Captain James Cook and his voyage of discovery | Part 3

The following is the final entry in a three-part series about Captain Cook and his voyage of discovery, written by Bill Baker of Potato Point:

A chart used by Captain James Cook. Origins 1756 by Didier Vaugondy, Paris. Source: Australia in Maps NLA, 2007, 746-47

A chart used by Captain James Cook. Origins 1756 by Didier Vaugondy, Paris. Source: Australia in Maps NLA, 2007, 746-47

On April 21, 1770, the HMS Endeavour sailed past our shores. My golfing friend, Paul Ingamells, has traced and accurately recorded Cook’s route on this day on a Royal Australian Navy survey map from Montague Island to Jervis Bay. Here is a summary before I explain why Cook missed identifying Montague Island.

  • 0400: approximately 9 minutes southeast of Montague,
  • 0600: approximately 6 minutes east southeast of Montague
  • 0700: nor nor'east of Montague,
  • 1200: East of Burrewarra Point,
  • 1500: East of Batemans Bay,
  • 1700: East of Point Upright.

By midday on April 24, the ship was just south of Jervis Bay and two days later nearing Port Hacking. It wasn't long before they reached Botany Bay and set foot for the first time on the east coast of New South Wales. Later they would also land at what is now the town of 1770, north of Agnes Waters, and at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, and infamously at Cooktown when they struck the reef.

So how did Cook miss mentioning Montague Island after naming both Mount and Cape Dromedary? Well part of the answer comes from Matthew Flinders who in February 1798, on board the Francis, and under the captaincy of Hamilton, enroute to the Furneaux group of islands to rescue stranded sailors.

Flinders had requested that they sail as near to the shoreline as safe navigation would permit. This gave him the opportunity to confirm the location of known land features on his chart and add new ones. One such discovery came two days out of port, on February 3,1798, when Flinders sighted Montague Island south of Batemans Bay.

I came across the following reference in Rob Mundle's great read, Flinders, The man who mapped Australia, (p.168) " soon afternoon land was in sight to the SSE, supposed to be the Point Dromedary of Captain Cook's chart, but to my surprise, it proved to be an island not laid down, though lying two leagues from the coast. The whole length of this two island is about one mile and a quarter, north and south...This little island, I was afterwards informed, had been seen in the ship Surprise, and honoured with the name of Montague".

When Cook passed this part of the coast his distance from it was five leagues and too far away for its form to be accurately distinguished. There is little doubt that Montague Island was then seen and mistaken for a point running out from under Mount Dromedary. Fog, mist and poor visibility are other geographic factors that may contribute to same.

The Endeavour returned to England in July 1771 with more than 1000 species of dried plants in its herbaria and seed collections, 500 preserved fish, a similar number of bird skins and mineral samples, countless insect specimens and more than 1000 detailed drawings. (NLA, Maps, 2007). 

The completed survey of the east coast of Australia defined the continent's northern limits at Torres Strait. As a scientific venture, the voyage exceeded all expectations and it changed forever the perception of the continent as a harsh and unrewarding land.

On another occasion I would like to tell you more about Matthew Flinders who circumnavigated Terra Australis from 1801-1803 and was the the first to use the term 'Australia' for the newly charted continent. Whilst Cook prepared for another adventure to Antarctica and the Pacific region in the Resolution, 1772-1775, the French were in discovery mode too with de Bougainville in our waters from 1766-1769 and La Perouse 1785-1788.

Unlike Cook the French failed to emulate his successful voyages partly because they did not adhere to his practice of ensuring consumption of citrus fruits to avoid scurvy.

All the best to all my readers,

Bill Baker

Potato Point


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