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Archive for February 2012

Captain Cook in Google Earth: Cape York to the Indonesian seas

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The channel next to the mainland was blocked by shoals and rocks (22Aug1770)

The channel next to the mainland was blocked by shoals and rocks (22Aug1770)

Even before reaching the western edge of Cape York it was clear that there was a passage to the south-west between the mainland and some islands. Cook instructed the smaller boats to sound the first channel between the mainland and the first island. They found this to be blocked by rocks and shoals, so Cook gave the signal for them to try the next channel. Here they found not less than 5 fathoms and they sailed through to anchor a few miles beyond the entrance to the channel.

Entrance to Endeavour Strait (22Aug1770)

Entrance to Endeavour Strait (22Aug1770)

Cook looked between the mainland to the south-west and Cape Cornwall on Prince of Wales Island:

Between these 2 points we could see  no land, so that we were in great hopes that we had at last found out a passage into the Indian seas; but in order to be better informed I landed with a party of men…upon the island which lies at the south-east point of the passage…after landing I went upon the highest hill which, however was of no great height, yet no less than twice or thrice the height of the ship’s mastheads; but I could see from it no land between south-west and west-south-west…

Possession Island

Possession Island

There is ambiguity on the internet concerning the island on which Cook landed. Look at this snapshot:

Will the real Possession Island please make itself known?

Will the real Possession Island please make itself known?

Wikipedia (places named by James Cook) goes for the island at the north-east end of the passage; surely that can’t be right. There are certainly some errors in Cook’s journal, but would he go to the island that was lower than the one next to it and further away from the direction he wanted to look?

The Google Earth Borders and Labels layer plumps for a patch of very low lying reef; certainly that is wrong.

I  chose for the tour the island that is actually at the south-east end of the entrance to Endeavour Strait and is actually high enough, at 70 metres, to be ‘no less than twice or thrice the height of the ship’s mastheads’.

There was no land to the south-west

There was no land to the south-west

Even from this vantage point Cook was still objective to the point of reticence:

Having satisfied myself of the great probability of a passage thro’ which I intended to go with the ship, and therefore may land no more upon this eastern coast of New Holland…I now once more hoisted English colours, and in the name of His Majesty King George The Third took possession of the whole eastern coast.

we fired 3 volleys of small arms which were answered by the like number from the ship

we fired 3 volleys of small arms which were answered by the like number from the ship

The following day, Endeavour sailed the length of Endeavour Strait and steered north-west for the small island which Cook named Booby Island (no prizes for guessing why). On entering Torres Strait, Cook noticed the swell from the south-west. This convinced him that there was no land in that direction for some distance and therefore:

…we had got to the westward extremity of Carpentaria, or the northern extremity of New Holland, and had now and open sea to the westward; which gave me no small satisfaction, not only because the danger and fatigues of the voyage was drawing near to an end, but by being able to prove that New Holland and New Guinea are two separate lands or islands, which until this day hath been a doubtful point among geographers.


Today, I added this leg of Cook’s exploration of the Australian coast to my Google Earth tour which presents his first voyage round the world. This leg completes my documentation of Cook’s exploration of Australia, from Point Hicks in the south to Cape York in the north.

Along the way Endeavour made an extended visit to Botany Bay, ran aground on a reef, was repaired in Endeavour river, passed outside the reef through Cook’s passage near Lizard Island, only to be nearly smashed to pieces on its outer edge a few days later. The ship was saved by being able to re-enter the reef system through Providential Channel.

Through perseverance and cautious navigation, Endeavour rounded Cape York less than a week later. Cook landed on Possession Island, from the summit of which he began to believe that he had found a passage between New Holland and New Guinea.

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012
Images of Earth © Google and others

If you would like to follow Cook’s voyage, you will need to install the latest version of Google Earth on your computer; then go to the Captain Cook blog  and click on the links on the right-hand side of the page, under the ‘Google Earth’ heading. After the animation is loaded in Google Earth, you need to expand an entry in the Table of Contents. You will see a ‘Play’ icon which you double-click to start the animation. Don’t forget to enable your speakers to hear the spoken journal.

