached, and was named the Hume, in honour of the discoverer.

The name was afterwards changed by Sturt to the Murray.

The river was crossed near Albury, at its' junction with the Mitta Mitta, the Ovens and the Goulburn; the latter river was, named the Hovell, in honour of Captain Hovell.

It was afterwards forded, and the party pressed on their journey amid great and almost insuperable difficulties.

At Mount Disappointment their progress was completely checked, the scrub being so dense that passage was impossible.

Their course was altered to a north-westerly direction, and they at length succeeded in crossing the Dividing Range, and reached the present site of Kilmore. Three days afterwards, on the 16th December, they reached the sea, striking Port Phillip Bay, 10 or 12 miles to the eastward of the present site of Geelong, where, on the following day, they pitched their camp.

Hovell was under the impression that they had arrived at Western Port, their intended, destination, but Hume considered - correctly, as was subsequently proved - that they had reached Port Phillip Bay.

On the 18th December, the explorers commenced their return, and accomplished the journey in a much shorter time. The number of miles traversed outward from Lake George was 670, but on the return the distance was reduced by upwards of 150 miles.

After an absence of 16 weeks, the party reached the settled districts again, safe and sound. The value of the discoveries made was appreciated by the New South Wales Government, and Messrs. Hume and Hovell were rewarded by grants, of land of 1,200 acres each.

A narrative of the expedition, founded on the diaries of the explorers, was published in Sydney by Dr. Bland.

At a later period the jealousies which existed between the two leaders respecting the amount of credit due to each for the successful result of the expedition led to the publication of other narratives.

In 1855 Mr. Hume published a "statement of facts," which was replied to by Mr. Hovell, and the controversy lasted for several years.

The preponderance of evidence certainly seemed to be in favour of Mr. Hume, who was an experienced bushman from his early days, whereas Captain Hovell had little or no knowledge of the bush, and lacked that persistency and energy for which his co-leader was distinguished.

Consequent on the discovery of fine country during this expedition, Governor Darling determined on the formation of a penal settlement at Western Port.

Hume's impaired, health prevented him from taking any part in it, but Captain Hovell accompanied Captain Wright there in the capacity of guide.

The settlement was not successful, and was withdrawn after a short period. Captain Hovell afterwards made explorations of the country in the vicinity.

Captain Hovell has resided in New South Wales for many years past. About three years ago he paid a visit to this colony, and travelled overland by nearly the same route by which in little less than half a century before he had passed under such different circumstances.

Although then over fourscore he was still a hale, hearty, and vigorous old man.

His companion Hume died in April, 1873.