Journal of a Journey, Joseph Hawdon


The full name of the journal (as you can see) is: The Journal of a Journey from New South Wales to Adelaide Performed in 1838 by Mr Joseph Hawdon. It’s a slender hardback of 66pp, published in 1952, so 114 years after it was written, from mss in the SA State Archive, the Mitchell Library (NSW), and in the possession of the family. My father has inscribed his name on the flyleaf and the year 1959.

Joseph Hawdon (1813-1871) was an early settler in Port Phillip (now Melbourne), the first to drive cattle overland from the north (from around Gundagai maybe, on the Murrumbidgee), he established the first overland mail service between Melbourne and Sydney, and he was, as he describes in this journal, the first to travel overland between Melbourne and Adelaide.

Hawdon arrived in Sydney from England in 1834, joining his elder brother John who had already established himself with properties at Cowpastures (outside Sydney, and presumably neighbouring the Macarthurs) and then at Bateman’s Bay, though at the time of this journal John was on their Howlong property on the ‘Hume’ (the Murray). In 1836, “Soon after my arrival at Port Phillip, I formed a cattle station midway between that Settlement and Western Port” (at Dandenong according to ADB).

Hawdon writes, “Towards the end of last year (1837) I determined on making the arduous experiment of driving Cattle, for the first time since the colonization of New Holland, from Eastern to Southern Australia …”. His journey took him northeast from Port Phillip, then west following the Murray (map). Along the whole way he encountered local Indigenous people and relations were generally friendly.

My map of major Aboriginal languages (here) shows all of central and western Victoria belonging to the same family. I have sourced a more detailed map (here), and the SA section of the AIATSIS map (here). I’m sorry that’s the best I can do to name the people whose country Hawdon and his party passed through. Hawdon writes that he talked to the locals and his comments accord with my map of major languages – “The languages of these tribes [west of L.Bonney in SA] is different from that of the tribes near the junction of the Murrumbidgee [north of Swan Hill], and the people are of a much milder and more friendly disposition.” Lake Bonney was known to the locals as Nookamka, “but in virtue of my privilege as its first European discoverer” he named it after his travelling companion Charles Bonney.

Hawdon speaks to Aboriginal people all along the way, but fears them too, often waving his gun at or shooting near them, though funnily enough the person who came nearest to being shot was Hawdon himself when one of his men in fear of his life took a shot at a charging bullock, and missed, the ball grazing Hawdon’s chest.

Setting out on Jan. 1 from his own station, 17 miles SE of the Port Phillip Settlement, “crossing a small range of hills, wooded with stringy-bark, the rest of the journey [to Melbourne] was through an open forest well covered with grass”. Think of that next time you’re on the Monash Freeway.

Jan. 2. Breakfasted with Captain Lonsdale, the Police Magistrate, who also lent him a dray. Then set off in company with the Postman. Picked up Bonney at “Mercer’s Vale” (Beveridge) and crossed over the Great Divide (at Pretty Sally I guess), arriving at the Goulburn River on Jan. 5. Took 2 more days to reach Howlong, near Albury, on the north side of the Murray. There the postman exchanged mail bags with the postman down from Yass. So the overland mail service, which Hawdon instigated, involved three 180 mile stages – Sydney-Yass by coach, then Yass-Howlong and Howlong-Melbourne.

Selecting cattle from the herd which he and his brother ran at Howlong, he swam them back over the river which he describes as being 100 yards wide with a strong current. I’ve swum in the river above Albury and that’s much wider than I remember but I’m sure the Hume Weir upstream makes a big difference.

They return to the Goulburn River, battling sand and lightning storms. He never says he regrets making the trip mid summer but he may well have. A bit of winter rain would have made the long sandy stretches later in the journey much more manageable, and would also have meant more feed for the cattle. Bonney has 1,200 sheep, which some days later escape in the night and make their own way home.

Finally, on Jan. 22, they set out. Following the Goulburn and then the Murray, though staying a bit south as they cross the Campaspe and the Loddon. Near present day Mildura they use a sandbar to cross to the north side of the river and then almost immediately come on the confluence with the Darling (much of this country was ‘known’, having been reported on by Major Mitchell after his expeditions of 1835 and ’36) which they ford without difficulty, on March 1.

On March 4 he ‘discovers’ a lake which he names Victoria and which I didn’t know existed (there’s no road north of this section the Murray). The country is mostly rolling sandhills and the only feed for the cattle is the reeds along the river. Further along, he is separated from the river by high – he says 200-300 ft – limestone cliffs and each night must find a pass down to get the cattle to water.

By Mar 10 they are in South Australia and ‘discover’ Lake Bonney. When the river turns south (Overland Corner) they start looking out for the ranges which separate them from Adelaide. At Mt Barker, Hawdon can see across to Lake Alexandrina (through which the Murray drains to the sea) and then they must conduct the cattle down the precipitate slopes of Mt Lofty to present day Noarlunga and so on to Adelaide (settled a couple of years earlier) 20 miles back up the coast.

I won’t stretch your patience by including quotes, but Hawdon’s descriptions of the country he passes through, of the plentiful birds, fish and kangaroos, and of the people he encounters nearly every day make this a book well worth seeking out – especially for Victorians and South Australians who will recognise many of his descriptions.

For Hawdon’s history after 1838 an excellent starting point is Janine Rizzetti (The Resident Judge)’s alternative blog Banyule Homestead (here), as Hawdon was its original owner.