Captain Cook in Google Earth: Cape Weymouth to Cape York

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James Cook was still in two minds whether or not to sail out into deep water through the passage by which they had returned to the Great Barrier Reef system. By staying among the reefs they would have to negotiate the endless shoal water with the attendant risk of hitting submerged rocks, but with the greater possibility of finding a passage between Australia and New Guinea. To pass outside the reef, with a favourable wind, and to stand off a safe distance would have been easier and faster sailing, but with a reduced chance of understanding the geography.

The fact that they might have to wait some time for a favourable wind to get outside the reef, with supplies running low, allied to Cook’s determination to answer this question of a passage separating New Guinea and Australia, led to the decision to sail north-west from their anchorage near Cape Weymouth, in other words to stay within the reef.

I now came to a fix’d resolution to keep the mainland on board, let the consequence be what it will, and in this all the officers concur’d.

Anchoring off Forbes's Isles on 19Aug1770

Anchoring off Forbes's Isles on 19Aug1770

So began the remainder of Cook’s survey of the land and sea between Cape Weymouth and Cape York (which of course wouldn’t be called that until he named it on 21Aug1770). The approach seemed to be to head for the islands that were in sight to the north and west and to dodge around the shoals that were in the way. Constantly they had one or other, and often both, of the pinnace and yawl ahead of the ship sounding, or flanking the sides of any channels they found.

Writing about their present circumstances when passing an island, Cook commented:

This island is about a league in circuit and of a moderate height, and is inhabited; to the north-west of it are several small, low islands and keys, which lay not far from the main, and to the northward and eastward lay several other islands and shoals, so that we were now incompassed on every side by one or the other, but so much does a great danger swallow up lesser ones, that these once so much dreaded spots were now looked at with less concern.

Rounding Cape Grenville on 19Aug1770

Rounding Cape Grenville on 19Aug1770

The ship rounded Cape Grenville on 19Aug1770. Cook named Sir Charles Hardy’s Isles as those lying 27 miles east of Cape Grenville, and those lying just off the cape the Cockburn Isles. Note: the Borders and Labels layer of Google Earth seems to confuse these islands, or they have been renamed since.

Bird Isles on 20Aug1770

Bird Isles on 20Aug1770

The power to name objects and places often goes to the maker or the discoverer. Sometimes it must be difficult to choose a suitable name; why else is there an innominate bone in the human body or a short alley called Extra Place amid the New York grid system of Avenues and Streets? Here is Cook at his least imaginative:

On the isles we saw a good many birds, which occasioned my calling them Bird Isles.

It has not always been easy when animating this leg of the voyage to plot the ship’s position throughout each day. The journal includes far fewer ranges and bearings than usual to significant headlands. I’m fairly confident that the following screenshot shows the position of the ship at about 0900 on Tuesday, 21Aug1770:

Having got round the south-east point of the shoal we steer’d north-west along the south-west, or inside of it, keeping a good lookout at the masthead, having another shoal on our larboard side; but we found a good channel of a mile broad between them, wherein were from 10 to 14 fathoms.

Picking a channel through the shoals on 21Aug1770

Picking a channel through the shoals on 21Aug1770

Later that day, they discovered that the northernmost lands in sight were islands (Mount Adolphus Islands) and not part of the mainland. Evidently there was a passage between these islands and the coast they were sailing past. It was too soon to be excited about discovering a strait between New Holland and New Guinea and, following the normal routine, they brought the ship to while the longboat and pinnace went ahead. The strong flood tide carried them through the passage and it soon became evident that they had reached the northernmost tip of New Holland.

Cape York on 21Aug1770

Cape York on 21Aug1770

The cape was named in honour of of his Royal Highness Edward Augustus, Duke of York, being the late brother of King George III.


Today, I added this leg of Cook’s exploration of the Australian coast to my Google Earth tour which presents his first voyage round the world. If you load this tour into Google Earth you will see that I have also uploaded the final tour in this series which presents the discovery of Endeavour Strait and the landing on Possession Island, but more of that in the next post.

