Hume and Hovell at Variance

The Argus, Melbourne

19 April 1924

Discovery of the Murray. Hume and Hovell at variance. Centenary celebrations, by H. S.

When Sir Thomas Brisbane, in 1822, succeeded Macquarie as Governor of the colony of New South Wales (which then included what is now known as Victoria) he desired to ascertain whether any large navigable streams disembogued on the eastern coast.

Hamilton Hume a man of good family, of fair education, and above all, a keen bushman, was in 1824 given charge of a small expedition which was to make its way from Lake George to Port Phillip.

The country which the expedition was to traverse was entirely unknown. Associated with him was "Mr. Hovell, of Minto," whom Hume considered he could well have spared; but Hovell had influence, and the Governor said that he should go with the expedition as associate leader.

The uncongenial pair quarreled bitterly on this famous journey, and on one occasion it is said that some dispute about the fryingpan resulted in that utensil being pulled in two.

The expedition set out on October 2, 1824. Beside the leaders there were six men, the stores and equipment were carried in two bullock waggons drawn by two yoke of oxen.

The rank and file walked, but Hume and Hovell had horses to ride if they chose, and they also had two light carts.

They kept a journal, which was published in 1837 under the title of a 'Journey of Discovery to Port Phillip in 1824 and 1825 by W. H. Hovell and H. Hume, Esquires.'

It was edited by Dr. William Bland, and though it is of the highest historical value, it must be owned it is but dull reading.

This journey of discovery through an unknown country was likely to be attended with grave dangers, as Hume well knew.

Therefore, he got an informal promise from the Government, so he says, that if they made any important discoveries they should be rewarded by a grant of land.

But in his "Overland Expedition." written in 1855, he declares that "When the expedition returned successful beyond expectation, money payment even for the cattle was refused and I had even much difficulty in obtaining ticket-of-leave for three of the men who had accompanied me; but an order to select 1,200 acres of land was given me.

That order, however I was obliged to sell, owing to the expenses incurred and the loss otherwise sustained by me, for my means at the time were very slender."

After the expedition left Hume's station, on Lake George, things went fairly well until they reached the Murrumbidgee. This checked them, for it was running a banker.

Time was precious however, and as the river showed no signs of abating they decided to cross.

Hume removed the wheels of one of the waggons, covered the body with tarpaulin, and thereby converted it into a serviceable punt. By towing this across the river they got all their belongings safely to the other side.

Getting the cattle across was a more difficult matter, for the bullocks did not take at all kindly to the swollen waters. They too, were towed across.

One unfortunate animal "turned turtle" during the passage, the greater part of which he made with his four legs in the air and his head under water.

The Murrumbidgee. According to Hume, his partner was so much discouraged by the state of the Murrumbidgee that he wanted to turn back. "You can go back if you like," said Hume, "but I mean to go on."

But how was the river to be crossed?" asked Hovell. "That is best known to myself," replied Hume.

After that Hume improvised the punt already referred to. He indignantly repudiates the idea of Hovell having had anything to do with this, and quotes James Fitzpatrick, who was one of the party, as saying. "Mr. Hovell had no hand in making the punt, neither doing nor suggesting it. It was Mr. Hume who did it. Mr. Hovell's cart was taken across the Murrumbidgee in Mr. Hume's."

"From these statements," says Hume, "it will be evident that my associate, had he been dependent on his own resources, and left to his own shifts, would not in the circumstances have crossed the Murrumbidgee, though he might have proceeded to trace it downwards; by so doing he would have acted according to the instructions furnished for our guidance."

After they had crossed the river, Hume, in his "Overland Expedition" (which is a much livelier account of their adventures than is given in the edited journal), says that they found themselves hemmed in by high mountains.

In order to find an outlet Hovell took one direction and Hume the other. It was Hume who found the outlet.

As for Hovell, he lost his way for two days! "When I found him," says Hume, "he was unconsciously travelling back in the direction of Bass”. And he is quite indignant with Dr. Bland, who, in his "Narrative," would make out that they both lost their way. Nothing of the kind!

