At around 11pm on 10th June 1770, a clear moonlit night, The Endeavour hit the Great Barrier Reef on a high tide.

The ship was clearly in danger of sinking and everyone on board would probably have drowned if she couldn’t be floated.  The crew – most of whom would not have been able to swim – jettisoned over 50 tons of guns, stores and cannons while pumping up the water in the hold.

After a traumatic 23 hours, the ship was finally freed and a fothering technique slowed the leak enough to keep them afloat.

The longboats were sent out and the Master reported a short time later, finding a place well suited to their needs a short distance up the coast.

On June 17th, a week after hitting the reef, the Endeavour limped into the comparative safety of the Endeavour River.

Within a week, the ship was repaired but the winds were most unfavourable and they were prevented from sailing until 5th August after 48 days, almost seven weeks later.

They made good use of their time on shore, with Cook, who was an expert navigator, spending much time at high vantage points attempting to charter safe passage out through the reef.  While other crew members were sent out to catch fish and turtles, which were plentiful on a nearby reef, Joseph Banks and his team of scientists and botanists concentrated on documenting the botany of the area, ultimately recording 325 plant species.

All the time, the activities of these strange men were observed from afar by the Bama. The first sight of a white man would have been terrifying as ancient Guugu Yimithirr stories said that one day the spirits of their ancestors would return as white spirits or wangaar.

Over the weeks, their courage grew and the Bama instigated meetings with Cook’s crew with relations between them being largely friendly. Over seven separate meetings they spent sufficient time together for Cook, Banks and the Endeavour’s team of naturalists to record more than 130 words of the native language. One of the words recorded was gangurru, which was spelt ‘kangaroo’.

Then relations took a turn for the worse. The Endeavour crew caught some turtle and refused to share them with the local clan. This was a sign of great disrespect for the Guugu Yimithirr. The meat of ngawiya was so highly valued that it would always be given first to the Elders, and only when they had finished would the remainder be eaten by the rest of the clan. Cook’s men, of course, knew nothing of this and thought the turtle was rightfully theirs and needed all the meat for their voygage home to England.

The Guugu Yimithirr were incensed, and the scuffle that followed could easily have led to bloodshed – the Guugu Yimithirr greatly outnumbered the Endeavour crew and there were numerous opportunities to spear them but, perhaps because they were on neutral ground, the dispute was quickly resolved and the Bama allowed Cook and his men to leave unharmed.

Had this not been the case, how different our history would be. The British Admiralty would not have been told of the discovery of a new land and, eighteen years later, the First Fleet would not have arrived at Sydney Cove to begin building the country we now call Australia.

The Crew »