Captain James Cook: The real discoverer of Australia [chapter 4 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton]

[Editor: This is chapter 4 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton. Published in The Sunday Mail, 8 July 1934.]

The story of Australia — IV.

Captain James Cook

The real discoverer of Australia

The next Englishman to come to Australia was Captain Cook. This man who rose to great fame was the son of a poor farm labourer at Marton, Yorkshire. He spent only a year or two at the village school before he went, at the age of twelve, to a small draper at Staithes, a fishing village not far from Whitty. But young Cook did not want to be a draper. He wanted to be a sailor.

At the age of fourteen, he answered the call of the sea by running away and binding himself to a firm of ship owners who were engaged in carrying coal to London, to Dublin, and to ports in the Baltic Sea. It was the first step in a career of honour and adventure which has ever since proved an incentive to British boys of all ages.

At the age of 27, rather than be compelled to go, Cook entered the navy as a volunteer, and in the French-Canadian war saw fighting service. He commanded the frigate Pembroke at the battle of Louisberg. Then he was chosen to take soundings of the St. Lawrence. This was a dangerous task, but he completed his work and so prepared the way for Wolfe’s capture of Quebec. During his work off Labrador and Newfoundland, he closely studied astronomy, and an eclipse of the sun occurring while in Newfoundland, he wrote a description of the event and sent home his observations to the Royal Society.

Scarcely had Cook returned to England than he was appointed to command the “Endeavour”, a Whitly-built ship, with the rank of lieutenant for an expedition to the South Seas to observe the passage of the planet, Venus across the sun’s disc, which would happen in June, 1769. The voyage was undertaken at the suggestion of the Royal Society. Among those who took part in it was Joseph Banks, the famous scientist. Banks was a rich man, having a private income of £6000 a year.

Voyage of the “Endeavour”

The “Endeavour” sailed from London in August, 1768, with a crew of 86 men, including 12 marines. Doubling Cape Horn, the explorer landed on Tahiti on April 12. In June the transit of Venus was observed under very favourable conditions. The heat, however, was very great, and proved very trying to the observers.

The object of the visit to Tahiti having been accomplished, the “Endeavour” sailed south to make a further search for the southern continent, although Cook did not believe it existed. Finding nothing of the kind the “Endeavour” came to the East coast of New Zealand.

The first European known to have visited the country, was Abel Tasman, the Dutch navigator, in 1642, but the newcomer was the first to sail round the islands. Cook spent over five months exploring the coast, and landed on the shore of Queen Charlotte’s Sound, and hoisted the British flag.

Landed at Botany Bay

Cook now resolved to return to England by the East Indies. He knew that the Dutch had discovered a great mass of land to the West, but he had no idea whether he could sail round the top of it to Java. He named the last point of land of New Zealand Cape Farewell, and after sailing for three weeks, he sighted the coasts of Australia on April 19, 1770.

Sailing North, he landed at a place south of what is now Sydney, and called it Botany Bay, because so many new kinds of plants were found there.

It was one of the most wonderful voyages in history, made in a little North Sea collier of only 370 tons. She was dreadfully slow, yet in her Cook surveyed the 2000 miles coastline of eastern Australia.

After following the coast for about 1300 miles, skilfully avoiding rocks and shoals, the first serious mishap occurred. One bright moonlight night when Cook was sailing with a fine breeze, the “Endeavour” struck a rock. The long hours of an anxious night were spent in lightening the vessel by throwing overboard, half a dozen guns, a quality of stores, casks and ballast, amounting in all to about 50 tons. At daybreak, land was visible eight leagues away. This point, Cook named Cape Tribulation, “because here, began all our troubles.”

After many hours of terrible work the ship was released, and when the “Endeavour” passed between two islands a little later, Cook’s heart was so full of thankfulness that he named them Hope Islands. When it was possible to beach the ship on a sandy part of the coast it was found that several planks had been stove in, but that the biggest hole had been stopped by a large piece of the jagged rock which had done the mischief and snapped off in the process.

The land seen and surveyed was pleasant and lovely, Cook called it New South Wales, being struck by the resemblance to the Welsh coast line as seen from the Bristol Channel. The mysterious series of islands, as his predecessors had thought it, was indeed a continent of 3,000,000 square miles, and that he gave to his native land.

Through Torres Strait

He sailed through Torres Straits, proving that Australia and New Guinea were separate lands, and crossing the Indian Ocean and rounding the Cape of Good Hope, he anchored in the Downs on July 13, 1771, after being away three years and having sailed round the world.

To-day we think of Captain Cook as the ideal type of explorer, and he grows in splendour of renown with every generation. He banished from the map of imagination a supposed continent in the south by proving it did not exist, but he placed on the map a continent which, unsuspected, was there, and that continent he gave to Great Britain.

The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 8 July 1934, p. 27

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