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012
Images of Earth © Google and others

If you would like to follow Cook’s voyage, you will need to install the latest version of Google Earth on your computer; then go to the Captain Cook blog  and click on the links on the right-hand side of the page, under the ‘Google Earth’ heading. After the animation is loaded in Google Earth, you need to expand an entry in the Table of Contents. You will see a ‘Play’ icon which you double-click to start the animation. Don’t forget to enable your speakers to hear the spoken journal.

Captain Cook in Google Earth: Lizard Island to Cape Weymouth

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Sailing through Cook's Passage after 2pm on 13Aug1770

Sailing through Cook's Passage after 2pm on 13Aug1770

From Lizard Island it was relatively straightforward to reach the outermost edge of the Great Barrier Reef. Soon after their arrival, the master went out in the pinnace to examine one of the openings in the reef. He signalled the ship and, shortly afterwards, Endeavour followed her through into deep water. The first sounding gave no bottom with 100 fathoms of line. The wind was blowing a gale from the south-east and, although a northerly course would have been both desirable and feasible, Cook decided to stretch out close-hauled to the east-north-east to gain some clearance.

Stretching off east-north-east

Stretching off east-north-east

Two things were noticed: first they were back in the heavy swell of the deep ocean, and second, in these conditions, it became apparent that the ship was more damaged than at first thought, as she now began to take on a quantity of water that required one pump in constant use to clear.

Cook was eager not to miss any passage that there might be between the north of New Holland (Australia) and New Guinea. As soon as he could, he sailed first north-west and then due west. Shortly after noon on Wednesday, 15Aug1770 (remembering that the ship’s log runs from noon to noon), land was sighted from the masthead bearing west-south-west, and then more to the north-west, with a reef between the ship and the land.

We saw a reef between us and the land (15Aug1770)

We saw a reef between us and the land (15Aug1770)

The wind was blowing from the east-south-east so, broadly speaking, it was blowing them towards the reef. They tacked and ran northwards hoping to clear it but, after months of steady trade winds from the south-east, it fell calm in the middle of the night. By 0400 on the morning of Thursday, 16Aug1770, they could plainly hear the roar of the pacific swell pounding on the reef only a mile away. What was worse, the sea was carrying them rapidly towards destruction on the rocks. They were 30 miles from land and with too few boats to carry all the crew to safety, should Endeavour be smashed to pieces.

The pinnace was under repair, so the yawl and the longboat were given the task of towing the ship clear. They managed to bring her head round to the north, but by 0600 they were only 80 yards from the breakers. Cook wrote:

The same sea that washed the side of the ship rose in a breaker prodigiously high the very next time it did rise, so that between us and destruction was only a dismal valley the breadth of one wave…yet in this Truly Terrible Situation not one man ceased to do his utmost and that with as much Calmness as if no danger had been near. All the dangers we had escaped from were little in comparison of being thrown upon this reef, where the ship must be dashed to pieces in a moment.

Eighty yards from the breakers at 0600 on 16Aug1770

Eighty yards from the breakers at 0600 on 16Aug1770

After hasty repairs to the pinnace, it was deployed. With this extra tow and the slightest puff of wind they pulled away to 200 yards from the reef. They saw an opening a quarter of a mile away and tried to get through. However, the ebb tide was ‘gushing out like a mill race’, so they could not gain the safety of the smooth water within the reef. Instead, the tide and another helpful wind took them 400 yards from destruction. Between this time and noon they managed to get an offing approaching 2 miles.

Soon after, though, the flood tide started to flow which carried them once more towards the reef. Their only hope of saving the voyage and their own lives appeared to be another opening in the reef one mile to their west. Lieutenant Hicks went to examine it and returned with a favourable account. With a light breeze from the east-north-east and the help of the boats they reached the opening and passed easily through, carried by the flood tide acting as another mill race which  prevented the ship from being driven against the sides. Cook called this opening in the reef Providential Channel.

