Hamilton Hume and William Hovell - The Explorers’ Ride - CycleBlaze

May 14, 2024

Hamilton Hume and William Hovell

A 16 week excursion back in 1824

What’s In A Road Name?

In the northern suburbs of Canberra, there’s an arterial road called William Hovell Drive. And not far from Canberra, about 70km away, there’s The Hume Highway. It’s the main motorway linking Australia’s two most populous cities Sydney and Melbourne.

Who were Hume and Hovell and what did they do to deserve to have long strips of asphalt named after them?

In 1824, about 36 years after the British had occupied Sydney Cove to establish a penal colony, the then NSW Governor Thomas Brisbane commissioned an expedition to find an overland route from NSW to Westernport Bay Victoria on the south coast of the Australian mainland. Near where modern day Melbourne is.

The expedition leaders were 27 year old Hamilton Hume, an Australian born bushman, and Royal Navy Captain William Hovell aged 38.

On 17 October 1824 they departed as a party of 6 men, 2 wagons, 5 bullocks and 3 horses from Hume’s farm near Gunning, about 70km north of Canberra.

On 16 December 1824, they reached Port Phillip Bay. On 18 January 1825, 16 weeks after they’d departed Gunning, they arrived back at Hume’s farm at Gunning.

Of course Hume & Hovell  didn’t discover anything new because Aboriginal people had already lived in the region for tens of thousands of years. So the land which Hume & Hovell’s party travelled through in late 1824  was already owned, managed and well discovered. 

What Hume & Hovell did do that hadn’t been done before, was document their route and communicate it to other European colonists in hardcopy publications. Their journey also assured other colonists that the Australian inland wasn’t an impenetrable wilderness, which was the prevailing impression among most Europeans at the time.

Indeed contrary to the wilderness myth, Hume & Hovell reported back to the colonists that there were lush grasslands suitable for grazing sheep and cattle. With the advantage of hindsight, the grassy woodlands were not really surprising because Aboriginal people had used fire for millennia to maintain grassy woodlands which in turn supported populations of kangaroos and emus and other staple foods.

Route as described in Hovell’s journal. Their expedition termination at Port Phillip in Dec 1824.
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Extract from “Hume and Hovell Expedition Termination” by Lance Pritchard (2nd Ed)
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