Joseph Hawdon, The Journal of a Journey from New South Wales to Adelaide, Georgian House, Melbourne, 1952

On Feb. 22 Hawdon recorded: “On the opposite bank of the river in front of our tent, were a tribe of Blacks having their bodies painted in white streaks… I think this might have been part of the tribe that attacked Major Mitchell in 1836.” The date accords with Hawdon being in the region of Mt Dispersion, between Robinvale and Red Cliffs, where Mitchell ambushed and killed Aborigines he said were threatening him. I plan to look into this in a future post.

15 thoughts on “Journal of a Journey, Joseph Hawdon

  1. “My father has inscribed his name on the flyleaf and the year 1959.” – I love this: this is why I write my name and the date and where I bought the book. Even better: buying a second-hand book that already has others’ names in it.

    Great review, I’ve not been following your blog very long but I very much like the respect and balance you bring in by referring to your language map, etc. I do like an older travel narrative but there is obviously that tug between “different times” and now that sometimes proves too much and sometimes can be redressed with a bit of additional information or a different perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Liz, glad to have another commenter. Dad always wrote his name in his books. I have his collection now including books his father put his name in more than 100 years ago. For “christening” presents I gave each of my grandchildren a book that he had written my name in on the 1950s, so I hope some of them make the 100 and 200 year marks.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I was lucky – my brothers took the books they wanted particularly, but left me with the bulk of Dad’s collection. I have 15 boxes of war books I might never open, but also whats left of both my grandfathers’ books, lots of Australiana, Scott, Dumas, more than I’ll ever get to. Our fathers were of similar ages, so when you’re in Perth you must come and fill some of the gaps in the old-fashioned end of your TBR.


  2. Loved this – I am especially interested in the aboriginal information especially any thing that refers to the DJA DJA WURRUNG. There is an exhibition of there artifacts at Bendigp Art Gallery at present, which have been recovered after 150 years in other places.


    • Glad to see you here Kay. I couldn’t find a link to the exhibition but found this interview (Dja Dja Warrung Story), from which I took:

      You talk about Jaara and Dja Dja Wurrung – are they of the same group or are they two different clans?

      Yes, they are the same group. The best way to probably explain it is that Dja Dja Wurrung is actually the language group name. If you were asked what language you spoke you would say Dja Dja Wurrung, but if someone said what mob or what group are you from you would say Jaara. It’s the same with the Yorta Yorta people. Yorta Yorta is the language group, but all the Yorta Yorta people are called Wongis, that’s part of their identity.

      I’m embarrassed to say that despite having spent half my life in Victoria, I’m completely unsure as to what people the word Koori applies, or if there is even any one word for the Indigenous people of Victoria, or the central part of Victoria.


  3. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, I’m more behind than I thought. As you know, I have a collection of old books from my Aunt’s place – not many but a few treasures that you’ll have seen occasionally on my Monday Musings posts.

    I always wrote my name and year in my books (and if they were given to me I’d often say from whom and the event eg Xmas 1983.) I’ve been less assiduous lately for some reason – and rarely do it for review copies I’m sent.

    BTW I liked this: “Lake Bonney was known to the locals as Nookamka, “but in virtue of my privilege as its first European discoverer” he named it after his travelling companion Charles Bonney.” I like the fact that he qualified himself as “first European discover”. How many thought that in those days?


    • I think more thought it in the early days than later on. As Scott points out in (or in connection with) That Deadman Dance, the early settlers were outnumbered by local Aboriginals. Many of them (whites) seemed to take a keen interest as well, eg Tench but many others too. Hawdon after only a couple of years was able to converse as he travelled and doesn’t think that is remarkable. My first thought at that quote was What cheek, but as you say at least he acknowledges the lake’s earlier name.


      • My point too was that he admits that he’s the “first EUROPEAN” to discover the lake. I know about Tench, Lieutenant Dawes etc who showed keen interest. But in my reading of explorer journals, while I’ve seen some positive attitudes to indigenous people. I’m not sure I’ve seen the awareness that he’s not “the” first to discover a place but the “first European” articulated so clearly?


  4. Hello Liz,
    My husband’s first Australian convict William Freeman arrived SA overland in 1838. It appears he accompanied Joseph Hawdon on his overland trip from NSW to Adelaide. He was assigned to John Hawdon at Bateman’s Bay and received his pardon prior to the 1838 trip. As an ex convict he is not mentioned in the Journal. William had been convicted as a young 13 year old for stealing a piece of cheese his second conviction so received 7 years transportation. His family did well and became excellent farmers in the Echuca and Gippsland areas.
    Kind Regards,
    Leonie Freeman.


  5. […] I chose Claire Coleman for “Free” because I got to it first, but as I scanned my reviews I must say I was tempted by Behrouz Boochani, No Friend but the Mountains (here) and Rosaleen Love, The Total Devotion Machine (here). I’m sorry about the empty SA. The last I can remember reading, and I recommend it, is Cassie Flanagan Willanski’s, Here Where We Live (here) from 2016. Though I did review Joseph Hawdon’s Journal of a Journey from NSW to Adelaide (in 1837) a year and a week ago (here). […]


  6. My late father had the Hawdon and Bonney journal reprinted with permission. Can be obtained from me (Margaret Kain) 0414951919. Small book which can be posted.


  7. Thanks for commenting Margaret. I hope you get some interest. My copy has ended up in a box somewhere which my son has in semi-permanent storage. I’ll text you about buying a copy for one of my brothers.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s