Discoveries of Hume and Hovell [chapter 16 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton]

[Editor: This is chapter 16 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton. Published in The Sunday Mail, 30 September 1934.]

The story of Australia — XVI

Discoveries of Hume and Hovell

Governor Brisbane, like his predecessor, Macquarie, was keenly interested in the work of exploration, and his zeal in this direction was a distinguishing feature of his administration.

Prior to 1824 the southern limit of discovery was somewhere near Lake George. No attempt had been made to explore the unknown country beyond this point. John Oxley had discouraged the passion for exploration in this quarter by rashly stating in his journal that no river deriving its waters from the eastern coast could fall into the sea between Cape Otway and Spencer’s Gulf, and that the country south of the parallel of 34 degrees, and west of the meridian 147 degrees 30 minutes, was uninhabitable and useless for the purposes of civilised man.

Governor Brisbane was not convinced by this assertion, and determined to have the matter practically settled. With this object in view he proposed to land a party of convicts, at Cape Howe or Wilson’s Promontory, with instructions to make their way overland to Lake George and then to Sydney. If they succeeded he would grant them a free pardon and a grant of land. It was also proposed that they should have an experienced bushman as their leader.

Hume chosen as leader

The leadership was offered to Hamilton Hume, a young man who had already made his mark as a bushman. He was a native of the colony, having been born at Parramatta in 1797. In those days there were few facilities for education, and Hume owed all his learning to his mother. He seems to have been specially marked out by nature for prominence as an explorer, for from his earliest boyhood he was fond of rambling through the bush in his desire for a free country life and his love of adventure.

Hume was quite willing to lead the expedition, but he was not in favour of the proposed route. He suggested that it should start from Lake George and work its way across the country to Western Port. The authorities were willing to adopt his plan, and preparations for the undertaking were set afoot. Captain Hovell, a retired shipmaster, volunteered to join the party as associated leader, and his offer was accepted, as it was thought that, as a navigator he would be able to reckon latitude and longitude, an accomplishment not acquired by Hume. Later events proved that a great mistake had been made.

Hume, accompanied by Captain Hovell and six convicts, with three horses and two carts drawn by four bullocks, started from Lake George on October 14, 1824. Five days later they reached the Murrumbidgee. The river was in high flood, and threatened to bar their way. Eventually they crossed it by turning one of the carts into a punt by the aid of a tarpaulin.

Australian Alps

Proceeding southwards through very difficult country, they reached a ridge from the top of which they beheld the Australian Alps, now first seen by civilised men. On November 16 they reached a river which Hume named after his father. It is now known as the Murray, and a monument erected by the inhabitants in honour of Hamilton Hume gives the date as November 17.

They had now to travel over rough mountain ridges and through dense bush. Stream after stream was crossed. The Mitta Mitta, Ovens, and Goulburn were discovered and safely crossed. Up to then no serious obstacles had been encountered, but now their powers of endurance were to be tested. Mount Disappointment stretched across their track as if to defy their progress. They made several attempts to cut through the bush, but to no purpose. They had to take a more circuitous route, emerging at last to the west of the mountain.

Results of expedition

On December 13 they crossed the Dividing Range, and at last they were rewarded by the sight of the sea. They made their camp within 12 miles of the present town of Geelong after travelling 670 miles. They had reached Port Phillip, but unfortunately Hovell made a wrong calculation, and when the explorers returned they were under the impression that it was Western Port.

This expedition had two important results. In the first place the discovery of so many important streams, all running west or north-west, produced the impression that somewhere in the Spencer’s Gulf region there must be a great river outlet for all their waters, and so led to Sturt’s explorations. In the second place the mistake about Western Port deterred the colonisation of Port Phillip for 10 years.

For Governor Darling, urged by the Colonial Office to occupy Western Port and assured after interviews with Hume and Hovell that it was Western Port they visited, sent off a small party by sea to settle there. When reports came back that the real Western Port was unsatisfactory for agriculture, the whole enterprise was abandoned, and the settlement was diverted to areas far north of Sydney.

The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 30 September 1934, p. 29

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