Hamilton Hume (19 June 1797 – 19 April 1873) was an early explorer of the present-day Australian states of New South Wales and Victoria. In 1824, along with William Hovell, Hume participated in an expedition that first took an overland route from Sydney to Port Phillip (near the site of present-day Melbourne). Along with Sturt in 1828, he was part of an expedition of the first Europeans to discover the Darling River.
Hume was the eldest son of Andrew Hamilton Hume and his wife Elizabeth, née Kennedy. Andrew Hume got the appointment of Commissary-General for New South Wales, and came out to the colony in 1797. There were few opportunities for education in Australia during the first ten years of the nineteenth century, and Hamilton Hume received most of his education from his mother.
He was born on 19 June 1797. When only 17 years of age, Hume began exploring the country beyond Sydney with his younger brother John and an Aboriginal boy as far to the south-west as Berrima, and soon developed into a good bushman. In 1817, Hume went on a journey with James Meehan, the deputy surveyor-general, and Charles Throsby during which Lake Bathurst and the Goulburn Plains were discovered. Subsequently in 1818, he went with John Oxley and Meehan to Jervis Bay.
In 1822, he journeyed with Alexander Berry down the south coast of New South Wales. He travelled as far south as the Clyde River, and inland nearly as far as Braidwood. Berry came to settle in the Shoalhaven, and in June 1822 he left Hume and a party of convicts to cut a 209-yard canal between the Shoalhaven River and the Crookhaven River to allow passage of boats into the Shoalhaven. This canal was Australia's first navigable canal, and the work was completed in 12 days. The canal today forms the main water flow of the Shoalhaven River.
Hume and Hovell expedition
In 1824, Hume was seen by Governor Brisbane with reference to an expedition to Spencer Gulf. Brisbane was also in touch about this time with William Hovell on the same subject, but it is not quite clear which of the men was the first to be approached. In any event, the hoped-for government funding of the expedition was not forthcoming, so that eventually the two men decided to make the journey at their own expense, except for some packsaddles, arms, clothes and blankets, which were provided from government stores.
Hume, in a letter dated 24 January 1825, (immediately after the return of the explorers), practically claimed to have been the leader of the party. He refers to "the expedition your Excellency was pleased to entrust to my care". But Brisbane did not accept this view of it, as in a letter to the secretary, Wilmot Horton, dated 24 March 1825 he mentions the "discovery of new and valuable country . . . by two young men Messrs Hovell and Hume . . . they were directed by me to try and reach Spencer's Gulf". It may also be pointed out that in the letter to Brisbane of 28 July 1824, Hovell signed first. These facts are of interest in view of the controversy which broke out many years later.
Each of the explorers brought three assigned servants with him and between them they had five bullocks, three horses and two carts. Nearly the whole of the journey was through heavy mountain country, and there were several rivers to be crossed. The courage, resource and bushmanship of Hume were important factors in surmounting their many difficulties, and after a journey of 11 weeks they came to Corio Bay near the present site of Geelong. Here, possibly through faulty instruments, Hovell made a mistake of one degree longitude in his observation, and they believed that they were on the shore of Western Port. The return journey for some time was made on a course more to the west, the country was more level, and they were back at their starting point less than five weeks later. Their provisions were finished just before the end of the journey, and the whole party was very near exhaustion. Hume and Hovell each received grants of 1,200 acres (4.9 km2) of land, an inadequate reward for discoveries of great importance made by an expedition which, practically speaking, paid its own expenses. This expedition discovered the overland route between Sydney and Port Phillip, on whose shores Melbourne now stands.
Discovery of the Darling River
In November 1828, Hume journeyed with Charles Sturt into western New South Wales, where they discovered the Darling River, the Murray River's longest tributary. Hume was able to communicate with some aborigines they met early in their journey who consented to act as guides, and later, when the aborigines left them, Sturt speaks with appreciation of Hume's ability in tracking their animals which had strayed. Being a drought year, it was a constant struggle to find water, and only good bushmanship saved the party. Sturt would have liked Hume to go with him on his second expedition, which started at the end of 1829, but he had a harvest to get in and was unable to make arrangements. Hume had finished his work as an explorer, and spent his remaining days as a successful pastoralist.
Controversy with Hovell
In December 1853, an imperfect report of a speech Hovell had made at Geelong was the cause of a great deal of public ill-feeling between the two men. Hume had always regarded himself as the real leader of their joint expedition, and his indignation lost all bounds at the thought of Hovell minimising his share in the work. Fuller reports of the speech show that this was not the case, but the vehemency of Hume and his friends at the time led to the work of Hovell being underrated for a long period. Hume published in 1855 A Brief Statement of Facts in Connection with an Overland Expedition from Lake George to Port Phillip in 1824, which went into three editions. Hovell published two pamphlets Reply to "A Brief Statement of Facts in Connection with an Overland Expedition from Lake George to Port Phillip in 1824", and an Answer to the Preface to the Second Edition of Mr Hamilton Hume's "A Brief Statement of Facts", (for a balanced discussion of the merits of the case see paper by professor Sir Ernest Scott in Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. VII).
Hume was an excellent explorer and a first-rate bushman who was courageous and resourceful, whose work was not adequately appreciated or rewarded by the governments of the time. In addition to his other talents, Hume acquired a substantial knowledge of some of the local Aboriginal people, was always able to avoid conflicts with them, and appears to have learnt something of their speech. He has an established and well-deserved reputation as a great Australian explorer.
Hume served as a magistrate in Yass until his death at his residence, Cooma Cottage in Yass on 19 April 1873. A double seater buggy once owned by Hume and used by him in Yass is in the National Museum of Australia collection in Canberra.
Hume is commemorated by the Hume Highway, the principal road between Sydney and Melbourne. Hume and Hovell were also commemorated by having their portraits printed on the Australian one-pound banknote between 1953 and 1966. Hume Dam and the impounded reservoir, Lake Hume, were named in his honour in 1996. The Canberra suburb of Hume was named after him, as was the federal electoral Division of Hume. The City of Hume, an outer metropolitan council in Melbourne formed in 1994, is named in his honour.
In 1976 a postage stamp bearing the portraits of Hume and Hovell was issued by Australia Post. The Hume and Hovell Track, a 440 kilometres (270 mi) trail between Yass and Albury, also bears their joint names.
- "The Late Mr. Hamilton Hume.". Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW : 1870 – 1907). NSW: National Library of Australia. 17 May 1873. p. 9. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- "THE LATE MR. HAMILTON HUME.". Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875). Sydney, NSW: National Library of Australia. 21 May 1873. p. 4. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- "HUME, THE EXPLORER.". Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers (Melbourne, Vic. : 1867 – 1875). Melbourne, Vic.: National Library of Australia. 20 May 1873. p. 1 Supplement: SUPPLEMENT TO THE ILLUSTRATED AUSTRALIAN NEWS. Retrieved 29 April 2012.
- Shoalhaven City Council. "On this day" (PDF). Retrieved 23 October 2009.
- "Family Notices". The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser. 17 November 1825. p. 5.
- Double seater buggy once owned by the explorer Hamilton Hume, National Museum of Australia
- "Hume Dam". Water Resources: Water Storages: Murray. Goulburn-Murray Water. 2013. Retrieved 19 April 2013.
- "Lake Hume". Geographical Names Register (GNR) of NSW. Geographical Names Board of New South Wales. Retrieved 19 April 2013.
- Serle, Percival (1949). "Hume, Hamilton". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 11 August 2009.