I had the good fortune to be asked to research the story of Australia’s Camden Harbour, and more particularly for me, that of my forbear Daniel Hick, and put it in a book. It sold modestly well in its first 1990 edition, by University of Western Australia Press, and I thought that was the end of it.
But I’d get calls from people asking where they could find a copy. And then bookshops in Perth and the Kimberley started asking. I hadn’t reckoned on the big growth in tourism over in the west. So now I ‘ve now done four editions and several reprints and I hope that’s the end of it. But who knows?
We of the 21st century like to think we are big travellers. But we had nothing on the people of the mid-1800s. In December 1851, Daniel sailed into Port Phillip 13 days after the Eureka rebellion, as a gold-seeker. He buried his brother soon after (Joseph had died as they sailed into the bay), then headed for Bendigo, not Eureka’s Ballarat.
But the results of the Eureka settlement won him the right to vote, something he had not had as a carpenter in England. Daniel went on to other adventures – not the least of which was to take part in the attempted settlement at Camden Harbour, high up in the Kimberley.
It was another of the glorious failures of Australian exploration. But still it opened the way for others, including the Duracks and similar families. And now hundreds of tourists follow in their footsteps each dry season.
Amazing country it is. The huge Prince Regent River running straight as a die, south-east to north-west. The green, scooped-out valleys explored by George Grey and Franklin Lushington. All very similar to the land that Daniel Hick and his 120 fellow travellers explored.
Of course, we – the Hick clan and its hangers-on – were not alone at Camden Harbour. Descendants of other members of the party and its three ships were in touch with me from the time the book was published. The descendants of Aboriginal people in the immediate area seem to be widely dispersed now but some have stories of the white settlers’ attempt at settlement.
Among the settlers was George Harrison, whose grandson, Jack Harrison, wrote from Mortlake. Another descendant was in touch recently from Perth. George ended up in a farm on the side of Mount Porndon, at Pomborneit, near Colac, Victoria.
Timothy Hooley, a young tearaway from the Western District of Victoria, was also on the journey. His great grandson Glenn Goddard was in contact from Malvern East, in Melbourne. Hooley himself retired to Switzerland after some sort of financial scandal and died there in 1903. Another story?
Beryl Horne wrote from Lindfield, New South Wales because her grandfather John Richards accompanied his father to Camden Habour as a nine-year-old.
Alex McRae was another bright young man on the trip. He came from Portland, where his father settled after a spell in Tasmania. Alex signed up for a share in 80 sheep. (There were no sheep left by the time the scheme collapsed in searing temperatures 10 months later). But Alex went on to be a member of parliament in Western Australia. His great nephew was in touch from WA.
The book also aroused the interest of John Bompas, in the UK, whose relative, Charles Bompas, was the rather odd medical officer attached to the venture. Charles, it turned out, made his way from Bristol originally, then as medical officer on an emigration vessel (read The Floating Brothel, by Sian Rees, for some idea of that work, at least as it was administered among convicts).
Bompas claimed that staying at Camden Harbour meant he missed a vessel home to England and so had to stay in the west, where he continued to show a fondness for the bottle, as he had at Camden. His relative said drily: “I reckon he could be called the black sheep of the family at the time.”
Lyn Hindhaugh, of Melbourne, had a forbear, Jacob, from Portland. He did some exploring with Daniel, getting back down towards Wyndham, quite a feat for anyone. Lyn stood on the ground at Camden Harbour. I see Jacob’s diary is available for research in Melbourne.
Great stuff. Let alone the blog of Graeme Gee, a descendant of the tragic Constable Gee and family of Camden Harbour.
Some years back my mother, Dorothy (Hick), organised a get-together of more than 200 descendants of Daniel Hick to celebrate his birth and later adventures. The crowd was from all over Australia and New Zealand. Just one (widespread) family helping make up the history of the nation, as do the families of all other Australians.