Reconnoitring the Eastern Coast of Australia—Remarks on the natives and productions of the country—The Endeavour stranded—Perpetual dangers of navigation—Crossing Torres Straits—The natives of New Guinea—Return to England.

On the 31st of March, Cook left Cape Farewell and New Zealand, steering westward. On the 19th of April, he perceived land which extended from north-east to west, in 37° 58' S. Lat. and 210° 39' W. Long.

In his opinion, judging by Tasman's chart, this was the country called Van Diemen's Land. In any case, he was unable to ascertain whether the portion of the coast before him belonged to Tasmania. He named all the points on his northern voyage, Hick's Point, Ram Head, Cape Howe, Dromedary Mount, Upright Point, Pigeon House, &c.

This part of Australia is mountainous, and covered with various kinds of trees.

Map of Australia

Smoke announced it to be inhabited, but the sparse population ran away as soon as the English prepared to land.

The first natives seen were armed with long lances and a piece of wood shaped like a scimitar. This was the famous "boomerang," so effective a weapon in the hands of the natives, so useless in that of Europeans.

The faces of the natives were covered with white powder, their bodies were striped with lines of the same colour, which, passing obliquely across the chest, resembled the shoulder-belts of soldiers. On their thighs and legs they had circles of the same kind, which would have appeared like gaiters had not the natives been entirely naked.

A little further on the English once more attempted to land. But two natives whom they had previously endeavoured to propitiate by throwing them nails, glassware, and other trifles, made such menacing demonstrations, that they were obliged to fire over their heads. At first they seemed stunned by the detonation, but as they found that they were not wounded, they commenced hostilities by throwing stones and javelins. A volley of bullets struck the oldest in his legs. The unfortunate native rushed at once to one of the cabins, but returned with a shield to continue the fight, which was shortly ended, when he was convinced of his powerlessness.

The English seized the opportunity to land, and reach the houses, where they found several spears. In the same bay, they landed some casks for water, but communication with the natives was hopeless; they fled immediately on the advance of the English.

During an excursion on land, Cook, Banks, and Solander found traces of various animals. The birds were plentiful, and remarkably beautiful. The great number of plants discovered by the naturalists in this part, induced Cook to give it the name of Botany Bay. "This bay is," he says, "large, safe, and convenient; it is situated in 34° S. Lat., and 208° 37' W. Long." Wood and water were easily procurable there.

"The trees," according to Cook, "were at least as large as the oaks of England, and I saw one which somewhat resembled them. It is that one which distils a red gum like 'Dragon's blood.'"

No doubt this was a species of Eucalyptus. Among the various kinds of fishes which abound in these latitudes is the thorn-back skate, one of which, even after cleaning, weighed three hundred and thirty-six pounds.

On the 6th of May, Cook left Botany Bay, and continued to coast to the north at two or three miles distance from the shore. The navigation along this coast was sufficiently monotonous. The only incidents which imparted a slight animation, were the sudden and unexpected differences in the depth of the sea, caused by the line of breakers which it was necessary to avoid.

Map of the east coast of New Holland
Gravé par E. Morieu.

Landing a little further on, the navigators ascertained that the country was inferior to that surrounding Botany Bay.

The soil was dry and sandy, the sides of the hills were sparsely covered with isolated trees and free from brush-wood. The sailors killed a bustard, which was pronounced to be the best game eaten since leaving England. Hence, this point was named Bustard Bay. Numbers of bivalves were found there, especially small pearl oysters.

On the 25th of May, the Endeavour being a mile from land, was opposite a point which exactly crossed the Tropic of Capricorn. The following day, it was ascertained that the sea rose and fell seven feet. The flow was westward, and the ebb eastward, just the reverse of the case in Botany Bay. In this spot islands were numerous, the channel narrow and very shallow.

On the 29th, Cook landed with Banks and Solander in a large bay, in search of a spot where he could have the keel and bottom of his vessel repaired, but they were scarcely on terra firma, when they found their progress impeded by a thick shrub, prickly and studded with sharp seeds, no doubt a species of "spinifex," which clung to the clothes, pierced them, and penetrated the flesh. At the same time, myriads of gnats and mosquitoes attacked them, and covered them with painful bites.

A suitable spot for repairs was found, but a watering-place was sought in vain. Gum-trees growing here and there were covered with enormous ants' nests, and soon deprived of gum by those insects. Numerous brilliantly-coloured butterflies hovered over the explorers.

These were curious facts, interesting from more than one point of view, but they failed to satisfy the captain, who was eager to replenish his water supply.

