Review, A Brief Statement of Facts

The Sydney Morning Herald

11 September 1855

Reply to "A Brief Statement of Facts in Connection with an Overland Expedition from Lake George to Port Phillip, in 1824, published in May last by Hamilton Hume;" by William Hilton Hovell. Sydney, Thomas Daniel, 1855.

After the lapse of thirty-one years, since Messrs. Hovell and Hume conducted their memorable Overland Expedition from Lake George to Port Phillip, it is a matter of universal regret to find these enterprising pioneers quarrelling on mere points of minor detail.

The expedition of these companions in adventure was well-planned, and successfully performed.

They had but small means of assistance given to them by the Governor of that day, Sir Thomas Brisbane; and the chief expenses of the expedition were defrayed by themselves.

On returning, notwithstanding their report to the Government of the magnificent tracts through which they had passed, scarcely any attention was directed to the rich regions of the South.,

In 1831, however, urged by many friends, Mr. Hovell placed his field book of 1824 in the hands of Dr. Bland, under whose editorship a valuable narrative of the expedition was published in Sydney.

This edition was chiefly circulated amongst the friends of the travellers, and did not, at the time, excite particular attention.

In 1837, Sir Thomas Mitchell conducted an expedition into Australia Felix, and, before his return, Mr. Hovell issued a second edition of his narrative of the overland journey of Mr. Hume and himself, and which was carefully revised by Dr. Bland. Six years having elapsed since the publication of the first edition, it might have been supposed that any statements appearing to detract from Mr. Hume's fame and credit in the expedition in question would have been adverted to by that gentleman in the interim.

No such step, however, was taken; but in the latter part of 1853, Mr. Hovell visited Geelong, which town stands on the spot that was in view from the terminus of the overland expedition accomplished by himself and Mr. Hume.

He was received with marked attention and hospitality by the inhabitants.

The occasion is thus referred to in the pamphlet we are now considering:-

Previous to my visit, I had expressed a wish to Mr. Watson, a mutual friend, that Mr. Hume should accompany me, and I requested that gentleman to communicate the same to Mt. Hume.

 I do not know whether this communication was ever made, but it shows at all events that I had no intention of monopolising any undue share of public gratitude.

During my stay in Victoria several testimonials were presented to me in commemoration of past services, and among other things I was invited to a public dinner, where my name, in conjunction with that of Mr. Humes, was received with much favour.

The public press was also highly complimentary, but on every public occasion, and in almost every written article, in reference to the expedition, Mr. Hume's services met an equal recognition with my own.

It is true that my name was mentioned in precidence, but this naturally arose from the fact that the only published authentic narrative of the expedition assigned my name a similar precedence, without any arrangement or connivance of mine whatever; and still more naturally, because I was on the spot where the recognition was made, and Mr. Hume was not.

In the early part of the present year, Mr. Hume published a pamphlet, entitled "A Brief Statement of Facts, in connection with an Overland Expedition from Lake George to Port Phillip, in 1824."

This brochure was edited by the Rev. Mr. Ross, of Goulburn. Mr. Hovell, both as respects his published narrative, and his speeches at Goulburn, is charged with almost monopolising with the public all the fame and credit of the expedition.

To this charge, Mr. Hovell thus replies: -

Mr. Hume fails to point out one single instance in which I took any step in such a direction. He does not, and I defy him to do so, put his finger on any one expression of mine, which arrogates to myself any superior claims over him.

On the contrary if he will refer to the Melbourne and Geelong journals, he will find in every reported speech of mine, an express recognition of the part he took in the enterprise; and I further challenge him to name a single instance throughout the thirty years which have elapsed since that enterprise was successfully completed, in which I have endeavoured unfairly to parade my own merits, or to cast his into the shade.

The Melbourne Argus has indeed expressed a full avowal that I always gave Mr. Hume full credit with myself.

Immediately on my return from Victoria, I wrote to Mr. Hume, expressing my regret that he had not been with me to partake of the kindness I had experienced, and informing him of the disappointment felt at his absence by the people there, and that it was their intention to erect an obelisk on the shores of the Bay, on which both our names were to be inscribed.

To this letter I received a most ungracious answer, in which Mr. Hume expressed dissatisfaction at the share of praise given to him, and which, in fact, evidently contained, in a few brief lines, the germ of the pamphlet subsequently published by him. . . . . .

