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The frying pan fight

Even the most accomplished figures run into some ridiculous predicaments – none more prevalent than renowned Australian explorers Hamilton Hume and William Hovell, and their frying pan fight in 1824.

While Indigenous people had a strong, spiritual connection with the land, things proved to be trickier for European settlers. The early days of the colony saw Australia’s vast landscape remain largely unmapped and unexplored by the British. With the New South Wales colony itching to expand, there was only one thing to do: explore the path less travelled.

In 1824, Sir Thomas Brisbane, Governor of New South Wales, commissioned experienced explorer Hamilton Hume and former Royal Navy Captain William Hovell to lead a new expedition to discover more of Australia. At the time, much of the colony was situated around the coastline, and Governor Brisbane wanted to find new grazing land for livestock south of the colony, as well as to uncover the mysteries of where the colony’s inland rivers flowed. Hume was chosen for the expedition as he had experience exploring the Australian outback. Hovell, however, was less experienced, but was chosen after discovering the Burragorang Valley in 1823. 

Hume and Hovell were joined by six other men in their expedition, and the group was given a range of supplies by Governor Brisbane, including 2.7 kilograms of gunpowder, 544 kilograms of flour, 158 kilograms of pork and 3.6 kilograms of tobacco. Other than the supplies, it is believed that the expedition was privately funded.

On top of this, both Hume and Hovell did not get along. This tension came to a head only three weeks after the group departed on their expedition. On 24 October 1824, the group would have to navigate crossing some mountains, and two men began to argue over the best route to take. The group ended up splitting – some men taking Hume’s side, and others taking Hovell’s. What resulted was a literal tug of war, with the two explorers dividing their assets. They first cut a tent in half, before fighting bitterly over a frying pan – which broke in their hands. In an act of stubbornness, one man took the frying pan’s handle, and the other took the pan itself.

Despite this, the pan and handle came back together once Hovell realised he had made a navigational mistake. The rest of the journey was thwarted by a rivalry between the two men – with them often splitting up and reuniting, or racing each other to certain destinations. Regardless, the expedition proved to be of some success, with the group descending into Victoria via Albury, discovering the Murray River and reaching Port Phillip Bay. They eventually made it back to Sydney in January 1825, and were rewarded by Governor Brisbane; however, Hovell had made a crucial navigational mistake. The former sea captain had incorrectly identified Corio Bay, near Geelong, as Western Port Bay, near Phillip Island. This error was not uncovered until 18 months later, and both men were publicly rebuked.

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