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Charles (Carl, Karl) Alexander Anselm von Hügel (1795-1870)
An appeal for information on
unpublished travel journals
Baron Charles von Hügel (1795-1870)
- Austrian soldier, diplomat, courtier, horticulturist and scholar.
[A book review excerpted from the ANU REPORTER No 3 1995
Life of Charles von Hugel a unique Austrian view of early colonial Australia
by D W A Baker*
Dymphna Clark (trans. and ed.), Baron Charles von Hugel, New Holland Journal November
1833-October 1834, Miegunyah Press, 1994
Dymphna Clark's edition of Hugel's New Holland Journal stands alongside her late husband
Manning Clark's work as an important contribution to the understanding of our past.
Charles von Hugel, 1795-1870, was an Austrian diplomat, army officer and courtier, whose
great passion in life was botany. He established famous botanical gardens on his estate just
outside Vienna. He was engaged to be married to a beautiful young countess, only to see her
pinched by Prince Metternich.
For consolation, he set out in 1831 on a six-year world tour, coming to Western Australia in
November 1833 and leaving Sydney in October 1834. He was not a man of the common people
and hobnobbed in New South Wales with the Macarthurs, the Blaxlands and the Macleays. He
was well equipped to describe colonial society, being intelligent, well educated, well connected
and so fluent in English that the Commandant of Norfolk Island thought he was a British naval
Dymphna Clark's translation of Hugel's Journal is a splendid book in five ways.
First, it is a lovely book physically. The paper is thick, the print is bold, the margins are
generous. There are 17 pages of coloured plates and 57 black and white illustrations which nicely
illuminate the text.
Secondly, it is the epitome of scholarship. It has 10 pages of bibliography and it has a botanical
index prepared by Dr Roger Hnatiuk. There is a biographical index identifying individuals in the
Journal and there is a very detailed and well arranged general index prepared by Jan and Frank
In addition, there are 202 footnotes. Some of these are botanical and come from Dr Hnatiuk, but
most are Mrs Clark's and are used to identify people or places, to point to sources Hugel's used
or quoted from, to cite other sources (often contemporary newspapers) which confirm, modify or
correct what Hugel wrote, or, perhaps, to explain an obscurity by referring to a Schiller ballad or
an incident in Hugel's family life.
The scholarship, in short, is of the highest order.
Thirdly, the translation from the German manuscript seems to me to be superb. I think we are apt
to forget that translation is an art and that it is very difficult to make a very good translation and
impossible to make a perfect one. I am not competent to judge the literal accuracy of Dymphna
Clark's translation, though knowing her, I am confident that it is very high. But I can tell that she
has produced a marvellously readable text - one that doesn't read like a translation but has, rather,
all the ease and fluency of an original composition.
Eight years ago, Mrs Clark very kindly sent me a few pages of her draft translation, describing
Thomas Mitchell's road making (of which Hugel had a low opinion). It was in typescript. On the
first foolscap page, there were 23 manuscript amendments - different words, different word
order, different phrases, different sentence construction. Each change carefully thought about.
When I compared that corrected typescript with the published version, I discovered 13 further
changes. Picture, if you will, the labour involved in treating in this manner well over 400 pages
of printed text.
Fourthly, this is a splendid book because it gives us a new slant on the Australian colonies in
1833-34. Hugel was aristocratic, Catholic and Austrian. There is a fair bit of Catholic writing
about colonial Australia and a little writing about Australia by English aristocrats - rather more if
we include their Australian admirers. But there is nothing that I am aware of which gives us a
view of the colonies as seen from central Europe.
Hugel admired and respected a number of individual Englishmen, but he had a dim view of
Englishmen as a whole. He thought that the feelings of love and compassion which did honour to
the human race were but empty words for an Englishman (p.164). The only real concern an
Englishman had, he held, was to get money. He rejected outright what he termed "the
scandalous...law", accepted by the British Government, "that the whole of the earth is the
inherited birthright of Europe".
Having these opinions, Hugel saw colonial affairs rather differently from most English
observers. For example, the destruction of Aboriginal societies filled him with horror. In Van
Diemens Land there were long years "during which every kind of atrocity that degenerate,
transported scoundrels could invent to slake their blood lust or satisfy their fiendish desires was
committed against [the Aborigines] with impunity. All this was tolerated by hypocritical
England...whose liberal sensibilities will not allow that justice can be done without a
jury...England sanctioned all this for no other reason than the hope of filthy lucre" (p.146).
Being Austrian and Catholic, he asked some interesting questions about transportation, its
purpose and effectiveness. He was particularly struck by Norfolk Island, a place of secondary
punishment, a penal colony for a penal colony. Banishment to Norfolk Island was regarded as
next in severity to the death penalty. All transported there had been condemned to death at least
once, many of them several times.
What was the reason for this clemency, Hugel asked. Did the judges shudder at committing so
many men to the next world? Or was it due to a conviction that the laws were too severe?
The only justification Hugel could discover for this secondary punishment was a religious one:
that the convict might have ample time to repent and prepare himself for a future life after death.
Here was another example of English hypocrisy, for nothing was done to encourage repentence -
not a word of comfort, of exhortation or encouragement; only the lash, contempt and insults.
But even were that not so, Hugel believed, as a Catholic, that the criminal had more hope of
forgiveness after dying on the gallows in full repentence and after partaking of the sacraments,
than of achieving complete repentence by his own efforts in his prison cell.
Finally, this is a splendid book because the Hugel/Clark combination constitutes such a fine
writer. There is not a dull page among the 473 of the text and many of them stand out for their
vivacity. I liked especially the hair-raising account of getting off Norfolk Island in a small boat
which seemed destined to be smashed or swamped by the waves of a rising storm. I liked, too,
the description of Colonel Snodgrass who, Hugel tells us, was "fond of turning the pleasures of
the evening dinner into the joys of morning by continuing them throughout the night" (p.412).
So for these five reasons: for its appearance, its scholarship, the quality of the translation, for its
original point of view and for its general interest, I think this is a splendid book.
* Mr D W A Baker is a Visiting Fellow in the ANU History Department
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