Hume and Hovell

The Sydney Morning Herald

12 July 1924


Neither Mr. Wilson nor Mr. Adrian seem to be pleased that I have entered this discussion. But if Mr. Wilson adds as much to his reading of Australian history as he has to my letter in your issue of June 28, he lays himself open for correction.

My letter never mentioned the school children of Yass. I know no more than Mr. Wilson himself what Australian history (if any) the Yass school children are taught.

Nor did I ever claim that Hovellís Journal had been in the possession of the Royal Australian Historical Society. Mr. Wilson cannot deny that the Journal was printed by that society in its volume for 1921.

Mr. Wilson says I am the only person who has expressed doubts about Hovell's field books. I am, however, by no means the first member of the Royal Australian Historical Society who believes that the journal presented to the Mitchell and printed by the R.A.H.S. is not Hovell's own original copy written by himself when on that memorable Journey.

Even Mr. Adrian, Mr. Wilson's ally in this discussion, expresses the opinion that it is a mere transcript, whilst Mr. A. Jose says it a copy made after Hovell's return (March "Forum," which I saw for the first time this morning.)

It is rather amusing to learn that Mr. Wilson "fears that an examination of the letters of the Macquarie period would shock me!" Let me hasten to allay the kindly gentleman's fears. I have some little acquaintance with old time letters and MS. dating back to 1547, gained chiefly whilst doing research work in the West of England and at the British Museum Manuscript Room.

Some few of my own small collection of early Australian letters and papers were exhibited at the recent historical exhibition, run by the R.A.H.S., and elicited a request from the Mitchell Library that they be donated or left to that treasure house. Even Mr. Wilson will see that neither the spelling nor the grammar of so recent a period as the Macquarie would be liable to shock me.

Both Mr. Wilson and Mr. Adrian deprecate my remarks on the spelling and the grammar of Hovell's Journal. In my opinion, Captain Hovell was a better educated man than the journal indicates. In this I may be wrong, of course, but it seems to me that a man who could write correctly some years after the expedition could surely have done so when writing his Journal in 1824-6, not 1823-4 as mentioned by Mr. Adrian. (Mr. Wilson would call that just another error of the linotype operator.)

Unfortunately when I saw the journals, I did not compare the writing of good autograph letters of Captain Hovell's with the manuscript journal. Until this has been done, I am inclined to believe that Hovell was educated, and that the Journal under discussion is either an expansion of notes, or a copy, and not Hovell's own original journal.

Mr. Adrian, in his letter, says I do not sufficiently distinguish between first and second hand evidence. Yet he prefers to place the evidence of Bland, who never went on the expedition, before that of three men who accompanied the explorers.

I would like to state that I make no attempt to belittle Dr. Bland, In fact, I have always had rather, an admiration for the literary doctor, but I cannot allow his evidence of what took place on the journey to outweigh the combined evidence of Boyd, Angel, and Fitzpatrick - three of the men who went every yard of the expedition. Their evidence would, of course, be first band. Bland's merely a re-hash of Hovell's.

Again, Mr. Adrian says that my quotation from David Reid's letter to James Gormley was vague third-hand evidence. From that letter we gather the following:

1. David Reid was at the now famous banquet in 1853.

2. David Reid there heard Mr. Taaffe defend the absent Hume when Hovell claimed the honours at the banquet.

3. David Reid wrote this to James Gormley. If a letter written by a person who was actually present and heard the defence is not first-hand evidence, would Mr. Adrian mind telling me what is? But Mr. Adrian calls this "vague third-hand evidence."

Conversely, he considers as "virtually firsthand evidence" an account of the banquet which appeared in a Tasmanian paper on February 4, 1854. Yet the banquet took place at Geelong on December 16, 1853. (Professor Scott is my authority to both dates.)

By the way, Professor Scott quotes in full two letters, one from Hovell to Hume, the other from Hume to Hovell, both dated January, 1853, and plainly written after the banquet! There must be a mistake somewhere.

Either Professor Scott is wrong in the above dates, or his copies of the letters lent him by Mr. Palmer Roberts are wrong, or Hovell's originals are fakes. See vol. VII. R.A.H.S. Journal, pp. 301, 302, 303, 304: I am afraid this will vex Mr. Alex. Wilson; how he hates one to use the microscope!

Mr. A. C. Roberts, in your issue of July 6 (?) says he had the original of Hovell's speech. The MS. of the speech is of little importance; what really matters is what he actually added on the spur of the moment to what he originally meant to say. Anyone who has worked through the files of newspapers of the Fifties will remember the verbose lengthy speeches that were customary.

It was, I believe, the usual custom then for speakers to hand over a written speech to the local reporter, either to save his time, or to secure a fair report, or, as not infrequently happened, to secure any report at all if the speaker became muddled owing to too much banquetting. It is highly likely that the Geelong paper's report (if it could be produced) was a copy of Hovell's written speech.

David Reid and others, who were present at the banquet, beard Hovell's spoken speech, so did the reporters of the Melbourne papers, and they agree in saying that in it Hovell claimed the honours of the overland Journey of 1824-5.

I would like to assure "A.C.R." that Mrs. Roberts' gift of the journal and other documents to the Mitchell is much appreciated by all lovers of history. The greater number of original documents or genuine copies lodged there the easier it is to do research work.

Now we want the original of Hume's journal, and, then we may be able to get at the truth better.

I am, etc., Yass, July 10.Mary B. J. Yeo.