In the footsteps of Hume and Hovell

In the footsteps of the explorers. Hume and Hovell, by Goulburnian

The Argus, Melbourne

24 September 1904

The journey undertaken in 1824 by Hamilton Hume (the first native born explorer), and his companion W.H. Hovell was productive of rich results in discovery. They made their way from Lake George which lies south west of where the town of Goulburn, in New South Wales is now, to Corio Bay.

They were the first white men to cross what is now Victoria and the first white men in Australia to see the snow-capped peaks of the Australian Alps. To them belongs the credit of discovering and naming many Victorian Rivers, The Buffalo Ranges and several peaks in the Dividing Range.

It is regrettable that such successful work was marred by personal differences between leaders and a newspaper war in subsequent years as to whom belonged the credit of conducting the party safely to its destination.

The expedition originated in a whimsical proposal by Sir Thomas Brisbane, then Governor of New South Wales. The Port Phillip district then, and for many years after part of New South Wales, was unknown territory.

In order to discover the character of the country, the Governor pro- posed that a party convicts should be taken by water to the southern coast, and turned loose to find their way overland to Sydney. If they succeeded they were to obtain free pardon, and a land grant. To facilitate their chances of success, His Excellency thought it wise to put them in charge of an experienced bush man and he offered the leadership to Hamilton Hume who declined it.

But Hume's love of adventure was stirred by the proposal and he volunteered to lead an exploring party from his father's station at Lake George, on the confines of southern settlement to Western Port, if the Government would provide the equipment. Though this was agreed to, delay and parsimony ended in the Government funding only a few pack saddles, six muskets, ball cartridges, a few blankets, a tent, and a tarpaulin.

Hovell, a retired sea captain offered to join Hume and share the cost of the undertaking. Each leader found three men, so the party all told consisted of eight.

The equipment consisted of two carts drawn by four bullocks, and two horses; a spare horse and spare bullock; seven pack-saddles, one riding saddle, eight guns, 6lb. gunpowder, 60 rounds of ball cartridge, 1,200lb. of flour, 350lb. pork, 170lb. of sugar, 38lb. tea and coffee, 8lb. of tobacco, 16lb. of soap, 20lb. salt, cooking utensils, a sextant, three compasses, a perambulator and one blanket a piece. The perambulator was for marking off the miles travelled.

The expedition had not been out ten days before the cart had to be left behind. With such a meagre outfit it was certainly good bush craft which enabled the party to travel a thousand miles without the loss of a man or a hoof.

The journal of the expedition compiled by Hovell was published soon after the return of the party. It is written in an admirable spirit. No reference is made to the dissensions of the leaders and detailed information is afforded of every days advance. This document was republished in 1894 by the Victorian branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, and it is embodied in volume 11 of the transactions of the society.

On Sunday, October 17, 1824, the journal says, "Leave Mr. Hume's station (the last which is occupied by the colonists) with- out a guide; travel 12 miles south-west through a country affording good pasturage for cattle; thinly, wooded well watered."

On Tuesday, the 19th they reached the Murrumbidgee which was swollen with rains and impassable. They camped for several days in the hope that the waters would subside. On Friday as the flood still kept up, they resolved to cross.

This is how the crossing was done;- One of the carts was stripped of its axle, wheels, and shafts and securely covered with a tarpaulin, and readily converted into a tolerably good boat, which was found sufficiently buoyant and not too crank. The next step was to convey the end of a stout rope to the opposite bank for the purpose of plying the improvised boat backwards and forwards across the stream: to effect which object, Mr Hume with one of the men, undertook the dangerous enterprise of swimming across the river, taking with them a small line of about 6ft. long which they carried between their teeth to the middle of this was attached a line of sufficient length to reach across the stream.

This was not done without great difficulty and some danger, both from the rapidity of the torrent and the great pressure of the water on a length of line so considerable the weight of the latter not only retarding the progress of the swimmers but at times dragging them almost under water, so that they were swept down the river a considerable distance before they could reach the opposite bank.

