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thinking outside the tank

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.

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