Story of Captain Cook - John Lang

Cook Sails Up the Unknown East Coast of Australia; Thence Home

On 1st April the Endeavour  quitted New Zealand at Cape Farewell, steering to the west, heading towards that coast which Tasman had named Van Diemen's Land, and which was then thought to be a part of New Holland (Australia).

A heavy gale drove Cook farther to the north than he had meant to go. On Thursday the 19th of April 1770 land was sighted, and named Point Hicks, after Lieutenant Hicks, who was the first to see it. This is on the coast of what is now the Colony of Victoria, S.W. from Cape Howe; but the country was then called by Cook New Wales, and later, New South Wales. As the Endeavour  sailed up the coast, Cook gave to various places the names that are now so well known—Cape Howe, Mount Dromedary, Point Upright, the Pigeon House, and others. The country he describes as of "a very agreeable and promising aspect," and from the numbers of fires that were seen he judged that it was inhabited.

At one point, the ship having run very close inshore, he tried to land where several natives were seen, with canoes drawn up on the beach, but the surf was too heavy. This was near what is now known as Bulli.

At daylight next morning a bay was discovered which seemed to be well sheltered from all winds. Into this the Endeavour  was taken, and her anchor let go about two miles inside the entrance. On both sides as they sailed in, natives were seen, men, women, and children. But these all disappeared when Cook, with Banks and Solander, and Tupia, and a boat's crew, made towards the shore. A few of the men came back, brandishing Spears, and one of them threw a stone at the boat. Cook fired a musket, but the man took no notice, and when Cook fired again with small shot and hit one of them, it only had the effect of making him snatch up a shield. Cook and the others then landed, when a few spears were thrown by the natives without hitting any one, and the men slowly went away. As Mr. Banks was afraid that the spears which were thrown might be poisoned, they were not followed up.

Tupia had tried to get them to talk, but nothing they said could be understood. Close by were some huts made of bark, in one of which there were four or five children, to whom beads and other things were given. But these presents were all found next morning untouched in the empty huts, and as long as the ship remained, by no means could the black-fellows be got to make friends.

Probably there had been heavy autumn rains some time before Cook arrived in the country, for he speaks of "good grass" and "fine meadow" everywhere, and no doubt the soil was ablaze with wild-flowers. He adds that "the great quantity of plants Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander found in this place occasioned my giving it the name of Botany Bay.'' But he probably gave it this name some time later, for at first it was called Stingray Bay from the numbers of stingrays the sailors caught there, and by this name it was known in the Admiralty chart.

On the 6th of May, after leaving Botany Bay, the ship was "abreast of a bay wherein there appeared to be safe anchorage, which I called Port Jackson" (after Mr.—afterwards Sir George—Jackson, one of the Secretaries of the Admiralty).

Had Cook but gone inside the Heads of Port Jackson, he would have found "safe anchorage" for all the fleets of the world in that most splendid of harbours, on whose shores now stands the great city of Sydney. But it was not till eight years later that the wonders of Port Jackson became known, when Captain Philip explored it in his boats from Botany Bay, that place of ill omen to so many persons on his fleet of convict ships.

Thereafter, as the Endeavour  went north, Cook named many places now well known—Broken Bay, Port Stephens, Cape Hawke, Smoky Cape, Point Danger, and very many others. Everywhere he mentions seeing smoke on shore, and signs of inhabitants.

And now, having passed Moreton Bay, Harvey Bay, and Cape Capricorn, as she drew farther and farther to the north, the ship began to get into waters the navigation of which even at this day is of great danger, owing to the vast number of reefs and shoals scattered everywhere in the sea: What must it have been in Cook's day, when no charts existed, and he had to feel his way up the coast! It is very wonderful that he did not leave the bones of the Endeavour  somewhere on the Great Barrier Reef And, indeed, one fine moonlight night to came very near doing so.

The ship was under easy sail, and soundings were constantly being taken of the depth of the water. The man at the lead had just sounded and found 17 fathoms (that is 102 feet in depth). Before he could again heave the lead the ship struck, and stuck fast. She had struck the edge of a reef of coral rocks. In some places around her the water was 24 feet deep; in others, not more than 3 or 4 feet. There the Endeavour  remained for twenty-four hours. Luckily the weather was fine.

Her guns and many other things were thrown overboard to lighten her, and at last with great difficulty she was got off. But even then it seemed likely that she would sink, so much water was leaking into her. And if she sank, how were Cook and his men ever to get home? There was no one to help them, no one much nearer than 2000, miles.

Soon after the ship was got off the rocks, and before they could find any bay or harbour in which they could repair her, it began to blow. For three days this dirty weather continued, whilst the Endeavour  lay at anchor a mile from the shore, and all this time the crew had to keep pumping out of her the water that continually leaked in.

When the weather grew finer, the anchor was got up, and the ship ran for a harbour that had been found, but on the way in she twice ran ashore. The second time, she stuck fast, and was not got off till the next day.

Everything was now taken out of the ship, and she was hauled into very shallow water, where the tide left her almost dry, and the leak was got at and repaired. The coral rocks had cut clean through several of her planks, and a big bit of rock still stuck in one of the holes.

Whilst this work was going on, parties were often sent inland to try to get provisions, but very little could be found. Curious-looking animals were seen, and some were afterwards shot, which Mr. Banks learned from the natives were called kangaroos. This was the first time that kangaroos had ever been seen by white men.

On 6th July the repairs to the ship were finished, as far as it was possible to do them. She was refloated, and her water, and stores, and remaining guns were got on board during the next few days.

