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Hovenden Hely (1823–1872)

by Ken Elford

This article was published:

Hovenden Hely (1823-1872), explorer, landowner and politician, was born at Tullamore, King's County, Ireland, son of Frederick Augustus Hely and his wife Georgina Susannah Lindsay, née Bucknell. As an infant he went with his family to Sydney. Educated under W. T. Cape and at The King's School, Parramatta, he worked for two years as a clerk in the Colonial Secretary's Office. In 1841 under the trustees he managed his father's estates near Brisbane Water and Wyong, in which he inherited at 21 a fifth share. In 1857 his sister's marriage settlement necessitated a private Act, Mrs Mann's Trust Act, to enable the trustees to sell part of the estate. Although described by Ludwig Leichhardt as a 'likeable idler', Hely joined his unsuccessful expedition of 1846-47. Leichhardt later accused him of disloyalty and dereliction of duty, after Hely and his relation, John Frederick Mann, had also disgusted Leichhardt 'with their bawdy filthy conversations or with their constant harping on fine eating and drinking'. Mann's published account of the expedition in 1888 accused Leichhardt of incompetence but did not dispel the charges against Hely. In December 1851 Hely was appointed head of the official search for Leichhardt after the original appointee had drowned, but revealed little imaginative leadership. According to the Empire in 1864, the expedition 'established nothing whatever'.

In 1856-57 Hely represented Northumberland and Hunter in the first Legislative Assembly. He was an ineffective politician with a record of assisting relations by patronage. In 1858 before a trip to England Hely borrowed heavily on his property. At Clapton, Somerset, he married Mary Gertrude Church in 1859. His financial problems did not abate after they returned and in 1860 he again borrowed heavily. In July 1862, after fourteen years on the Gosford bench, Hely and three other local magistrates were dismissed after an inquiry into a public display of ill feeling between them that had influenced their legal decisions. In 1865 Hely was declared bankrupt, but he received his certificate of discharge in 1868 after claiming that iron ore and coal were discovered on his property. He died aged 49 on 8 October 1872 at Branthwaite, the home of Rev. William Branwhite Clarke. He was buried in St Thomas's Church of England cemetery, North Sydney. He was survived by his wife to whom he had left £700 in goods, and by six sons and a daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • J. F Mann, Eight Months with Dr. Leichhardt, in the Years 1846-47 (Syd, 1888)
  • Empire (Sydney), 17 May 1856, 20 June 1864
  • Queenslander, 15 Dec 1900
  • Truth (Sydney), 30 Apr 1911
  • P. P. King papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • insolvency file, 7038 (State Records New South Wales).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Ken Elford, 'Hely, Hovenden (1823–1872)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Tullamore, Offaly, Ireland


8 October, 1872 (aged ~ 49)
North Shore, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

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