These then are the circumstances under which Mr. Hume wrote; not that I or anyone else had done injustice to his merits, but because an accident had brought my name somewhat more conspicuously before the public than his own.

This is the ground he assigns why, if he did not, to use a vulgar phrase, "blow his own trumpet," "it might possibly with the next generation, be doubted whether any one called Hamilton Hume accompanied the expedition at all."

What is this, but a paltry excuse for the ebullition of his jealous spleen?

Will the noble river, the head of the most magnificent stream which this island continent possesses, and which still bears his name, with which I christened it in a generous and sincere appreciation of his services, furnish no monument of his worth and of his fame?

Will not the graven stone, which the inhabitants of Geelong are prepared to rear on the spot which we first reclaimed from the desert, form a memorial at least as enduring as the ephemeral and vituperative page, which he hast chosen for the record of his achievement ?

With the details of the expedition, to which both gentlemen have referred at considerable length in their respective pamphlets, we shall not weary our readers.

As the narrative of Mr. Hovell was compiled from his own field-book: and as Mr. Hume's statements are made thirty one years after the performance of the journey, from his own and servants' memory, it is not surprising that the narratives of the travellers clash.

The differences are not, on the whole, of much importance or interest. We may state, however, from our own personal knowledge, that Mr. Hovell, in conversations referring to the expedition, has always awarded to Mr. Hume the fullest credit for his share in n very difficult enterprise.

His narrative was, for years, the only means which the public possessed of forming any notion of the splendid Southern country - and we cannot see throughout its pages any disposition to monopolise the whole of the fame and credit. In the Rev. Dr. Lang's work, Phillipsland, he thus alludes to the expedition:

Getting entangled among the northern spurs of the Snowy Mountains after crossing the Murrumbidgee, they were obliged to keep considerably to the westward than they had first intended, in order to clear that extensive chain; and having accordingly reached an open country in the meridian of 148 E. they descended a river of upwards of 100 yards in breadth, which they found issuing from the mountain with a rapid western current in latitude 36 S., and which Captain Hovell named the Hume in honour of his adventurous fellow traveller.

With the exception of this notice by Dr. Lang, both Messrs. Hovell and Hume have had cause to complain of the errors of writers upon the subject.

In Mr. R. Montgomery Martin's History of the British Colonies (vol. 4, p. 264), and published four year after Mr. Hovell's narrative, he dismisses the matter in a few meagre words, misspelling Mr. Hovell's name.

He says, speaking of the Murray River - Where this river (which is far superior in size to the Murrumbidgee and Lachlan united) rises we know not for certain; Mr. Allan Cunningham thinks it formed by the junction of the " Hume" and "Ovens'" streams, which have their rise in the great Warragong chain, and were crossed by Messrs. Howell and Hume (in their enterprising excursion to Port Phillip in 1824), 259 statute miles nearer their source.

In Wells' Geographical Dictionary of the Australian Colonies (p. 293), it is stated:

The greatest benefit resulting from Sir Thomas L. Mitchell's expeditions was the discovery of Australia Felix.

Though Hovell and Hume had previously discovered it, Sir T. L. Mitchell first laid it open to the public.

This is manifestly unjust; seeing that two editions of Mr. Hovell's carefully prepared narrative had been published before the appearance of Sir T. L. Mitchell's work; the first in 1831, the second in 1837.

Believing, as we do, that Mr. Hovell is sincere in the remarks with which he commences his reply to Mr. Hume's statements, we shall conclude our brief notice of a subject which has caused pain and regret to very many friends, both of Messrs, Hovell and Hume, by quoting the prefatory observations of Mr. Hovell:-

In the explanation I feel now reluctantly compelled to offer, I can conscientiously say I reciprocate none of Mr. Hume's ill feeling, none of his jealousy, and cordially do I assent to the right he has to express his opinion, that his exertions contributed largely to the projection and success of the enterprise of 1824.

Mr. Hume may have a belief in the statement he has made, or he may have been urged on by others to make it: but in the end, I think he will regret that he has taken bad advice, and exclaim with many other misled men-"protect me from my friends."

I can as conscientiously avow, that had the circumstances been reversed, that had Mr. Hume, when on a pleasure trip, been welcomed, by a body of his fellow colonists, had he received in his person the grateful tribute of their recollection of his former services - while my name was always most faithfully associated with that tribute, though I might have regretted that I did not share in the personal recognition, none would more gladly have sympathised with his justifiable exultation, than his former friend and companion.