Where the Endeavour  was beached the town of Cooktown now stands. Twenty years ago the people of that town tried, without any success, to recover from the sea the brass guns that were thrown over-board when the ship was on the reef.

On the 9th the master, who had been out to sea in a boat trying to find a channel for the Endeavour  to sail through, came back bringing three turtles weighing 791 lbs., and all hands had a feast. Except fish, the crew had now been without fresh meat for four months, so this must have been a great treat to them.

On the 18th and 19th several natives came on board and appeared to be very friendly; but they wanted to take ashore with them two turtles which had been caught, and which were on the deck. When this was refused, they became sulky and troublesome, and soon left the ship. Afterwards, when Cook was on shore, one of them took a handful of dry grass, and lighting it at a fire, ran round the party in a wide circle, everywhere setting a light to the grass. This started a great bush fires which went raging away amongst the trees and some of the ship's stores were burned. Luckily, very little had been left ashore. The natives also did the same thing round the place where the ship's nets and linen were spread out to dry, and Cook was obliged to fire at them with small shot before they would stop trying to burn him out.

It was not until the 4th August that the Endeavour  got away from this spot, and as she kept groping her way up the coast, many times she was in the greatest danger.

At last, on 16th August, there came a time when it did not seem possible to save her. During the night the wind fell to a dead calm, and though no bottom could be found when sounding even at a depth of more than 800 feet, the roaring of surf could be plainly heard at no great distance, At dawn, great, foaming breakers were seen not a mile from the ship, and she was drifting down fast into them. There was no possibility of anchoring in water so deep, and though the boats were got out and the ship's head pulled round away from the breakers, she still continued to drift down, and soon she was less than a hundred yards from them. In his journal, Cook writes, "The same sea that washed the side of the ship rose in a breaker prodidgiously high the very next time it did rise, so that between us and destruction was only a dismal valley the breadth of one wave, and even now no ground could be felt with 120 fathom" (720 feet).

No one who has not seen a coral reef, and the sea breaking over it, can know how grand and terrible is the sight, how awful the roar and thunder of the furiously breaking sea. Nothing that gets into it can live, and the vessel that is flung on such a reef is smashed to matchwood in less than a minute.

When the Endeavour  had drifted so near that to everybody it seemed that they had but a few minutes to live, a light air was felt, hardly enough to fill the sails. The men in the boats towing her pulled for their lives, and slowly she widened her distance from the breakers. For the moment she was saved.

But again the same fearful time had to be gone through. Again the wind died away, and once more she drifted towards the hungry breakers. At last, but not until the next day, a steady breeze sprang up, and she slipped through a narrow opening in the reef, and anchored in quiet water.

From now onwards Cook had a boat going constantly ahead of the Endeavour, looking out for shallow water. In this way he slowly rounded the most northerly point of Australia, which he named Cape York, and felt his way along Endeavour  Strait, between what is now known as Thursday Island and the mainland.

By this voyage Cook proved that New Guinea did not form part of New Holland, (an error into which all the maps of that time fell;) but he thought that probably islands or reefs extended all the way from Endeavour  Strait to New Guinea, which is not far from the truth.

It is curious to read in Cook's Journal his opinion of New Holland—or Australia, as we now call it. Though he saw but a fringe of the coast, and landed seldom, it shows how correct was his judgment to find him saying, ". . . It can never be doubted but that most sorts of grains, fruits, roots, &c., of every kind would flourish here were they once brought hither . . . and here are provender for more cattle at every season of the year than can ever be brought into the country."

On 25th August the Endeavour  quitted the Australian coast, heading for New Guinea, which she sighted on the 29th, after at least one very narrow escape from total loss on a reef. Everywhere along this part of the coast the water was very shallow, and it was not until 3rd September that Cook landed. Many natives were seen, all hostile, and Cook did not think it worth while to waste time in New Guinea. Provisions were now very short, and he wanted to get to Batavia, in Java, where he expected to get supplies from the Dutch.

On the way to that port, the Endeavour  sighted the little known island of Savu. Here he landed, and after much haggling with the Dutch Governor he bought seven buffaloes and many fowls, a supply of food of which his crew stood in great need.

On l0th October the ship anchored at Batavia, without one single man on the sick list, a record for those days most extraordinary. "Lieutenant Hicks, Mr. Green, and Tupia," Cook says in his Journal, "were the only people who had any complaint occasioned by a long continuance at sea." Never before had a vessel been known to come through a long voyage without many of the crew dying of scurvy. And to Cook's constant care of his men, of their, and of the ship's, cleanliness, and of their food, this was due.

But at Batavia his luck in that respect deserted him.

The ship remained at that port, being repaired, until 26th December, on which date she sailed for the Cape of Good Hope with upwards of forty sick on board. The rest of the crew also were in a feeble state, all having been down with fever, except the sailmaker, an old man of over seventy, who, Cook says, "was more or less drunk every day."

In all, during the voyage, the Endeavour  lost, from all causes, thirty-eight men out of her total of ninety-five. Of these, thirty died at, or after leaving, Batavia. On 24th January 1771, at sea, Corporal Trusslove died; on 25th, Mr. Sporing; 27th, Mr. Parkinson and Ravenhill, the old sailmaker; on 29th, Mr. Green; 30th, Moody and Hake, two of the crew; and on the 31st four more of the crew died. And so it went on. Tupia and his boy had died at Batavia, and later, Lieutenant Hicks died at sea.

The Cape of Good Hope was reached on 14th March, and here she remained till 15th April, when she sailed for England.

On Saturday, 13th July 1771, the Endeavour  once more dropped anchor in the Downs.