Early Australian Explorers – Hume and Hovell

Hume and Hovells 1824 expedition is shown by the broken line

Hamilton Hume and William Hovell earned their place in the history of Australia as the explorers who first made the journey southwards from Sydney to the Port Phillip Region, near the site of current-day Geelong.

Explorers’ Backgrounds

Hamilton Hume was born in New South Wales in 1797, the son of a convict supervisor. As a young man, he explored the country south-west of Sydney including the area around Yass, where he became a squatter on a large property.

William Hovell was 11 years older than Hume and had been born in England, where he later became a ship’s captain. He migrated to New South Wales in 1813, firstly setting up as a merchant before eventually settling on a property outside Sydney.

The pair joined forces in 1824, when Governor Brisbane was keen to find if the large unmapped lands between the Canberra district and the Southern Ocean were suitable for settlement. Hamilton Hume and William Hovell took up the challenge and even financed much of the project themselves when the Governor would allocate them only limited resources.

Exploration Journey Begins

The expedition set out on 3 October 1824. They followed a route roughly following today’s Hume Highway – later named in honour of the explorer. Their goal was Westernport Bay, the nearest known point on the southern coastline.

Battling thick scrub, flooded rivers (including the Murray) and mountainous peaks, the explorers made amazing progress in the unknown country. With the help of six convicts and two ox-driven carts, they reached the sea at Corio Bay nearly three months later.

The explorers were impressed with the potential of this region for agriculture, and then returned northwards. They arrived home in January after their 2000-kilometre exploration.

However, the remarkable feat in reaching the southern coast was marred by a mistake in navigation. Both Hume and Hovell believed that had finished their southward journey at Westernport Bay, nearly 150 kilometres to the east of their actual position at Corio Bay.

On the basis of Hume and Hovell’s reports, a settlement party was sent from Sydney to Westernport in 1826. Arriving at the true Westernport site, the party found poor water and poor soil and the settlement was abandoned. William Hovell was with this group, and he then realised the earlier calculations had been wrong.

New Australian Settlements Emerge

However, the otherwise accurate nature of Hume and Hovell’s reports and charts led to further exploration and the settlement of southern Australia over the next two decades.

Indeed, only 14 years after their arrival at Corio Bay, the township of Geelong was proclaimed.

By 1853, Geelong had grown to a thriving city of some 20,000 people due to the gold rush and the growing agricultural industry in the newly-proclaimed Colony of Victoria.


  1. Wynd, Ian Geelong the Pivot Cypress Books, Melbourne (1971)
  2. Clark, Manning History of Australia Penguin, Melbourne (1996)
  3. Peel, Geoff “Explorers” in Geelong Advertiser, 14 April 2003