From the first, the great defect of this country was apparent. It consists in the absence of streams, springs, and rivers!

A second excursion made during the evening of the same day was equally barren of good results. Cook ascertained that the bay was very deep, and decided on making the circuit of it in the morning.

He soon discovered that the width of the channel by which he entered increased rapidly, and that it ultimately formed a vast lake communicating with the sea to the north-west. Another arm stretched eastwards, and it was conceivable that the lake had a second outlet into the sea at the bottom of the bay.

Cook named this part of Australia New South Wales. Sterile, sandy, dry, it lacked all that was most necessary for the establishment of a colony. And the English could not ascertain from their cursory inspection or hydrographical examination that, mineralogically speaking, it was one of the richest countries of the New World.

The navigation was monotonously continued from the 31st of May to the 10th of June. On this latter date the Endeavour, after passing safely along an unknown coast, in the midst of shallows and breakers, for a space of 22° or 1300 miles, was all at once exposed to a greater danger than any which had been apprehended.

They were in 16° S. Lat. and 214° 39' W. Long. when Cook, seeing two islets lying low and covered with trees, gave orders to keep well out to sea during the night, so as to look for the islands discovered by Quiros in these latitudes, an archipelago which some geographers had maintained was united to the mainland.

Shortly after nine in the evening the soundings taken every quarter of an hour showed constantly decreasing depth. All crowded to the deck. The water became deeper. It was concluded that the vessel had passed over the extremity of the sand-banks seen at sunset, and all rejoiced at escape from danger. When the depth increased, Cook and all but the officers of the watch retired to their berths, but at eleven o'clock the sounding-line, after indicating twenty fathoms, suddenly recorded seventeen, and before it was possible to cast anchor, the Endeavour had touched, and beaten by the waves, struck upon a rock.

The situation was a serious one. The Endeavour, raised by a wave over the ridge of a reef, had fallen again into a hollow in the rock, and by the moonlight, portions of the false keel and the sheathing could be seen floating.

Unfortunately the accident happened at high water. It was useless therefore to count upon the assistance of the tide to release the ship. Without loss of time the guns, barrels, casks, ballast, and all that could lighten the vessel, were thrown overboard. The vessel still struck against the rock. The sloop was put to sea, the sails and topsails were lowered, the tow-lines were thrown to the starboard, and the captain was about to order the anchor to be cast on the same side, when it was discovered that the water was deeper at the stern. But although the capstan was vigorously worked, it was impossible to move the vessel.

Daybreak disclosed the position in all its horrors. Land was eight leagues distant, not a single isle was visible between the ship and land where refuge might be found if, as was to be feared, the vessel broke up. Although she had been lightened of fifty tons weight, the sea only gained a foot and a half.

Fortunately the wind fell, otherwise the Endeavour must soon have been a wreck. However, the leak increased rapidly, although the pumps were worked incessantly. A third was put into action. The alternative was dreadful! If the vessel were freed, it must sink when no longer sustained by the rock, while if it remained fixed, it must be demolished by the waves which rent its planks asunder. The boats were too small to carry all the crew to land at one time.

Under such circumstances was there not danger that discipline would be thrown to the winds? Who could tell whether a fratricidal struggle might not ensue? And even should some of the sailors reach land, what fate could be in store for them upon an inhospitable shore, where nets and fire-arms would scarcely procure them nourishment?

What would become of those who were obliged to remain on board? Every one shared these fears, but so strong a sense of duty prevailed, so much was the captain beloved by his crew, that the terrors of the situation evoked no single cry, no disorder of any kind. The strength of the men not employed at the pumps was wisely harboured for the moment when their fate should be decided.

Measures were so skilfully taken, that when the sea rose to its height, all the officers and crew worked the capstan, and as the vessel was disengaged from the rock, it was ascertained that she drew no more water than when on the reef. But the sailors were exhausted after twenty-four hours of such terrible anxiety. It was necessary to change the hands at the pumps every five minutes.

A new disaster was now added. The man whose duty it was to measure the water in the hold, announced that it had increased to eighteen inches in a few moments. Fortunately the mistake of the measure taken was immediately ascertained, and the crew were so overjoyed that they fancied all danger over.

An officer named Monkhouse conceived an excellent idea. He applied a sort of cap to the stern, which he filled in with wool, rope-yarn, and the intestines of the animals slaughtered on board, and so effected a stoppage of the leak. From this time the men, who spoke of driving the vessel on a coast to reconstruct another from its ruins, which might take them to the East Indies, thought only of finding a suitable harbour for the purpose.

