(previous… Allan Cunningham)

Hamilton Hume statue
Hamilton Hume

The southern coasts of the district now called Victoria had been carefully explored by Matthew Flinders and other sailors, the land which lay behind these coasts were quite unknown. In 1824 Governor Thomas Brisbane suggested a novel plan of exploration. He proposed to land a party of convicts at Wilson’s Promontory, with instructions to work their way through the interior of Sydney, where they would receive their freedom. The man offered to head the party was Hamilton Hume, a young native of the colony and a most expert and intrepid bushman. He was of an energetic and determined nature, though somewhat domineering, and was anxious to work in the area of exploration. However, he declined to undertake the expedition in the manner proposed by Governor Brisbane but offered to conduct a party to explore the southern coasts. A gentleman named William Hovell asked permission to accompany him. With these two leaders and six convict servants to make up the party, they set out from Lake George, carrying their provisions in two carts, drawn by a team of oxen.

Murrumbidgee River

As soon as they met the Murrumbidgee River their troubles commenced, the river was so broad and swift that it was difficult to see how they could carry their provisions across. Hume covered the carts with tarpaulin to make them serve as a flat bottom boats. Then he swam across the river carrying the end of a rope between his teeth. He used the rope to pull over the loaded “boats”. The men and oxen then swam across and the party continued on their way.

The Hume River

But the land through which they had to now pass was so rough and woody, that they were forced to abandon their carts and load the oxen with their provisions. They journeyed on, through hilly terrain, beneath the shades of deep and far-spreading forests. The party could sometimes glimpse from there left the snow-capped peaks of the Australian Alps and at length, they reached the banks of a clear and rapid stream, which they called the Hume (later to become known as the Murray). Without their carts, they had to construct boats of wickerwork and cover then with tarpaulin.

William Hilton Hovell statue
William Hovell

Ovens and Hovell Rivers

Having crossed the river, they entered the lightly timbered slopes to the north of Victoria, and continuing south-west they discovered firstly the river Ovens and then a splendid stream they called the Hovell, now known as the Goulburn River. Their great object, however, was to reach the ocean and every morning. But day after day passed without any sign of the sea and the completion of their journey.

In Search of the Great Southern Ocean

Hume and Hovell, seeking a higher peak a little distance away, left the rest of the party for a few days to climb the mountain in expectation of seeing the Great Southern Ocean from the summit. But wouldn’t you know it, nothing was to be seen. All they could see was the waving tops of blue-gums, rising ridge after ridge away to the south. Hume and Hovell wearily headed back to camp and to the awaiting party. They called the peak Mount Disappointment. Having altered the direction of their course a little, they were rewarded a few days later by the sight of a great expanse of water.

Geelong and a Bitter Dispute

Passing through the country which they say resembled, in its freshness and beauty, the well kept park of an English nobleman, they reached a bay, which the natives called Geelong. It was here that a dispute took place between the leaders. Hovell argued that the water before them was Western Port while Hume believed it to be Port Phillip. Hume expressed the utmost contempt for Hovell’s ignorance while Hovell retorted with sarcasm on Hume’s dogmatism and conceit. Sadly the rest of the journey was embittered by so great an amount of ill-feeling that the two explorers were never again on friendly terms. Hume’s careful observations of the route by which they had come, enabled him to lead them rapidly and safety back to Sydney, where the leaders were rewarded with grants of land and the convicts with tickets-of-leave.

So Who Was Right?

Mr Hovell, who still maintained that the bay they had seen was the Western Port, was sent to set up a convict settlement there. On arriving at the “real” Western Port, he was unwilling to admit his mistake. Unfortunately, however, the land on its shores could not be compared to that of the area around Geelong and he abandoned his settlement.

(continues … Captain Charles Sturt)