It is satisfactory to now that such plucky work was entirely successful. The light line enabled them to pull over a strong rope which was made fast. The boat was hauled to and fro, and it carried safely across the remainder of the party and the provisions. The bullocks and horses were lead one at a time from the stem of the boat and made to swim.

Soon after crossing the Murrumbidgee the explorers were in the broken and rugged mountains spurs between where Tumut and Queanbeyan now. They had to abandon the cart, and pack their equipment for the remainder of the journey on the horses and bullocks.

On Monday, November 8, they beheld a sight never before seen by white men in Australia - snow-capped mountains. Hume and Hovell ascended a steep range to ascertain the nature of the route before them.

When half-way up says the journal:- "They were suddenly surprised by a sight to the utmost degree magnificent. Mountains of a conical form and of apparently immense height and some of them covered about one-fourth their height with snow, were now seen extending semi-circularly from the south-east to south-west, at the supposed distance of about 20 miles. The sun was bright and gave them an appearance the most brilliant. The men had no sooner heard of this unexpected and interesting scene than, catching the enthusiasm, they ran to the spot, and were not less surprised and delighted at this preeminently grand and beautiful spectacle."

The explorers gave the name of the "South Australian Alps" to the snow-capped range in contradiction it is explained, "to the Australian Alps," mountains which had been discovered about this period in the vicinity of Moreton Bay. This was a great find, but it was only the prelude to a brilliant series of important discoveries.

On Tuesday November 16, 8 days afterwards, the Murray, the greatest river in Australia, was theirs by priority of discovery.

The journal records: - "Tuesday, November 16, -Soon after sunrise, recommenced the journey, and, having proceeded 3 1/2 miles south (the land gradually sloping) arrived suddenly on the banks of a fine river.

This was named the Hume. Mr Hume having discovered it. This beautiful stream is not less than 80 yards in breadth, apparently of considerable depth, the current about three miles an hour; the water, so considerable a current, clear. The river itself is serpentine, the banks clothed with verdure to the waters edge. Their general height various, but seldom either more or less than 8ft. or 9ft., inclined or precipitous as they happen by the bending of the stream to be more or less exposed to the action of the current.

On each side of the river is a perpetual succession of lagoons, extending generally in length from one to two miles, about a quarter of a mile in breadth. . . . The inter spaces between the lagoons are thickly wooded; the trees are over-grown with vines of various descriptions, and the fern, the peppermint, flax plant, and currajong flourish here in abundance."

The spot where the explorers first saw the Hume is now occupied by the town of Albury. On a large tree on the bank Hovell cut his name, with the date (November 17, 1824) The tree has been carefully guarded, and still stands. Hume named the river after his father.

Five years later (1829), Captain Sturt came upon the same river, where the Murrumbidgee enters it below Swan Hill, and unaware that it was identical with the Hume, named it the Murray, which name it has ever since retained.

Finding the river difficult to cross, Hume and Hovell went down stream in the hope of finding a ford. After going 10 or 12 miles without success, they retraced their steps and tried up stream.

At 10 miles in a straight line from where they first reached the river they succeeded, by clever ingenuity:- "Saturday, November 20, -Weather fine. This morning cross the river: this they effect by means of a temporary boat of wicker, covered with tarpaulin, hastily constructed for the occasion, and by 4 in the afternoon, everything including the cattle, had been landed on the opposite bank."

The crossing-place is described as at the foot of a high forest range, where the stream narrows, and is in some places reduced to the breadth of little more than 40 yards.

The next day they crossed what was probably the Mitta Mitta, and on Monday the Little River: although they did not give a name to either stream. Referring to the stream crossed on Monday, the journal says:- "This morning they crossed the river, availing themselves of an immense tree that lay extended from bank to bank, and which, with a rope stretched along as a hand rope, formed a tolerably good bridge. The cattle are now so accustomed to the water that they pass without either reluctance or difficulty, roped together lengthwise, so that as the hind-most is entering the water the head-most is coming out of it at the opposite side."