Endeavour in Providential Channel on 16Aug1770

Endeavour in Providential Channel on 16Aug1770

They sailed 11 miles within the reef and anchored in 19 fathoms.

After several pages of journal in which Cook had described their adventure outside the reef, he then took the time to reflect on their circumstances and on the explorer’s dilemma: should he ‘boldly go’, facing all obstacles head-on thereby risking failure of the mission or accusations of misconduct, or should he prudently exercise so much caution that he is deemed unsuitable through timorousness to be a discoverer of new lands. He felt that, on balance, neither accusation could be levelled against him – provided he succeeded.

Reflecting on the discoverer's life

Reflecting on the discoverer's life

He was well aware of the irony of his present position:

It is but a few days ago that I rejoiced at having got without the reef; that joy was nothing when compared to what I now felt at being safe at anchor within it.

After these briefs contemplations, it was back to the usual business of surveying the world about him. He fell immediately back into the habit of reporting latitude and longitude, magnetic variation, the condition of the reef at low water, and the significant features of the land. In this case, he named Cape Weymouth and Weymouth Bay.

Cape Weymouth on 17Aug1770

Cape Weymouth on 17Aug1770


Today, I added this leg of Cook’s exploration of the Australian coast to my Google Earth tour which presents his first voyage round the world.

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012

Images of Earth © Google and others

If you would like to follow Cook’s voyage, you will need to install the latest version of Google Earth on your computer; then go to the Captain Cook blog  and click on the links on the right-hand side of the page, under the ‘Google Earth’ heading. After the animation is loaded in Google Earth, you need to expand an entry in the Table of Contents. You will see a ‘Play’ icon which you double-click to start the animation. Don’t forget to enable your speakers to hear the spoken journal.

Captain Cook in Google Earth: Endeavour River to Lizard Island

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Endeavour passing Lizard Island at noon on Monday, 13Aug1770

Endeavour passing Lizard Island at noon on Monday, 13Aug1770

At 0700 on Saturday, 04Aug1770 Endeavour set sail from her anchorage in Endeavour River. The search was on either to find a way through the maze of shoals inshore or to discover a route to the east or north-east into deeper water. The objective, now, was to get the ship to the East Indies where she might be repaired. At the same time, Cook was reluctant to leave the coast entirely, still wanting to explore the land he had discovered and to determine, once and for all, whether New Holland was connected to New Guinea.

In Cook’s journal, you definitely sense  the stress they felt of manoeuvring the damaged ship through the shallows:

We steered alongshore north-west by west until one o’clock when the petty officer at the masthead called out that he saw land ahead extending quite round to the islands without, and a large reef between us and them. Upon this, I went to the masthead myself. The reef I saw very plain, which was now so far to windward that we could not weather it, but what he took for the main ahead were only small islands, for such they appeared to me; but before I had well got from the masthead, the master and some others went up, who all asserted that it was a continuation of the mainland, and to make it still more alarming they said they saw breakers, in a manner, all around us. We immediately hauled upon a wind in for the land…

Anchored off Turtle Reef on 05Aug1770

Anchored off Turtle Reef on 05Aug1770, showing Endeavour River and Cape Bedford

The first sign of this extreme caution was that Endeavour anchored one mile from Turtle Reef so that Cook could wait for low water when the reefs were more likely to be  exposed and the shoal water would be more evident. This reef had supplied them over the weeks with many turtles, a valuable supplement to their diet, and men were despatched to seize whatever last minute supplies could be found.

Viewing the outer reefs from the masthead on 05Aug1770

Viewing the outer reefs from the masthead on 05Aug1770 (3D model courtesy of Philipp Müller)

At low water and at anchor near Turtle Reef, Cook went to the masthead and:

I took a view of the shoals, and could see several laying a long way without this one, a part of several of them appearing above water; but as it appeared pretty clear of shoals to the north-east of the Turtle Reef, I came to a resolution to stretch out that way, close upon a wind, because if we found no passage we could always return back the way we went.

