[Map. Hume and Hovell's Route 1824; Sturt's Route, 1829 and 1830; Major Mitchell's Route 1836.]


Hamilton Hume was the son of the Reverend Andrew Hume, who came to the colony with his wife in the transport Lady Juliana, and held an appointment in the Commissariat Department. Hamilton was born in Parramatta in the year 1797, on the 18th of June. 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, and his father encouraged him in his desire for a free country life and his love of adventure. School facilities were lacking, but fortunately his mother attended to his education and saw to it that he did not grow up destitute of that instruction common to youth of those times and of his standing.

At the age of seventeen he made his initial effort at exploration in the country around Berrima, in company with his brother Kennedy and a black boy. They were successful in their endeavours, and found some good pastoral country. In the following year, encouraged by their success, the brothers made another excursion. In 1816, a Mr. Throsby bought some of the land that young Kennedy and Hamilton had found; and their father sent them out with him to show him the country he had purchased. John Oxley, too, held a farm in the Illawarra district, and the Surveyor-General, who must have heard of Hamilton's repute for good bushmanship, engaged him to go out with his overseer and guide the men on to the locality. Governor Macquarie also seems to have had his attention drawn to the same conspicuous quality, for he sent young Hume out with Meehan, a surveyor, and Throsby to examine the country about the Shoalhaven River. On the way, however, Throsby disagreed with Meehan about the course they should adopt, and, taking a black boy with him, left his companions and made the best of his way to Port Jervis. Meehan and Hume carried out the work as originally decided on, and then forced their way up the range, which had now seemingly been deprived of a great many of its original terrors by the hardy pioneers of the coast. On the highlands they discovered and named Lake George, a freshwater lake, and a smaller one which they called Lake Bathurst, both, strange to say, seemingly isolated.

Here we may remark on the tenacity with which the Murrumbidgee River long eluded the eye of the white man. It is scarcely probable that Meehan and Hume, who on this occasion were within comparatively easy reach of the head waters, could have seen a new inland river at that time without mentioning the fact, but there is no record traceable anywhere as to the date of its discovery, or the name of its finder. When in 1823 Captain Currie and Major Ovens were led along its bank on to the beautiful Maneroo country by Joseph Wild, the stream was then familiar to the early settlers and called the Morumbidgee. Even in 1821, when Hume found the Yass Plains, almost on its bank, he makes no special mention of the river. From all this we may deduce the extremely probable fact that the position of the river was shown to some stockrider by a native, who also confided the aboriginal name, and so it gradually worked the knowledge of its identity into general belief. This theory is the more feasible as the river has retained its native name. If a white man of any known position had made the discovery, it would at once have received the name of some person holding official sway. But this is altogether a purely geographical digression.

It was while on this expedition that Hume found the Goulburn Plains. On another occasion he went with Alexander Berry, a noted south-coast pioneer, up the Shoalhaven River, and accompanied the party when they landed and conducted different excursions. By the time he reached manhood, Hume was justly classed amongst the finest bushmen in the colony. In his after career when he led the famous expedition to the south coast, and again, when as Sturt's right hand he accompanied that explorer on the notable expedition that solved the mystery of the outflow of the inland rivers and gave to settled Australia the mighty Darling, he fully proved his right to the title.


It is perhaps by his fame as leader of the party that crossed from Lake George to the Southern Ocean that Hume's name is best remembered. At that time especially it aroused anew the bright hopes for the future of the interior that Oxley's gloomy prognostications had done so much to depress. The Surveyor-General having been unable to determine the question as to whether any large river entered the sea between Cape Otway and Spencer's Gulf, a somewhat hazardous idea entered the head of the then Governor, Sir Thomas Brisbane, to land a party of convicts near Wilson's Promontory, and induce them by the offer of a free pardon and a grant of land to find their way back to Sydney overland. It was further proposed that an experienced bushman should be put in charge of them. The flattering offer of this responsible, if somewhat precarious position, was made to young Hamilton Hume who, on mature consideration declined it.

He offered, however, to conduct a party from Lake George to Western Port if the Government would provide the necessary assistance. This offer the authorities accepted, but they forgot the essential condition of furnishing assistance. Naturally, much delay and vexation were caused by this display of official ineptitude. At this juncture a retired coasting skipper, Captain William Hilton Hovell, made an offer to join the party, and find half the necessary cattle and horses. This offer aroused the Government to some sense of its responsibility, and it agreed to do something in the matter. This "something" amounted to six pack-saddles and gear, one tent of Parramatta cloth, two tarpaulins, a suit of slop clothes a-piece for the men, and an order to Hume to select 1,200 acres of land for himself. In addition, the Government generously granted the explorers two skeleton charts upon which to trace the route of their journey, some bush utensils, and promised a cash payment for the hire of the cattle should an important discovery be made. This cash payment was refused on their return, although one would have thought that the discovery of the Hume (Murray) should surely take rank as an important discovery. Hume also stated that he had much difficulty in obtaining tickets-of-leave for the men, and the confirmation of his own order to select land for himself.

