At around 10pm on 11th June 1770, the Endeavour ran aground on the previously uncharted Great Barrier Reef. There she would lay stranded whilst her desperate crew hauled tonnes of materials overboard. Relief would only come when more than 24 hours later, the rising tide and the run of a wave jolted her free and into deep water.
Investigation of the hull gave Captain Cook cause for concern. Over the following days with Endeavour taking on dangerous levels of water, Cook came to the conclusion that without favourable conditions the vessel would not stay afloat.
With that, Cook and his crew limped into an inlet now known as the Endeavour River on 17th June, 1770. Having survived the shallow, coral filled waters along the east coast of Queensland, the Endeavour crew would camp for seven weeks on the sandy shores of Cooktown whilst repairing the damaged ship.
During their stay, the pioneers would record the first sighting of a kangaroo by Europeans and on 10th July the first direct contact with Australian aboriginals on the east coast.
Contact with the aboriginals was positive, aided by the giving of gifts from the British. It was during these interactions that the word kangaroo was assigned to the hopping marsupial found only on the great southern continent. Relations were going well until the natives saw the British having success catching turtles about a week later.
Invited aboard the Endeavour, a number of aboriginals became unruly when seeing the turtles. The natives then attempted to throw the catch overboard in fury and perhaps racist jealousy. From Cook’s diary, “. . . They grew a little troublesome, and were for throwing everything overboard they could lay their hands upon . . . I offered them some bread to eat, which they rejected with scorn . . .”
Forced off the vessel, the aboriginals then took to lighting fires around the visitors who were onshore. During this episode the aboriginals set fire to fishing nets, linen and scorched a tiny piglet to death in their rage. Disaster was only averted when Cook fired a musket in the direction of one of the ringleaders. The group quickly dispersed, fleeing into the bush and disappearing.
Within 48 hours of this violent interaction Cook and the Endeavour returned to the seas. By 21st August they would reach the northern most point of Australia, after which they would chart a course for modern day Jakarta in Indonesia.
Read more about Captain Cook in Rob Mundle’s classic biography Captain James Cook.