They set off in that direction but eventually met with more shoal water. The wind was now blowing a strong gale and they dropped anchor. However, the wind was so strong that it blew (drove) Endeavour along northwards, dragging the anchor along the seabed; it was only after removing all sails and spars from the rigging and paying out more chain that the anchors held.

Passing inshore of The Three Isles on 10Aug1770

Passing inshore of The Three Isles on 10Aug1770 with Cape Flattery ahead

By 10Aug1770, Endeavour was under sail once more and had passed Cape Bedford. She headed in for the land, then edged away, passing inshore of The Three Isles: ‘having another low island between us and the main…in this channel, had 13 fathoms water’.

For some time the soundings seemed to indicate that the ship was in deep water:

We now judged ourselves to be clear of all danger, having, as we thought, a clear open sea before us; but this we soon found otherwise, and occasioned my calling the headland above mentioned Cape Flattery.

After avoiding a reef ahead of them, Endeavour was steered inshore where she was anchored one mile from the headland that Cook called Point Lookout. From this promontory, he could see 9 or 10 small, low island to the north where the water close to the coast looked very shallow. He could see three high islands about 15 miles offshore and he resolved to visit the largest in order to take a view of the outer edge of the reef system. He had already guessed where the outer reef lay because the large Pacific swell rolling in from the south-east ‘broke prodigious high’ compared with the breakers within.

The outer reef viewed from Lizard Island

The outer reef viewed from Lizard Island

Accordingly, he sailed over to the island in the pinnace with Mr. Banks and a small crew. Based on the number of lizards they found there, he named it Lizard Island. His journal reports:

I did not reach the island until half an hour after one o’clock in the p.m. on Sunday, 12th, when I immediately went upon the highest hill on the island where, to my mortification, I discovered a reef of rocks laying about 2 or 3 leagues without the island, extending in a line north-west and south-east, father than I could see, on which the sea broke very high. This however, gave one great hopes that they were the outermost shoals, as I did not doubt but what I should be able to get without them, for there appeared to be several breaks or partitions in the reef, and deep water between it and the islands.

So, taking into account the master’s survey of the coastal waters, where there were clearly extensive shallows close in with the land, Cook formulated a plan and reached a consensus with his officers, to take Endeavour to the safety of deep water through a suitable gap in the outer reef. At daylight on 13Aug1770, they set sail from Point Lookout and by noon they were one mile to the west-north-west of the north point of Lizard Island and heading towards the outer reef…


Today, I added this leg of Cook’s exploration of the Australian coast to my Google Earth tour which presents his first voyage round the world.

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012

Images of Earth © Google and others

If you would like to follow Cook’s voyage, you will need to install the latest version of Google Earth on your computer; then go to the Captain Cook blog  and click on the links on the right-hand side of the page, under the ‘Google Earth’ heading. After the animation is loaded in Google Earth, you need to expand an entry in the Table of Contents. You will see a ‘Play’ icon which you double-click to start the animation. Don’t forget to enable your speakers to hear the spoken journal.

Captain Cook in Google Earth: Endeavour River

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Hauled ashore in Endeavour River

Hauled ashore in Endeavour River

Endeavour was badly in need of repair. After feeling their way along the coast in search of a safe harbour, Cook anchored Endeavour, on 14Aug1770, one mile offshore at the entrance to a river where soundings had shown there was a sufficient depth of water.

With shoals nearby and strong onshore winds, they had to wait until the morning of the 17th before they could bring the ship into the river. Even so, they ran aground twice before warping the ship to a place where she could be hauled up on the beach.

Over the next six to seven weeks the ship was repaired to the best of the ability of the carpenter and his men. The armourer set up a forge to make nails and pieces of ironwork. Meanwhile, the crew was sustained by fishing parties in the river and by the discovery of a reef, 12 to 15 miles out at sea, where there were turtles in abundance. By way of vegetables, the crew collected purslanes, beans, cabbage palms, and a type of kale.

Mr. Molineux, the master, explored the shoals in the offing, taking soundings in search of a route out to deep water. Meanwhile, Cook visited the hills to the north and south of the harbour to take a view both of the reefs and the countryside. For some time he struggled with the decision about which way to take the ship. To return to the south, the way they had come, would be hindered by the steady south-easterly winds they would encounter. However, the route to the north was unknown, and did not look promising. If they sailed north they might, eventually, have to return to the south anyway.

