Hume and Hovell

The Sydney Morning Herald

5 July 1924


The trouble with Miss Mary Yeo is that she does not sufficiently distinguish between first-hand and second-hand evidence.

She repeatedly quotes Hume's writings in 1855 against Hovell's journals, the Press evidence of 1824, and Dr. Bland's evidence of only of a year or two later.

The "frying-pan episode," for instance, which has been mistakenly taught as fact to too many generations of school children, is an invention of the Fifties.

And Miss Yeo's attempt to drag Dr. Bland down to the level of the convict servants who accompanied Hume and Hovell is unworthy of her, or of anyone who has troubled to study Dr. Bland's life.

Nor have I ever heard that "cronies" must live in the same township. In the same way, Miss Yeo seems to think a vague third-hand remembrance of Hovell's Geelong speech, reported many years after, is sufficient to controvert a contemporary Press account of the speech, which she describes as "a report which appeared in a Tasmanian paper."

It did, as a quotation taken straight from a Geelong paper whose represenatative was at the banquet; that is, it is virtually a first-hand statement about what was said, made by a man who heard it said, and published within 24 hours of the saying. One question raised by your correspondent is worth fuller discussion.

Her remarks about Hovell's spelling don't matter; no one in those days worried about spelling, as readers of the Governors depatches can certify.

But her remarks about the ink are quaint. The Mitchell Library has two Hovell diaries, and few people seem as yet to have noticed the difference between them.

One, written throughout with one sort of ink, and flowingly, as if at a single sitting, is the diary of the Hume - Hovell journey; the other, written, to quote Miss Yeo, "with a variety of inks that seem to have been used oven from day to day," is the diary of Hovell's exploration of the area north and west of Westernport, which he made in 1826.

I have read both through from beginning to end, and my personal opinion is that the 1823-4 (sic) diary is a transcript, made as soon as Hovell reached home again of pencil notes made during the journey.

A good deal of internal evidence which could not be set forth here favours that opinion.

Still, it is merely my personal opinion, and I lay no stress on it; but it is certain that whenever the first diary was written it was written with a single sort of ink.

It is equally indubitable that the second diary was written up evening after evening while the explorations recorded in it were in progress. This also is certain, and should be remembered.

Neither Professor Scott nor Mr. Wilson nor myself is trying to take from Hume a particle of the credit due to him as a great explorer.

What we are trying to relieve him of is the discredit attached to a man who, growing vain and bitter in his old age, and forgetting what he himself had written nearly 30 years earlier, did his best to slander an old and gallant comrade.

 I am, etc. John Adrian. July 3.