Hume and Hovell

The Sydney Morning Herald

28 June 1924


Permit me space to reply to Mr. Alex. Wilson's letter in your issue of 7th instant, wherein he sets out to "readjust a good many points" in your previous contributor's letter about the Hume and Hovell centenary.

First, Mr. Wilson quotes no authorities save Hovell's feild books, though he boldly lifts sentences from Professor Scott without making any acknowledgement or even using quotation marks - "lifts" part and omits part, thereby giving a wholly inaccurate idea, when even Scott, ardent Hovellite as he is, is honest enough to give.

Doubts are arising in the minds of some as to the genuineness of field books of Hovell. I was allowed to make a careful examination of these shortly after the Mitchell Library acquired them, and was at once struck with a variety of inks that seemed to have been used, oven from day to day. It is generally believed that Hume and Hovell took with them only one inkbottle on that memorable overland journey.

It seems hardly possible for that one inkbottle to have given so many shades of ink as that journal shows. Then the grammar and the spelling throughout are bad. So bad, in fact, that when the Royal Australian Historical Society decided to print the journal, Hovell's descendants stipulated that both should be carefully edited.

One might reasonably suppose that a captain in the mercantile marine had sufficient education to write fairly decent English, and it is a significant fact that some letters of Hovell's preserved in our public archives are decently written both as regards spelling and grammar.

Mr. Alex. Wilson's first readjustment leads one to believe that the expedition was undertaken without the sanction of authority, and entirely at the explorer's own expense. Professor Scott in the very next sentence to that partly "lifted" by Mr. Alex.

Wilson writes: "But the Governor promised his sanction and protection," and later "with the express wishes, of the Governor," and "an addition of articles furnished by Sir Thomas Brisbane not exceeding 50 in value." Had Mr. Alex Wilson consulted Hume's book he would have found (page 32, 3rd edition), "the Governor furnished us with six pack saddles and gear, one tent of Parramatta cloth, two tarpaulins, a suit of slops for each of the men, a few bush utensils, a small quantity of arms and ammunition, and two skeleton charts for the tracing of our journey." Not much, it is true, but sufficient to show that the Government was in sympathy with the expedition.

Mr. Wilson quotes from Hovell's field book: "This I named the Hume River, he being the first that saw it." Hume's book (page 41) says: "Hume River, which we reached early on 10th November, I named it the Hume in compliment to my father." Hovell admits that Hume found it, and as an old correspondent wrote, "the naming was much easier than the finding."

Again, Mr. Alex Wilson says: "In 1885 Bland says ...... ". Dr. William Bland was already a medical practitioner when in 1813 he was transported to Sydney for killing a man in a duel, so he must have been about 30 when he arrived in Sydney, which would have made him about 100 in 1885. Surely he died before that?

Further, Mr. Wilson states that Hume made no protest to Bland putting Hovell's name first on the title page of the narrative he edited. Hume most certainly did protest. Dr. Bland himself says in his letter to "The Empire" in February, 1855, that Hume made a "violent tirade" about it. What Bland himself thought is shown in the same letter (Hume's own newspaper cutting, which is one of my prized possessions).

Bland wrote: "The merits of the two travellers appear to me equal .... The journey could not have been performed so well, if even at all, without Mr. Hume.... and but for Mr. Hovell the journey itself would have been unavailable to the public, as only parts of Hume's Journal were submitted."

Messrs. Alex Wilson and John Adrian both follow Profossor Scott in declaring that the feud did not arise till 1853. But even the school children know of the famous frying pan episode which took place in 1824, just after crossing the Tumut River, and there is evidence enough in Hume's book to show that the rupture was never really healed.

Writing in 1855 Hume states that there had been no friendship between Hovell and himself, and instanced that Hovell had denied having Hume's chart of the overland journey which had been lent for the purpose of being copied into Dr. Bland's narrative, yet in 1829 when Hume lust entered Hovell's house he saw his chart and took it away with him.

Mr. John Adrian in your issue of June 9 says that in 1853 Hume and the convict servants who had accompanied the explorers "were cronies."

Now in 1853 Hume had been long established at, the men referred to never lived there, and if Mr. Adrian wished to disparage the evidence of ex-convicts (the only evidence available, as Hume himself points out) he should have remembered that the first person to place Hovell's name first was an ex-convict - Dr. Bland - who himself wrote: "A precedence which I have as far as possible neutralised in the body of the narrative."

As for Mr. Wilson saying that Hovell did not claim the leadership at the Geelong banquet in 1853, the Hon. James Gormley on page 166 of his book quotes from a letter he received from David Reid: "I well remember Mr. Taaffe's defence of Hume at Geelong at a dinner, when old Hovell was taking to himself all the credit of the expedition in 1824."

Professor Scott admits that if the "Argus" report of what Hovell said was true, then Hovell claimed more than was his due, and prefers to pin his faith on a report which appeared in a Tasmanian paper.

I am, etc., Mary E. J. Yeo. Yass, June 14.