As usual Cook tried to communicate with the people he met and of whom he wrote:

Their features were far from disagreeable; their voices were soft and tunable, and they could easily repeat any word after us, but neither us nor Tupia could understand a single word they said.

In addition to the people, Cook described the diverse flora and fauna, including the first kangaroos they had ever seen.


Today, I added this leg of Cook’s exploration of the Australian coast to my Google Earth tour which presents his first voyage round the world. The time spent in Endeavour River spans about seven weeks, so I have divided it into the following sections:

  • Beaching the ship.
  • Repairing the ship.
  • Waiting for wind and tide.
  • Description of Endeavour River.

These sections are held in a folder entitled ‘Endeavour River’, and each section is a separate Google Earth tour.

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012

If you would like to follow Cook’s voyage, you will need to install the latest version of Google Earth on your computer; then go to the Captain Cook blog  and click on the links on the right-hand side of the page, under the ‘Google Earth’ heading. After the animation is loaded in Google Earth, you need to expand an entry in the Table of Contents. You will see a ‘Play’ icon which you double-click to start the animation. Don’t forget to enable your speakers to hear the spoken journal.

Captain Cook in Google Earth: Beached in Endeavour River

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Endeavour beached in Endeavour River - Google Earth and Johann Fritzsch engraving

I have now navigated Endeavour in Google Earth to the safety of the Endeavour River where the ship was beached to effect repairs. The screenshot above shows the ship both in Google Earth and in the engraving created by Johann Christian Fritzsch in about 1786.


Limping along and edging towards the land, Endeavour had the boats out ahead to dodge the shoals that surrounded her. At 3pm on 13Jun1770, Cook thought they had found a possible harbour, but the water proved too shallow. With sunset approaching they came to an anchor 2 miles from the shore.

Endeavour at anchor surrounded by shoals on 14Jun1770

Endeavour at anchor surrounded by shoals on 14Jun1770

At 8pm, the pinnace returned with news that 5 or 6 miles to the north was another possible place where the ship could be beached for repairs. It was already too dark to move the ship, so they waited until 6am the following morning to run down to it. On the way they encountered more shoals, at one time having only 3 fathoms of water, or 4 feet beneath the keel.

Now the wind freshened and blew onshore. Cook feared that the ship might be driven on to the coast before the boats could lay the channel. Once again they anchored, about a mile from the shore and close to the mouth of the Endeavour River.

Endeavour anchored one mile from the mouth of Endeavour River on 14Jun1770

Cook surveyed the channel himself and found it narrower and the harbour smaller than he had been told, but he thought it was “very convenient for our purpose”.

On the 15th and 16th of June, 1770, they were prevented by strong gales from moving the ship, but on the 17th it moderated sufficiently for the crew to weigh anchor and run in. They went ashore twice, driven by onshore winds, and the second time they stuck fast. Cook used this opportunity to take down various spars from the ship in order to construct a raft which they floated alongside. They also wanted to lighten the ship forward as much as possible to make it easier to beach the ship.

Finally, at 1pm on 17Jun1770, they floated the ship once more and warped her into harbour on a steep beach on the south side of the river.


Today, I added this leg of Cook’s exploration of the Australian coast to my Google Earth tour which presents his first voyage round the world.

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012

If you would like to follow Cook’s voyage, you will need to install the latest version of Google Earth on your computer; then go to the Captain Cook blog  and click on the links on the right-hand side of the page, under the ‘Google Earth’ heading. After the animation is loaded in Google Earth, you need to expand an entry in the Table of Contents. You will see a ‘Play’ icon which you double-click to start the animation. Don’t forget to enable your speakers to hear the spoken journal.

Captain Cook in Google Earth: Endeavour Reef

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It may be true that every ship has, somewhere, a reef with her name on it. If so, then H.M.Bark Endeavour found hers at 11p.m. on 11Jun1770. The way it happened was as follows.

