The Murray or the Hume?

Wodonga and Towong Sentinel

19 April 1907

The Murray or the Hume? (By W.M.S.).  

In the course of an interesting article published recently, Mr. Ernest Favenc a gentleman whose views upon a subject of this character are sure to carry weight in all parts of the continent- touched incidentally upon the question of the early title of the Murray River. "None of the early pioneers ever knew of the name of Hume being applied to the river which divides the States of Victoria and New South Wales, not even by dwellers around where Hume crossed"- which is understood to be the site of the town of Albury, but about this there seems to be also some doubt. In regard to the assertion of Mr. Favenc there is ample evidence obtainable which tends to show conclusively that he has fallen into error.

Of course a great deal may depend on what is precisely meant by "early pioneers" in this connection.

There are people still living in the Albury district - some who have been there for between sixty and seventy years- who are positive that for many years the river was never known as anything but the Hume in that part of the country. The same people also distinctly recollect the time when there were two marked trees instead of one as at present.

The tree which remains bears the initials of Captain Hovell. It is now fenced in and preserved by the Municipality of Albury. At one time the letters were almost entirely obliterated by the new wood made in the course of years, but they were restored to a fair condition of preservation, and the tree has since been well enough cared for.

There are people who are inclined to question the now more or less traditionary belief that there was in the early days of settlement another tree near the bank of the river bearing the initials of Hamilton Hume. There is, however, not the slightest reason to doubt the existence of that tree at one time. And it is something of a coincidence that the Hume tree was destroyed by the very class who were also responsible for the change of the name of the river, so far as local usage was concerned.

With the coming of the teamsters the river gradually ceased to be known as the Hume; the name of Upper Murray was introduced; and according to, the early residents the class mentioned were responsible for the burning of the tree on which Hamilton Hume had carved his initials.

Mr David Reid- who was first in the district as far back, as 1838, and who possessed a very retentive memory - had a distinct recollection of the Hume tree; and, so has Mr. William Huon - who with other members of the family, were in the district a few years after the explorers; the Huon family were in occupation of Wodonga station, the first pastoral, holding in Victoria, in 1845- Mr Dight, Mr Mitchell, and others whose authenticity is beyond question. And these same gentlemen are certain also that for some years the river in the Upper Murray, as it is now called, was known only as the Hume. They are borne out too by the monumental evidence still to be seen in the Botanical Gardens at Albury.

The Hume monument bears the following inscription :- "This monument was erected by the inhabitants of the Hume River District in honor of Hamilton Hume, Esq., to commemorate his discovery of the river on the 17th Nov., 1824.

Mr John F. H. Mitchell, of Victoria, who was in the Albury district as a lad and a young man - the earliest of the pioneers were the Huons, the Dights, and the Mitchells- says in reference to the statement of Mr Favenc that "In all the letters, public and private, it is always called the Murray" " My brothers, James (Tabletop) and Edward (Albury) will, as ???, remember that the letters from our sister (Mrs. R Hume) and other branches of our family in New South Wales were always addressed, even as late as 1840, to Mungabareena, or Thurgoona Crossing Place (or later on Albury), Hume River, and sometimes Upper Murray or Hume." Some of the letters, Mr. Mitchell adds, reached this address by post, but many by hand.

 This statement by Mr Mitchell will be borne out by any of the old residents of the district - that is to say, any of those who were in the Albury district from 60 to 70 years ago, and are still living. Brilliant in bushcraft as he was, and endowed with the unerring instinct of locality, bold, and resourceful, Hamilton Hume seems to have been lacking in the quality of self-assertiveness. Perhaps this to some extent accounts for the more or less successful attempts made to deprive the native Australian of a large measure of the honor and distinction he rightly won in making the famous journey with Captain W. Hovell.

Even in his own belated account of the journey this "you must take things for granted" mood manifests itself; indeed the absence of assertiveness is so peculiarly prominent that one unaquainted with the early history of the country might reasonably infer that Hume was not the first white man to see the Murray. His manner of referring to the incident is so casual, so bald, so matter of fact, that one would easily get the impression that Hume was merely following up the discovery of someone else.

After giving a terse enough account of the earlier stages of the journey on the New South Wales side of the stream, Hume adds:- "A few days afterwards we crossed, the Tumut River; as we advanced I found that we were getting into too high a country, for the Snowy Mountains were observed crossing our course. I proposed that we should take a direction more wasterly - but Mr.Hovell dissented from my proposal."

This dispute resulted in the separation, temporarily, of Hume and Hovell, and from, this point Hume's statement proceeds:- " Mr. Hovell held his course south; I steered mine west. However, when my party turned into camp and, lighted the fire for the night great indeed was my surprise to see Mr Hovell and his men coming into camp, having run down our tracks.

After the rupture, we again joined forces in the manner described, and travelled together to the Hume River, which we reached it early on the 16th November. I named it the Hume in compliment to my father. We crossed it above its junction with the Mite Mitta on the 20th, and after travelling four or five miles we came upon the latter river." There is, nothing in this remarkably casual statement to give the impression that Hume was recording a great discovery- the discovery of the greatest of Australian rivers.

Yet there is no doubt that Hume, and not any other member of the party, was the first man to actually sight the river. We have this on the testimony of Captain Hovell himself, who, in view of the unhappy differences which subsequently arose between the men, could not reason- ably be expected to give the whole of the credit for the discovery to Hume.

In disputing the accuracy of Hume's account of the naming of' time river, however, Hovell (who claimed that he did the naming in honor of Hume) affirmed that "the first white man to see the river was Hume." In the face of this it is curious to note that ex-judge Sterry in his reminiscences of 30 years residence in N.S.W. gives the credit of the discovery of the Murray to Sturt. "An exploring expedition in 1830. (six years after Hume and Hovell had crossed the river) conducted by Captain Sturt, pursued a journey of 100 miles in a south-western direction from Sydney, until, after severe privations and, dangers from, the, native tribes; they reached this noble river, the discovery of which is due to Sturt and his enterprising associates."

It will be noted that there is a distinct discrepancy between accepted belief that Hume's party first crossed the river at Albury and the statement of the leader of the expedition himself. The exact crossing is not clearly indicated, but it is evident that the first crossing must have been some considerable distance higher up time river than the present town of Albury.

If this had not been the case the party could not have crossed above the junction with the Mitta Mitta and then have journeyed "four or five miles before coming upon the latter river." In regard to the baldness of, the explorer's narrative and the casual character of the reference to the discovery of the river, it has, of course, to be remembered that Hume was first and last a bushman possessed of no literary capacity; and doubt- less he and his party would go through the most dangerous and dramatic experience without feeling that they had done anything which called for elaborate or thrilling chronicle.

"Wagga Advertiser."