The desirable harbour was reached on the 17th of June, at the mouth of a current which Cook called Endeavour River.

The necessary labours for the careening of the vessel were at once begun and carried on with the utmost rapidity.

The sick were landed, and the staff visited the land several times, in the hope of killing some game, and procuring fresh meat for the sufferers from scurvy. Tupia saw an animal which Banks, from his description, imagined to have been a wolf. But a few days later several others were seen, who jumped upon their fore feet, and took enormous leaps. They were kangaroos, marsupial animals, only met with in Australia, and which had never before seen a European. The natives in this spot appeared far less savage than on other parts of the coast. They not only allowed the English to approach, but treated them cordially, and remained several days with them.

They were kangaroos
"They were kangaroos."

The narrative says,—

"They were usually of medium height, but their limbs were remarkably small. Their skin was the colour of soot, or rather, it might be described as of deep chocolate colour. Their hair was black and not woolly, and was cut short; some wore it plaited, some curled. Various portions of their bodies were painted red, and one of them had white stripes on his lips and breast which he called 'carbanda.' Their features were far from disagreeable; they had very bright eyes, white and even teeth, and their voices were sweet and musical. Some among them wore a nose-ornament which Cook had not met with in New Zealand. It was a bone, as large as a finger, passed through the cartilage.

"A little later a quarrel arose. The crew had taken possession of some tortoises which the natives claimed, without having in the least assisted in capturing them. When they found that their demand was not acceded to, they retired in fury, and set fire to the shrubs in the midst of which the English encampment was situated. The latter lost all their combustible commodities in the conflagration, and the fire, leaping from hill to hill, afforded a magnificent spectacle during the night."

Meantime Messrs. Banks, Solander, and others, enjoyed many successful hunts. They killed kangaroos, opossums, a species of pole-cat, wolves, and various kinds of serpents, some of which were venomous. They also saw numbers of birds, kites, hawks, cockatoos, orioles, paroquets, pigeons, and other unknown birds.

Tahitian fleet off Oparee
Tahitian fleet off Oparee.
(Fac-simile of early engraving.)

After leaving Endeavour River, Cook had good opportunities of testing the difficulties of navigation in these latitudes. Rocks and shallows abounded. It was necessary to cast anchor in the evening, for it was impossible to proceed at night through this labyrinth of rocks without striking. The sea, as far as the eye could reach, appeared to dash upon one line of rocks more violently than upon the others; this appeared to be the last.

Upon arriving there, after five days' struggle with a contrary wind, Cook discovered three islands stretching four or five leagues to the north. But his difficulties were not over. The vessel was once more surrounded by reefs and chains of low islets, amongst which it was impossible to venture.

Cook was inclined to think it would be more prudent to return and seek another passage. But such a détour would have consumed too much time, and have retarded his arrival in the East Indies. Moreover there was an insurmountable obstacle to this course. Three months' provisions were all that remained.

The situation appeared desperate, and Cook decided to steer as far as possible from the coast, and to try and pass the exterior line of rocks. He soon found a channel, which shortly brought them to the open sea.

"So happy a change in the situation," says Kippis, "was received with delight. The English were full of it, and openly expressed their joy. For nearly three months they had been in perpetual danger. When at night they rested at anchor, the sound of an angry sea forced them to remember that they were surrounded by rocks, and that, should the cable break, shipwreck was inevitable. They had travelled over 360 miles, and were forced to keep a man incessantly throwing the line and sounding the rocks through which they navigated. Possibly no other vessel could furnish an example of such continued effort."

Had they not just escaped so terrible a danger, the English would have had cause for uneasiness in reflecting upon the length of way that remained to them across a sea but little known, upon a vessel which let in nine inches of water in an hour. With pumps out of repair and provisions almost consumed, the navigators only escaped these terrible dangers to be exposed on the 16th of April to a peril of equal magnitude.

Carried by the waves to a line of rocks above which the sea spray washed to a prodigious height, making it impossible to cast anchor; without a breath of wind, they had but one resource, to lower boats to tow the vessel off. In spite of the sailors' efforts the Endeavour was still only 100 paces from the reef, when a light breeze, so slight that under better circumstances no one would have noticed it, arose and disengaged the vessel. But ten minutes later it fell, the currents strongly returned, and theEndeavour was once more carried within 200 feet of the breakers.

After many unsuccessful attempts, a narrow opening was perceived.

