Ben Collins of ABC Kimberley, is one of the latest to debunk the myths about Cook in his story posted today (20 April 2020): ‘What Australians often get wrong about our most (in)famous explorer, Captain Cook’:
It’s Time Australia woke up to the truth of its history. For too long many Australians have believed that James Cook, the British officer who explored the southern seas in the 1770s ‘discovered’ this continent. He did not. His is the first recorded European sighting, on 19 April 1770, of the eastern coast of what Cook referred as ‘New Holland’ that became the colony of New South Wales in 1788, and a state of Australia on 1 January 1901. However at least 7 other European explorers had visited the waters of what we now know as the Australian continent and its islands–Willem Janszoon (1606), Luis Vaez de Torres (1606), Dirk Hartog (1617), Frederick de Houtman (1619), Abel Tasman (1644), Willem de Vlamingh (1696), and William Dampier (1699).
Australia was NOT Terra nullius (land that is legally deemed to be unoccupied or uninhabited)
Many people from other parts of the known world had knowledge of, or visited, Australian waters before Cook in 1770. For example, the Macassans had been visiting the north coast of Australia for some time at least from the 1700s if not much longer, in their quest for trepang (sea cucumber) as well as trading with Aboriginal people. Dutch navigator, Willem Janszoon, landed on the western shore of Cape York, Queensland on 26 February 1606, the first recorded European arrival. Other European explorers were to follow as mentioned above. It was 164 years before Cook arrived in Australian waters in 1770. Others like William Dampier had sighted Australia’s original inhabitants before Cook.
||A 19th-century artist’s impression of Janszoon’s ship, the Duyfken, Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland. State Library of Queensland image reproduced on Wikipedia.
First recorded Cook sighting of First Peoples
Cook noted in his diary his first recorded sighting, on Monday 23 April 1770, of Australia’s First Peoples at what is now known as Brush Island near Bawley Point, on the southern coast of what became the colony of New South Wales.
Excerpt from Cook’s diary entry for Sunday 22 April 1770 and for part of Monday 23 April 1770:
In the P.M. had a Gentle breeze at South by West with which we steer’d along shore North by East and North-North-East at the distance of about 3 Leagues. Saw the smoke of fire in several places near the Sea beach. [My emphasis] At 5, we were abreast of a point of land which, on account of its perpendicular Clifts, I call’d Point Upright; Latitude 35 degrees 35 minutes South; it bore from us due West, distant 2 Leagues, and in this Situation had 31 fathoms, Sandy bottom. At 6, falling little wind, we hauld off East-North-East; at this time the Northermost land in sight bore North by East 1/2 East, and at midnight, being in 70 fathoms, we brought too until 4 A.M., at which time we made sail in for the land, and at daylight found ourselves nearly in the same Place we were at 5 o’Clock in the evening, by which it was apparent that we had been drove about 3 Leagues to the Southward by a Tide or Current in the night. After this we steer’d along shore North-North-East, having a Gentle breeze at South-West, and were so near the Shore as to distinguish several people upon the Sea beach. They appeared to be of a very dark or black Colour; but whether this was the real Colour of their skins or the Cloathes they might have on I know not. [My emphasis].
Excerpt from James Cook’s Journal During the First Voyage Round the World, Project Gutenberg ebook: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/8106
Cook and his crew may not have known this, but the Yuin people saw the Endeavour floating offshore like a huge pelican. Their perspective of the Cook voyage has had little airing until now, but Warren Foster’s recounting two days ago of the Yuin people’s first sighting of the ship is fascinating: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-18/captain-james-cook-first-sighting-of-endeavour-yuin-people/12151356. The First Peoples’ point of view of Cook’s voyage is also being made into a film.
‘Possession’ or Fiction?
By 22 August 1770, the Endeavour had reached an island in the Torres Strait–Bedanug (or Bedhan Lag) home of the Kaurareg people, known in English as ‘Possession Island’, where Cook allegedly ‘hoisted English Colours’ and claimed the eastern coast of New Holland for the British King George III, calling it ‘New South Wales’. But the verity of this event is being questioned. Doubts are being raised as to whether Cook could have landed on the island at all. Joseph Banks, the botanist on the Endeavour, does not mention this event in his own journal of the 1770 voyage, although he mentions going ashore on an island in a diary entry on 21 August. The purpose of this landing was to ascertain whether an area of sea the crew could see from the Endeavour‘s mast was a bay or a passage through which the ship could be steered. Three ‘Indians’ were standing on the beach either to ‘oppose or assist our landing’ according to Banks. Once on land, he records that after musket shots ‘they [the local people] all walked leisurely away’. Banks’s diary records that the party from the Endeavour climbed a hill from which they could see ‘a streight’. His diary entry for 22 August indicates that the party had returned as from the ship they could see women gathering shellfish on the beach. See The Endeavour Journal of Sir Joseph Banks [Journal from 25 August 1768–12 July 1771], an e-book by Project Gutenberg at: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks05/0501141h.html#aug1770
This is a transcribed version of Joseph Banks’s journal. The State Library of New South Wales holds the original Banks diary, however the pages relevant to the landing on Bedanug Island are not available online to check.
The truth of Australia’s history is being revealed bit by bit.