The discovery of the River Murray
Why the name was given. To the editor of "The Mercury."
The Mercury, Hobart
17 January 1923
Sir, - Many Tasmanians will have read with interest your leading article of Saturday last as to the proposals for celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the famous overland journey of Hume and Hovell from Sydney to Port Phillip in 1824
Hamilton Hume was admittedly a great explorer, and no one will begrudge the need of praise that rightly attaches to his name, but do you not think that some exception can be fairy taken to your statement as to the way in which the River Murray received its present name?
Hume certainly saw the river first, crossed it in the course of the journey which he was commissioned to perform, and named it the Hume, but did practically nothing towards tracing the stream or examining its course - it was not within the scope of his com- mission to do this - and his discovery did not give rise to the conclusions which were afterwards found to be correct.
A few years after this discovery, namely, in 1828 and 1829, Hume was engaged as second in command of an expedition sent out by Governor Darling to trace the course of the Macquarie River beyond the point at which Oxley had been compelled to discontinue this work. The leader of that expedition was Capt. Charles Sturt, the most distinguished of all Australian explorers. It is unnecessary to refer to this expedition, beyond stating that Sturt and Hume were throughout, and indeed until Sturt's death in 1860, the greatest friends.
In 1829 Charles Sturt took charge of another expedition which was commissioned to trace the course of the River Murrumbidgee, and it was this journey that has immortalised his name. On this occasion Hume was unable to accompany the expedition as the harvest was at hand and his own affairs required personal attention.
On 3rd November, 1829, Sturt left Sydney. In a short time he reached the Murrumbidgee, followed its course down by land for a considerable distance, and finally put together and completed the construction of two boats, and taking only his second in command, Mr. Macleay, and six of his men, embarked on the waters of the Murrumbidgee.
After endless difficulties and dangers they were carried into the Murray at its junction with the Murrumbidgee, and from that point followed the Murray to its entrance into Lake Alexandrina, and thence navigated the lake until they saw the point of its discharge into Encounter Bay.
In Sturt's account of his two expeditions, published in 1834, he shows in a chart the track of Hume and Hovell's journey of 1824, and the point at which they crossed the Hume River (now known as the Murray), about 170 miles from the Eastern Ocean. The Hume River is shown on this chart for some 50 or 60 miles to the west and beyond this point there is a blank.
Sturt's account of his two journeys must have been well known to Hume. In this work, writing of Hume and Hovell's expedition of 1824 Sturt says:- "At 3 p.m. Hopkinson called out that we were approaching a junction, and in less than a minute afterwards we were hurried into a broad and noble river. It is impossible for me to describe the effect of so instantaneous a change of circumstances upon us.
The boats were allowed to drift along at pleasure, and such was the force with which we had been shot out of the Murrumbidgee that we were carried nearly to the bank opposite its embouchure, whilst we continued to gaze in silent astonishment on the capacious channel we had entered, and when we looked for that by which we had been led into it, we could hardly believe that the insignificant gap that presented itself to us was, indeed, the termination of the beautiful and noble stream, whose course we had thus successfully followed.
To myself personally, the discovery of this river was a circumstance of a particular gratifying nature, since it not only confirmed the justness of my opinion as to the ultimate fate of the Murrumbidgee but assured me of ultimate success in the duty I had to perform. We had got on the high road, as it were, either to the south coast, or to some important outlet, and the appearance of the river itself was such as to justify our most sanguine expectations. I could not I doubt its being the great channel of the streams from the S E angle of the island.
Mr. Hume had mentioned to me that he crossed three very considerable streams, when employed with Mr. Hovell in 1823, in penetrating towards Port Phillips, to which the name of the Goulburn, the Hume, and the Ovens had been given and as I was 300 miles from the track these gentlemen had pursued, I considered it more than probable that those rivers must already have formed a junction above me, more especially when I reflected that the convexity of the mountains to the S E would necessarily direct the waters falling inwards from them to a common centre."'
After the discovery of another river junctioning with the main stream, and which Sturt rightly supposed to be the Darling, he writes: - "Not having as yet given a name to our first discovery, when we reentered its capacious channel on this occasion I laid it down as the Murray River, in compliment to the distinguished officer, Sir George Murray, who then presided over the Colonial Department, not only in compliance with the known wishes of his Excellency General Darling, but also in accordance with my own feelings as a soldier."
Sturt, moreover, in expressing the opinion that the rivers Hume had named had already united above him, says this view was borne out by the capacity of the stream he had just discovered, which at the junction with the Murrumbidgee had a medium width of 350 feet with a depth of from 12 to 20 feet.
The Murray is the chief river of Australia, and may fairly be regarded as one of the great waterways of the world. It flows very circuitously through 1,760 miles, receiving many tributaries and is navigable in most seasons for 1,380 miles by boats. Is it not fitting that the explorer who followed the Murrumbidgee almost from its source to its junction with the Murray, and then traversed the latter river till its waters mingled with the ocean, should have the right to suggest the name that his great discovery would permanently bear?
Yours, etc, Cecil Allport. (Our correspondent's interesting contribution to the question certainly throws another light on Hume's claim, but we still think the original discoverer has been somewhat unfairly treated. Ed ."M ')