"The danger it offered was less imminent than that of remaining in so terrible a situation," says the narrative. "A light breeze which fortunately sprang up, the efforts of the boats, and the tide, conveyed the ship to the opening, across which she passed with frightful rapidity. The strength of the current prevented the Endeavour from touching either shore of the channel, which, however, was but a mile in width, and extremely unequal in depth, giving now thirty fathoms, now only seven of foul bottom."

If we have lingered somewhat over the incidents of this voyage, it is because it was accomplished in unknown seas, in the midst of breakers and currents, which, sufficiently dangerous for a sailor when they are marked on a map, become much more so when, as was the case with Cook, since leaving the coast of New Holland, the voyage is made in the face of unknown obstacles, which all the instinct and keen vision of the sailor cannot always successfully surmount.

One last question remained to be solved,—

Were New Holland and New Guinea portions of one country? Were they divided by an arm of the sea, or by a strait?

In spite of the dangers of such a course, Cook approached the shore, and followed the coast of Australia towards the north.

On the 21st he doubled the most northerly cape of New Holland, to which he gave the name of Cape York, and entered a channel sprinkled with islands near the mainland, which inspired him with the hope of finding a passage to the Indian Ocean.

Once more he landed, and planting the English flag, solemnly took possession in the name of King George, of the entire Eastern Coast from the eighteenth degree of latitude to this spot, situated in 107° south. He gave the name of New South Wales to this territory, and to fitly conclude the ceremony, he caused three salutes to be fired.

Cook next penetrated Torres Strait, which he called Endeavour Strait, discovered and named the Wallis Islands, situated in the middle of the south-west entrance to Booby Island, and Prince of Wales Island, and steered for the southern coast of New Guinea, which he followed until the 3rd of September without being able to land.

Upon that day Cook landed with about eleven well-armed men, amongst them Solander, Banks, and his servants. They were scarcely a quarter of a mile from their ship, when three Indians emerged from the wood, uttering piercing cries, and rushed at the English.

"The one who came nearest," says the narrative, "threw something which he carried at his side, with his hand, and it burned like gunpowder, but we heard no report."

Three Indians emerged from the wood
"Three Indians emerged from the wood."

Cook and his companions were obliged to fire upon the natives in order to regain their ship, from whence they could examine them at their leisure. They resembled the Australians entirely, and like them, wore their hair short, and were perfectly naked—only their skin was less dark; no doubt because they were less dirty.

"Meantime the natives struck their fire at intervals, four or five at a time. We could not imagine what this fire could be, nor their object in throwing it.

"They held in the hand a short stick, perhaps a hollow cane, which they flourished from side to side, and at the same instant we saw the fire and smoke exactly as it flashes from a gun, and it lasted no longer. We observed this astonishing phenomenon from the vessel, and the illusion was so great that those on board believed the Indians had fire-arms, and we ourselves should have imagined they fired guns, but that our ship was so close that in such a case we must have heard the explosion."

This fact remains unexplained, in spite of the many commentaries it has occasioned, and which bear out the testimony of the great navigator.

Many of the English officers demanded immediate permission to land in search of cocoa-nuts arid other fruits, but the captain was unwilling to risk his sailors' lives in so futile an attempt; he was, besides, anxious to reach Batavia, to obtain repairs for his vessel. He thought it useless, moreover, to remain a longer time in these latitudes. They had been so often visited by the Spanish and Dutch, that there were no further discoveries to make.

In passing Arrow and Wesel Islands he rectified their positions, and reaching Timor, put into port in Savu Island, where the Dutch had been settled for some time. There Cook revictualled, and by accurate observations settled its position at 10° 35' southern latitude, and 237° 30' west longitude.

After a short interval the Endeavour arrived at Batavia, where she was repaired.

But the stay in that unhealthy country was fatal after such severe fatigue. Endemic fevers raged there; and Banks, Solander, and Cook, as well as the greater part of the crew, fell ill. Many died, amongst them Monkhouse, the surgeon, Tupia, and little Tayeto. Ten men only escaped the fever.

The Endeavour set sail on the 27th of December, and on the 15th of January, 1771, put into Prince of Wales Island for victuals.

From that moment, sickness increased among the crew. Twenty-three men died, amongst them Green, the astronomer, who was much regretted.

After a stay at the Cape of Good Hope, where he met with the welcome he so sorely needed, Cook re-embarked, touched at St. Helena, and anchored in the Downs on the 11th of June, 1772, after an absence of nearly four years.

"Thus," says Kippis, "ended Cook's first voyage, a voyage in which he had experienced such dangers, discovered so many countries, and so often evinced his superiority of character. He was well worthy of the dangerous enterprise and of the courageous efforts to which he had been called."