In the afternoon, Endeavour was sailing about 10 miles from the coast in a north-westerly direction in 12 fathoms of water. They saw two low islands ahead and, rather than sailing towards them as it grew darker, Cook headed offshore to the north-east into deeper water, or so he thought. He also wanted to know whether there were any islands further out, as documented by an earlier navigator.

At first the plan worked, the water deepening to 21 fathoms. Suddenly, at about 9 o’clock, their soundings were 12, 10, and 8 fathoms; they were heading into shoal water. Cook was about to give the order to let go an anchor, to pull them up short, when the next sounding showed deeper water. He thought they were past the danger and gave the order to ‘stand on’. What had happened was that Endeavour had narrowly missed going aground on a reef which now has the name Pickersgill Reef.

Pickersgill Reef

Endeavour passing over the tip of Pickersgill Reef at 2100 on 11Jun1770

They continued in depths of 21 fathoms for the next two hours then, a few minutes before 11 o’clock, the depth was measured as 17 fathoms. Before the man at the lead could cast the line, Endeavour struck the reef that now bears her name.

Sounding round the ship they found the deepest water astern and tried to heave her off using the anchors. This technique involves dropping the anchor some way from the ship and using a capstan to haul on the chain. A free-floating ship can easily be moved in this way, but Endeavour was stuck fast and heeling to starboard.

They tried to lighten the ship by throwing overboard her guns, ballast, casks, jars, anything in fact that they thought would help. They hauled on their anchor chains again at the next high tide but failed to free the ship, owing partly to a peculiarity of the tides in this region, in which only every other tide reaches a greater depth.

Endeavour Reef

Endeavour ran aground on Endeavour Reef about 2300 on 11Jun1770

Before the next high tide, Cook deployed his anchors in new locations and was ready at 5p.m. when the next flood started to rise. At 9 o’clock, the ship was righted but immediately began to take on water at a greater rate, more than the three working pumps could handle. The situation was becoming desperate. Cook made the decision “to risk all and heave her off.”

Dividing the men between working the pumps and heaving on the anchors, Cook had Endeavour pulled clear of the reef at 2220 on 12Jun1770. She was dragged into deeper water but soon after they felt in worse peril than ever when it seemed that the water level in the hold of the ship, which was 3 feet 9 inches when they got clear of the reef, had risen rapidly by 17 inches.

Rising water level

A mistake soon after happened, which for the first time caused fear to approach upon every man in the ship

What had happened was that the man who had the job of measuring the depth of water in the hold used the ceiling as his benchmark. When he was relieved, the next man measured the depth from the outside plank, and this created the apparent rush of water into the ship. The men “redoubled their vigour” and by 0800 the next morning, the leak was under control, but not yet repaired.

To stem the leak, the ship was fothered. This process involves the preparation of a sail by coating it with oakum, a tarred fibre, and with wool, completed with a layer of “sheep dung or other filth; horse dung for this purpose is the best” (like me, I guess you don’t want to know the source of the ‘other filth’).

The treated sail is hauled under the ship using ropes and positioned, by trial and error, over the hole in the hull. This worked well for Endeavour, and before long the leak could be managed by “one pump with ease”. The men’s spirits soared, and instead of wanting only to limp to the Hope Islands – the small low islands Cook had wanted to avoid in the first place – they thought of ranging alongshore to find a decent harbour where the ship could be beached and repairs made.


Today, I added this leg of Cook’s exploration of the Australian coast to my Google Earth tour which presents his first voyage round the world. If you haven’t looked at the latest Google Earth yet, I can highly recommend it.

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012

If you would like to follow Cook’s voyage, you will need to install the latest version of Google Earth on your computer; then go to the Captain Cook blog  and click on the links on the right-hand side of the page, under the ‘Google Earth’ heading. After the animation is loaded in Google Earth, you need to expand an entry in the Table of Contents. You will see a ‘Play’ icon which you double-click to start the animation. Don’t forget to enable your speakers to hear the spoken journal.

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