On Wednesday November 24, Hume and Hovell discovered and named the Ovens River. It was struck where the town of Wangaratta now is and it was named after Major Ovens, private secretary of the Governor (Sir Thomas Brisbane).

Next day the explorers sighted and named "Mount Buffalo" so called because of its apparent resemblance to a buffalo. Oxley's Plains they named after Oxley, the explorer. Their route ran over the ranges of the north-east, well to the eastward of the North-Eastern railway line. Apparently they crossed the head waters of the King, the Broken River, and the Seven Creeks.

On Friday, December 3, they discovered the Goulburn before it leaves the rages, and they crossed it on a fallen tree. They named it Goulburn after the Colonial Secretary. On their return learning that there was already a River Goulburn in New South Wales, they renamed it the "Hovell" but it has always retained its first name. Muddy and King Parrot Creeks were next crossed and named.

The explorers had very great difficulty getting over the rugged, thickly timbered ranges east of what is now Wallen, and named one of the high peaks Mount Disappointment. Sometimes they were literally scrambled on their hands and knees, for hours at a time, over bushes and rock.

They altered their course to the north-west and must have crossed what is now the north Eastern Railway somewhere near Broadford. They shaped their course on Sunday, 12 December, for what is described as a remarkable forest hill, after Captain Piper, a naval officer in New South Wales.

It lies south-west of Broadford. The party camped on the banks of a creek, which they named because of the day, "Sunday Creek." Proceeding in south-westerly course on Thursday, December 16, they in due time came in sight of the sea at Corio Bay, which had been seen for the first time twenty one years previously by Flinders. The journal says:- They now proceeded south-west by south, through the plains about six miles, when they are struck with an appearance, respecting which they cannot decide whether it is burning grass or of distant water.

They now, therefore, having altered their course to south at 4 o'clock, have the gratification to determine that the appearance, which had just created so much doubt, is that of the later object (the sea). The explorers remained two days in the vicinity of where Cowie's Creek enters Corio Bay.

The journal says:- Emus are numerous everywhere on the downs, and near the sea the Cape Barron goose. The Bay is literally covered with black swans and various aquatic birds. Caught some black bream in the creek.

Messrs. Hovell and Hume each marked his initials on a tree with an iron tomahawk at some distance from the left bank of the creek, about two miles from the beach. The journal records the fact that the natives call the bay "Geelong."

On Saturday December 18, 1824, began their return, keeping between two and three mile to the south-east of their outward route. At 4 o'clock, having travelled about 13 miles, they halted on the banks of a large creek (probably) the Little River.

On the homeward journey the explorers crossed the Goulburn 20 miles down-steam from their outward track (probably at where is now Seymour), and traversed level country to the Murray, so that they must have taken a course approximating to that of the North Eastern railway line.

On Monday, January 3, 1825, they reached the Murray and crossed it about a mile above the previous crossing place. The summer had been dry, and the river was now easily forded.

On January 17, they reached the Murrumbidgee, regained their carts, and were able also to ford the river. Their provisions had become exhausted so Hume and Hovell taking two men with them, hurried on to the station of Mr Hume's father, on Lake George. This was reached next day, and relief sent back to the remainder of the party.

Hume was only 27 when he and Hovell undertook this great journey. He was born at Parramatta, and had been all his life used to the bush. Hovell was 11 years older, and had been brought up to the sea. He had been 10 years in New South Wales prior to 1824.

Four years after the return of this expedition Hume was out again as second in command of Captain Sturt's first expedition to the interior, when the Darling was discovered.

Thus, like Sturt's, Hume's name is associated with the discovery of Australia's two greatest rivers.

Hume died at Yass, in New South Wales on April 19, 1873, at the age of 76. Hovell died in Sydney in 1876.