Each of the leaders brought with him three men, so that the strength of the party was eight all told. Their outfit of animals consisted of five bullocks and three horses, and they had two carts with them.

Hovell was born at Yarmouth on the 26th of April, 1786. He arrived in Sydney in 1813, but after being engaged in the coasting trade with occasional trips to New Zealand, he had relinquished his career as a sailor and had settled at Narellan, New South Wales. After his exploring expedition with Hume, he settled down at Goulburn, and he died at Sydney in 1876.

On the 14th of October, 1824, Hume and Hovell left Lake George. Reaching the Murrumbidgee, they found that river flooded, and after waiting three days for the water to fall, they crossed it borne on the body of one of their carts, with the wheels detached, and with the aid of the tarpaulin, rigged like a punt. South of the Murrumbidgee the country was broken and difficult to traverse, but it was well grassed and admirably adapted for grazing purposes. As it became too rough for the passage of their carts, these were abandoned, and the baggage and rations were packed on the bullocks for the remainder of their journey.

After following the course of the Murrumbidgee for some days, the travellers turned from its bank and pursued a south-westerly direction, which led them through hills and valleys richly grassed and plenteously endowed with running streams. On the 8th of November they beheld a sight rarely witnessed before by white men in Australia. Ascending a range in order to obtain a view of the country ahead of them, they suddenly found themselves confronted with snow-capped mountains. There, under the brilliant sun of an Australian summer's day, rose the white crests of lofty peaks that might have found fitting surroundings amidst the chilling splendours of some far southern clime, robed as they were for nearly one-fourth of their height in glistening snow.

Skirting this range, which received the name of the Australian Alps, the explorers, after wandering for eight days across its many spurs, came upon a fine, flowing river, which Hume named after his father, the Hume. This river was destined to be re-named the Murray, when its course was eventually followed to the ocean.*

*[Footnote.] See Chapter 6.

There being no safe ford, a makeshift boat was constructed with the aid of the serviceable tarpaulin, and the Hume was crossed, close to the site of the present town of Albury. Still passing through good pastoral land, watered by numerous creeks, they crossed a river which was named the Ovens, and on the 3rd of December they came to another, named by them the Hovell, but now called the Goulburn; and on the 16th of December they reached their goal, the shore of the Southern Ocean, at the spot where Geelong now stands.

This expedition had a great and immediate influence on the extension of Australian settlement. Within a few years after the chief surveyor had characterised the western interior, beyond a certain limit, as unfitted for human habitation, and had expressed his opinion that the monotonous flats across which he vainly looked for any elevation extended to the sea-coast, snowy mountains, feeding the head tributaries of perennial rivers had been discovered to the southward of his track.

Hume was exceptionally fitted for the work of exploration at this particular juncture in colonial history. Born and reared in the land, he was well competent to judge justly of its merits and demerits; his opinion was not likely to be tainted by the prejudices formed and nourished in other and different climes. The history of Australian exploration was then a statement of hasty conclusions, formed perhaps under certain climatic circumstances to be falsified on a subsequent visit when the conditions were radically different. In Hume's case, there was no ill-founded conclusion of the availability of the freshly-discovered district. The journey just recorded at once added to the British Colonial Empire millions of acres of arable land watered by never-failing rivers, with a climate and altitude calculated to foster the growth of almost every species of temperate fruit or grain.

It is to be regretted that the narration of an expedition fraught with so much benefit to the young colony, and executed with so much courage, endurance, and facility of resource should be marred by any discordant note. But friendly and genial relations were endangered by the presence of two independent leaders. Divided authority here, as it nearly always does, caused petty and undignified squabbles, which were in later days elaborated into unseemly paper conflict. It is painful if somewhat amusing to read of the acrid disputes as to the course, under the very shadow of the majestic Australian Alps whose solitude had only then been first disturbed by white men; and how, on agreeing to separate and divide the outfit, it was proposed to cut the only tent in two, and how the one frying-pan was broken by both men pulling at it. Thomas Boyd, who was the only survivor of the party in 1883, and was then eighty-six years old, signed a document assigning to Hume the full credit of conducting the expedition to safety. Boyd was one of the most active members of the expedition, always to the front when there was any trying work to be done. He was the first white man to cross the Hume River, swimming over with the end of a line in his teeth.

After Hume's return he lived for some time quietly on his farm, until the call of the wild drew him forth from his retirement to join Sturt in his first battle with the wilderness. His temporary association with that explorer will find its due place in the account of that expedition.* He died at Yass, near the scene of one of his early exploits.

*[Footnote.] See Charles Sturt. 6.2. The Darling.