History / 250 years since Cook’s journey

PAM WILLIS BURDEN Douglas Shire Historical Society

250 years ago, Lieutenant James Cook sailed up our Queensland coast in his bark The HMB Endeavour.

It was the first of three long voyages that he commanded, and the aim of this one was to observe the transit of Venus across the sun on June 3 and 4 in 1769. This was best achieved in Tahiti, which he called George’s Land or King George’s Island after King George III of England.

He was also charged by the Royal Navy in London to explore Terra Australis Incognita or “undiscovered southern land”, named by Abel Tasman in 1642 when he thought he saw an unknown continent on the southern horizon from his landfall in New Zealand.

It was generally believed that there must be some land in the south to ‘balance’ the land already discovered in the northern hemisphere. Sketchy maps had appeared between the 15th and 18th centuries.

Extract from ‘Cook’s Endeavour Journal’ by the National Library of Australia :

“In 1606 the Duyfken, a tiny Dutch ship visited the western shores of Cape York Peninsula, becoming the first European ship to make landfall on the Australian continent. During the 1600s more Dutch sightings of the continent led to the charting of the entire northern and western coastlines and much of the southern coast including part of Tasmania. The last expedition of the ships of the East India Company to northern Australia took place in 1756.”

In 1606 Luis Vaez de Torres had sailed through a passage south of New Guinea but reports of the voyage had been hushed up.

Cook’s voyage took almost three years, departing from Plymouth Dockyard in England on 25 August 1768.

He travelled to Tahiti, then charted both islands of New Zealand before sighting the New Holland – later named Australia – shore at Point Hicks in Gippsland Victoria on 19 April 1770.

“All the dates that appear in Cook’s journal are ’ship time’.
On land, a day is measured from one midnight to the next. Aboard ship, it begins at noon and ends at noon 24 hours later. This explains why Cook’s pm comes before his am.”

[Quoted from the book ‘Cook’s Endeavour Journal – the inside story’ from the National Library of Australia.]

He went on to anchor in Botany Bay in April 1770, which he named for all the specimens botanists that Joseph Banks and Dr Daniel Solander collected there.

He sailed past the entrance to Sydney Harbour and hastened northward up the coast, anxious to arrive in Batavia, now Java, to replenish his supplies. The ship only landed a few times on New Holland’s shores to take on water, until spending almost two months at what is now Cooktown, to repair a large hole in the ship caused by hitting a coral reef.

Cook’s exceptional ability to map the eastern coast of Australia is still recognised today and the names he gave to many rivers, bays and promontories are still in use.

📸 Painting of “The Endeavour” by Samuel Atkins c1794 NLA


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