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Captain James Cook

With a rich history starting with Captain James Cooks' landing here in 1770, to the Palmer River Gold Rush a hundred years later, Cooktown is one of Queensland's oldest historic towns.

The following information has been kindly researched by the Cooktown Historical Society and others where noted.

Cook's Landing

In 1770, Captain James Cook and his ship the "Endeavour" ran afoul of the Great Barrier Reef and seriously damaged the hull.  To avoid sinking, all the crew and stores had to be offloaded in order to free the "Endeavour" from the reef. Cook needed to find safe waters, and fast, so he sailed his damaged 368 ton vessel into the closest river he could find.  It was here that his crew of 87 men, some of whom all Australians are familiar with, like Banks, Solander, Hicks and Monkhouse, were evacuated to the shore and told to make camp in order to assist with the massive task of repairing the hull of their crippled ship.

Cooks' stay in that harbour was to be his longest onshore stay for his entire voyage.  He later named the river "Endeavour" after the great vessel whose life it saved.  It was the only river in Australia that he would name.

Captain James Cook

Courtesy Rhonda HillCaptain James Cook, R.N., F.R.S., hailed from humble beginnings. Life began in a simple thatched cottage in North Yorkshire, England on 27 October 1728. Born the son of a Scottish farmer and his Yorkshire wife, James received basic schooling at home in Marton.

When the family moved to Aireyholme Farm, his father's employer, Thomas Scottowe, became instrumental in shaping Cook's destiny. He paid for the boy's education and became his mentor.

In 1744, James left home. Scottowe arranged work for him in the fishing village of Staithes. Eighteen months later, James decided his future lay in the maritime service and not the world of commerce.

In April 1746, James became an apprentice to John Walker, a Whitby ship owner. On the eve of obtaining command of a collier, he left the merchant service to join the Royal Navy.

As a natural navigator and leader, he rose rapidly through the ranks. In those days, rarely were sons of the working class considered for promotion. His voyage to Canadian waters was to alter that philosophy. Between 1763 - 1767, Cook's surveys of the St Lawrence Channel, and the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador, clearly demonstrated his skill for command and exploration. He was promoted to lieutenant and began preparations for his voyage of discovery aboard the Endeavour.

In the following 3 years, Cook observed and recorded the transit of Venus at Tahiti, charted the coast of New Zealand, the east coast of Australia and part of the southern coast of New Guinea.

Captain Cook at sunset, Endeavour RiverThe voyage through the Great Barrier reef was challenging and dangerous. In June 1770, the Endeavour grounded on an uncharted reef. Cook beached the ship in the sheltered waters of what he later named the Endeavour River. Seven weeks later he and his crew continued their northward course.

Cook embarked on the second voyage with two ships, the Resolution and the Adventure in 1772. Returning to the Pacific region, he skirted the Antarctic ice fields, visited Tahiti and the New Hebrides and discovered and charted New Caledonia. After covering a distance equal to three circumnavigations of the globe in just under three years, Cook returned to England.

The Resolution was to be Captain James Cook's final commission. He was charged with discovering a new trading route to the East Indies via the top of North America.

It was on this fateful mission, at a provisioning stop in Hawaii, that he was slain by natives, on 14 February 1779. His remains were returned to the crew and he was buried in the waters of Kealakekun Bay.

Cook embraced the pioneering spirit wholeheartedly. He dedicated his life and career to exploration and the expansion of scientific and geographic knowledge.

Source: Cooktown Library Publication, 1996.