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Captain Cook in Google Earth: Cape Upstart to Cape Tribulation

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Cleveland Bay
Endeavour passing Cleveland Bay on 06Jun1770

Endeavour passed Cleveland Bay on Wed 06Jun1770. Cook named the east point of the bay Cape Cleveland and the west point Magnetical Head or Island (because “the compass did not traverse well when near it”). He described the land as rugged, rocky, and barren but not without inhabitants: “…as we saw smoke in several places in the bottom of the bay”.

Palm Isles

Endeavour approaching the Palm Isles on 08Jun1770

A few days later, Endeavour was sailing between the Palm Isles and the mainland. They saw what looked like coconut palms on one of the islands and “as a few of these nuts would have been very acceptable to us”, Cook sent a party ashore led by Lieutenant Hicks. However, what they found was a small kind of cabbage palm and they came away empty handed. As they were putting off from the shore they heard but did not see the inhabitants of the island.

In this screenshot, you can see how the Great Barrier Reef closes with the land (it’s not all perspective, the reef does actually come closer to the shore). This was unseen by Cook and he had no idea, yet, of the maze of hazards he was sailing towards.

Cape Sandwich

Endeavour rounding Cape Sandwich on 08Jun1770

Later that day, Endeavour rounded Cape Sandwich, the east point of Rockingham Bay, which he described as well sheltered and affording good anchorage, although he did not stop to explore it. He preferred to make use of the favourable winds and light moon to continue ranging alongshore. By ‘light moon’, I assume Cook means a Moon that is almost full; not only would this provide light for night sailing but would give a higher tide, and that in turn would provide deeper water when the tide was full, making the sailing safer.

Family Islands

Endeavour sailing between the Family Islands on 08Jun1770

“…continued to range alongshore to the northward for a parcel of small islands laying off the northern point of the bay, and finding a channel a mile broad between the three outermost and those nearer the shore, we pushed through. While we did this we saw on one of the nearest islands a number of the natives collected together who seemed to look very attentively upon the ship; they were quite naked, and of a very dark colour, with short hair.”

This sounds politically incorrect to the modern ear, but in my reading of Cook’s journal I feel he is simply making detailed observations of everything he sees, whether it’s hydrographical, geographical, botanical, or anthropological. I don’t think Cook was to blame for what came later.

Cape Grafton

Endeavour sailing between Cape Grafton and Fitzroy Island on 09Jun1770

On Saturday, 09Jun1770, Cook discovered that what he thought was the next cape was actually an island. Endeavour sailed between this island (Fitzroy Island) and the actual point of the mainland which Cook named Cape Grafton. After rounding this cape, he anchored in the first bay to the westward in search of water. Although some streams were seen running across the beach he felt it would be inconvenient to take on water here on account of the surf and rocks. Without delaying any further, they weighed anchor and stood away north-west.

Cook named the bay he was in Trinity Bay and defined its points as Cape Grafton to the south and Cape Tribulation to the north (“…because here began all our troubles”). You might wonder how he knew that his troubles were about to begin and therefore give the northern point such a name. The explanation is simple. If you look at the digitised manuscript of Cook’s journal, held by the National Library of Australia, you can see clearly that the naming of Cape Tribulation was a later addition. Indeed, you can often see where blanks were left in the text where names were later inserted. Most famously you can also see where all occurrences of Stingray Bay were crossed out and the name Botany Bay inserted.


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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