This Day in History ( June 11 )

Captain James Cook
Captain James Cook discovers the Great Barrier Reef – the hard way!

‘On the 11th June 1770, just before midnight on a calm moonlit night, the ship Endeavour (eBook) commanded by James Cook struck the Great Barrier Reef.’

On 23 April he made his first recorded direct observation of indigenous Australians at Brush Island near Bawley Point (south coast), noting in his journal: ‘…and were so near the Shore as to distinguish several people upon the Sea beach they appear'd to be of a very dark colour but whether this was the real colour of their skins or the clothes they might have on I know not.’ 

Botany Bay - Cook's original map
On 29 April Cook and crew made their first landfall on the mainland of the continent at a place now known as the Kurnell Peninsula. Cook originally christened the area as ‘Stingray Bay’, but he later crossed it out and named it Botany Bay after the unique specimens retrieved by the botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander. It is here that James Cook made first contact with an Aboriginal tribe known as the Gweagal.

Cape Tribulation - showing reef
After his departure from Botany Bay he continued northwards, where the near disaster occurred - on 11 June, when the Endeavour ran aground on a shoal of the Great Barrier Reef (near Cape Tribulation), they ‘nursed into a river mouth on 18 June 1770’. The ship was badly damaged and his voyage was delayed almost seven weeks while repairs were carried out on the beach (near the docks of modern Cooktown, Queensland, at the mouth of the Endeavour River). Once repairs were complete the voyage continued, sailing through Torres Strait and on 22 August he landed on Possession Island, where he claimed the entire coastline he had just explored as British territory. He returned to England via Batavia (modern Jakarta, Indonesia, where many in his crew succumbed to malaria), then the Cape of Good Hope and the island of Saint Helena, arriving home on 12 July 1771.

Reef can be seen from space
The Great Barrier Reef (DVD) has been around ever since the Ice Age. It started it's expansive life as just one coral polyp, and now has billions of polyps gathering together to form both large and small patches of dangerous reef. The Great Barrier Reef is 80,000 square miles in area and over 1,200 miles long (it could reach from New York City to Miami, Florida). It is also presently under threat by rising sea temperatures.

The Aboriginal people were the first true inhabitants on the Great Barrier Reef and it's surrounds. They would fish, hunt, and build their homes on and along the shores of the reef during the Ice Age... and they are living there still. They have lived off the resources of the reef for thousands of years without technology, or even with the use of many (modern) tools.

Captain Cook's landing place - Kurnell monument

COOK (log entry) – The north point of the event was called ‘Cape Tribulation…. because here begun all our troubles.’

COOK (log entry) – 'Before ten O’clock (11th) we had 20 and 21 fathom and continued in that depth until before eleven when we had 17 and before the man at the lead could heave another cast the ship struck and stuck fast.'