According to Bland, Hovell and his companions lost their way in an attempt to find an emu which they had killed and left behind them for the time being.

The "little rift within the lute" had been growing wider ever since they set out.

When they had crossed the Tumut River, they came in sight of the Australian Alps.

This formidable barrier Hume proposed to avoid by taking a more westerly course. Hovell dissented.

After much wrangling each agreed to go his own way. So the little party was temporarily split into two - one half going west with Hume, the other half going south with Hovell.

"What was my surprise, says Hume (who was now in camp for the night) "to hear one of my men call out, 'here comes Mr. Hovell!' And sure enough, there he was with his man Boyd, running down our tracks. If my fellow traveller had any confidence in himself, would he, after a few hours, have deserted his determination to go south, returned upon my footsteps, and adopted for the future my more westerly course?'"

The Murray. The important discovery of the Murray was made on November 16, according to Hume, but it would seem that the correct date was November 17.

They crossed it near the site of the Hume reservoir. Hume called it the "Hume River," after his father, though it was some years later rechristened "The Murray" by Charles Sturt when he rowed into it from the Murrumbidgee, not knowing that his new river was identical with the Hume.

Five days after they had crossed the river, Hovell, according to Hume, lost heart again, and addressing the men, advised them not to go forward, but to recross the Hume and trace it down, according to the instructions they had received from the Government.

Very indignant at this conduct, Hume told his colleague that he would rather be without him altogether than have put in his position, setting a bad example.

He could stay on which side of the river he chose, but Hume, for his part, would push on.

Hovell then appealed to Claude Bossawa ("one of my own men") and Claude basely agreed to follow the line of least resistance with Hovell.

Whereupon Hume, seizing Claude by the throat, threatened to put him in the Mitta Mitta if he did not cross (for it was the Mitta Mitta that had disheartened Hovell), and so "I frightened the fellow into crossing with me."

"I then rigged out my tarpaulin boat and crossed with my men and cattle," continues Hume. "Mr. Hovell, with his men, remained on the near side of the river with the announced purpose of recrossing the Hume and following down its northern bank. After I had crossed the river, taking my wattle boat to pieces, and made a start onwards, Mr. Hovell called to me, pressing me to stop and assist him over, and saying he would accompany me."

The Ovens and the Goulburn River were crossed without incident, but at a mountain they named Mount Disappointment, they endured intense toil and fatigue when endeavouring to cut their way through the tangled scrub.

The task seemed almost impossible. "Had we succeeded," remarks Hume, "We should have reached the present site of Melbourne sooner than we reached Geelong."

Here Hume had a fall which might have caused him a dangerous injury. After this mishap, they turned back to their old track at King Parrot Creek, and taking a more westerly direction, struck the coast more to the westward than they had intended.

On December 18 they commenced the homeward journey. They had travelled already some 670 miles, but on the return they succeeded in saving 170 miles.

"Though I have lately been made to appear but as a subordinate to Captain Hovell," are the concluding words of Hume's story," I respectfully submit that it was I who took him to Hobson's Bay- and who brought him back again!"

Hovell writing in reply to Hume declares that they "never got to Hobson's Bay at all"- that they never even saw it.

They certainly reached an inlet now called Corio Bay, and that as this is a bay of Port Phillip, they may in a sense, be said to have reached Port Phillip. "But of that vast expanse of water known as Port Phillip proper, neither he nor Mr. Hume had any idea."

The centenary celebrations on November 17 will commence at Albury, and will last 10 days.

The chairman of the National Parks committee (Sir James Barrett) says that the committee proposes to co-operate with the Education department in making these worthy of the occasion.

It is proposed among other things, to erect cairns at the more important points along the route taken by the expedition, and also to arrange for a procession of motor-cars from Albury to Lara.

There would be halts at suitable places, where the story of the memorable expedition would be described and illustrated.