Cooktown, QLD

A turning point in history

On the night of 11 June 1770, HMB Endeavour was sailing northward along the Queensland coast in a light breeze under bright moonlight. After passing northeast of Cape Tribulation, the Captain, James Cook, ordered the helm to steer closer to land, and later wrote: “Before 10 o’clock we had 20 fathoms, and continued in that depth until a few minutes before 11, when we had 17, and before the man at the lead could heave another cast, the ship struck and stuck fast…This was an alarming and terrible circumstance, and threatened immediate destruction to us.”

Endeavour had blundered onto a coral reef, badly damaging her starboard bow, and was taking on water below deck. Every man who could be spared from the pumps was set to work lightening the ship’s load, throwing overboard guns, iron and stone ballast, casks of water, oil jars and spare anchors – to no avail. All through the following day, the crew strived to haul the stricken vessel from the reef with long boats and winch it off with cables anchored about the stern until, at the top of the tide around 10pm, she floated clear. For the next two days, Endeavour was nursed along behind boats that scouted ahead in search of safe passage through the reefs to a suitable haven.

The first settlement

On the afternoon of 14 June, they spotted “the appearance of a good harbour” – the mouth of the river later named Endeavour – but the channel entry was very narrow and guarded by shoals in which the vessel became “entangled”. By now, the wind had increased to a southeast gale, making it difficult to work the ship, and twice it ran aground. After three frustrating days of stormy weather and adverse tides, “we warped her into the harbour, and moored her alongside a steep beach on the south side.”

Here, they transferred stores, livestock and equipment to shore, established a forge and erected tents for makeshift accommodation while the ship underwent repairs. It was, in effect, the first British settlement on Australian soil, which lasted 48 days, until Cook and his crew departed on 4 August. (Modern-day Cooktown now stands where the Endeavour was beached and the spot is marked by a monument.)

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