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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Favenc, Ernest (1845–1908)

by H. J. Gibbney

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Ernest Favenc (1845-1908), explorer, journalist and historian, was born on 21 October 1845 at Walworth, Surrey, England, son of Abraham George Favenc, merchant, and his wife Emma, née Jones. Educated at the Werderscher Gymnasium in Berlin and at Temple College, Cowley, Oxfordshire, he arrived in Sydney in 1864. After a year in Sydney he went to a pastoral run near Bowen; for the next fourteen years he worked on stations in North Queensland and occasionally wrote for the Queenslander. Late in 1877, when the Queenslander's proprietors planned an expedition to prove the practicability of a transcontinental railway to Darwin, Favenc was selected as leader. With O'Malley, Hedley, Briggs and an Aboriginal, he left Blackall in July 1878 and reached Darwin in February 1879; the publication of his reports won him repute and soon afterwards he settled in Sydney where on 15 November 1880 he married Elizabeth Jane Matthews.

Favenc's expert bushcraft and unique knowledge of Queensland were valuable for pastoral investors and he was offered a partnership by De Salis Bros, who aimed at extending their interests into the Northern Territory. Late in 1881 Favenc left Sydney to establish a station for the company on Creswell Creek and in 1882, with Hedley, explored a large area from the overland telegraph line to Creswell Creek. He also made attempts to reach the Gulf of Carpentaria along the rivers east of the station but failed. In February 1883 he successfully offered the South Australian government a report on the country watered by the Macarthur River. He left Powell's Creek on 28 May 1883 with Lindsay Crawford, sometime an overland telegraph officer, and an assistant. They reached the Macarthur's headwaters and by following its course found the only practical road to the gulf. They then returned to the telegraph line by a more northerly track, reaching Daly Waters on 15 July.

On his return to Sydney Favenc's failure to win a magistracy in the Northern Territory and the approaching centenary of New South Wales inspired him to undertake his first major work. His History of Australian Exploration 1788-1888, supported by the New South Wales government, was a great success and remains a useful reference. While it was printed he visited Western Australia and wrote Western Australia. Its Past History. Its Present Trade and Resources. Its Future Position; this shallow, hasty compilation failed to justify its pretentious title. The government refused any financial assistance but the book helped Favenc to secure a commission from an English syndicate to examine pastoral land in the north-west. He arrived at Geraldton in March 1888 and with two companions spent some months on the upper Gascoyne and Ashburton Rivers. The expedition's report appeared in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society in 1889 but his reminiscent articles in the Sydney press were described by West Australians as 'a burlesque and a libel on reality'. In Sydney Favenc worked for the Evening News and published five books of fiction and one of verse between 1893 and 1905. They were competent, uninspired and often melodramatic but his faithful portrayals of inland Australia secured him a place in Australian literature.

Favenc was a romantic who could attribute the bad luck on his 1883 expedition to loss of a mending kit made by his wife. In spite of failing health, he talked of more exploration but died in Sydney on 14 November 1908, survived by his wife and daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • Evening News (Sydney), 16 Nov 1908
  • Town and Country Journal, 18 Nov 1908
  • CSO 3554/87 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Northern Territory files, 1884, 1886 (State Records of South Australia)
  • manuscript catalogue under Ernest Favenc (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'Favenc, Ernest (1845–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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