Cooktown is named after Captian James Cook and I am truly bewildered as to why there are so many different accounts about Cook’s shipwreck off Cape Tribulation when there are three separate diaries recording the day by day happenings. Perhaps some are just repeating what they heard from others or maybe adding their own twist. Nevertheless, this is my understanding of what happened.
There were two main contributing factors:
- The Trade Winds were blowing from the South East that meant Cook had to sail North up the coastline of Australia
- The Endeavour was the ship of choice as it had a shallow keel to allow him to get close to the coastline for mapping purposes and could undertake repairs without a dry dock
The Ship Wreck
In June 1770, Cook had been at sea for about two and a half years and was sailing up the east coast of Australia when he hit a reef just off Cape Tribulation (hence the name). He ran aground at high tide so floating off was not an option unless he lightened his ship. Notably he threw six cannons overboard with boys attached so that he could retrieve then at some later date. The ship was taking water and all aboard did shift work on three pumps to the point of exhaustion to keep afloat. Fortunately when the ship was finally dragged into deep water by pulling against pre-positioned anchors and his longboats, the leak didn’t increase and they were able to do a quick fix by pulling a sail filled with wool, rope fragments and anything else available to them under the bow to plug the leak. It did the job and they were able to slowly sail towards to shore with the longboats taking the lead to check for further obstructions.
The Endeavour River
Fortunately, they came across a river mouth that provided an ideal place to repair their vessel. Cook ran aground a couple of times getting into position before laying the ship to one side to access the damaged area. A piece of coral about the size of a fist was found lodged in the hole it made and was the reason why the ship didn’t take more water when it was pulled into deep water.
Although Cook was fanatical about making sure that his crew didn’t contract scurvy, a few sailors were showing early symptoms and were put ashore while some of the crew hunted for food and searched for vegetables for their shipmates. The botanists on board took advantage of this time to collect as many plants and animals as they could.
It was here that Cook first uncounted the kangaroo, dingo and fruit bat and had meaningful exchanges with local aboriginals but nowhere near enough to judge them as nomadic and, therefore having no claim to the land.
It took seven weeks to repair his vessel and he named the river where the repairs took place the Endeavour River after his Ship. After the repairs were completed, bad weather prevented his departure for some days. He had no option but to sail North through unknown waters because of the prevailing winds and was pessimistic about getting safely back into deep water so had his longboats tow him while he perched in the masthead giving directions. From here he sailed to the tip of Queensland where he claimed the East Coast of Australia in the name of Britain on what is now know as Possession Island.
Cook’s final years
This was not the end of his journey and he faced more difficulties with repairs and sickness before returning to England six months later. His superiors were convinced that there was a great southern land and asked Cook to undergo another voyage of discovery. This time, he disproved that such a body of land existed and mapped most of the southern hemisphere. He was seduced into what was to be his final voyage to discover the suspected North West Passage (a passage of water over the top of America). His ship wasn’t well prepared due to the shipyards commitment to supply vessels for use in the war with America. During the voyage, the leaking ship required continuous repairs and while moored at Hawaii to repair a broken mast, a long boat was stolen by natives. In an attempt to get the boat returned, Cook decided to take their chief hostage but was killed in the attempt. William Bligh (infamous for the mutiny on the Bounty) was one of the officers who took charge of his ship and returned to England.
More information can be found in my blog on Cooktown and at http://www.the-great-barrier-reef-experience.com/captain-james-cook-journal-june7-13.html
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