Cooktown 2020 is a 48-day festival celebrating the arrival of James Cook 250 years ago, the scientific discoveries that were recorded during his 48 days on shore and the interactions that occurred between the crew and the Guugu Yimithirr people.

In the story of Cook and his exploration of Australia, Cooktown has three unique claims that underpin the significance of these anniversary celebrations:

48 days on shore

The Endeavour and its crew of 86 men spent 48 days (almost 7 weeks) in Cooktown – the longest and most significant land based stay during Cook’s east coast expedition.

During this time, Cook and his crew walked the shores of the Endeavour, climbed Grassy Hill and other ranges and explored the extensive coastline as they searched for safe passage out through the reef.

‘From what I have said of the Natives of New-Holland they may appear to some to be the most wretched people upon Earth, but in reality they are far happier than we Europeans.’

Excerpt from Cook’s Journal

While repairing the Endeavour and exploring the region and waiting for a change in the winds, Cook and his crew had eight separate interactions with the Guugu Yimithirr Bama Ngay.

First recorded act of reconciliation

Genuine communication was established between the parties and the Bama even went aboard the Endeavour.

Whilst on board, an altercation between the Bama Ngay and Cook’s crew arose over the capture of turtles. The Bama Ngay were offended by Cook’s refusal to share the turtles caught by his crew which resulted in grass fires being lit and one Bama being shot in the leg.

The wisdom of a Bama elder ensured that the rift was quickly healed and the first recorded act of reconciliation in Australia was recorded with the presentation of a broken spear tip.

’we followed them for near half a mile and then set down and call’d to them and they stopped also; after some unintelligible conversation had passed they lay down their darts and came to us in a very friendly manner; we now returned the darts we had taken from them ‘which reconciled every thing.’

Excerpt from Cook’s Journal

This incident was a clear demonstration of mutual respect as two cultures came together for the first time.

Scientific achievements that shaped Australia

On board with Cook’s crew were a number of scientists, led by Sir Joseph Banks. During their time on land 325 plant specimens – over half the known species today were collected.

Also recorded were the first sightings of kangaroo, crocodile, flying fox, dingo, possum as well as fish, birds and shells.

The skills of botanist Daniel Solander and artist Sydney Parkinson were vital to the success of Banks’ botanical endeavour.  During the voyage, Parkinson’s work included over 900 drawings and 250 watercolours which resulted in almost 700 engraved plates.

In gathering plants today, I myself had the good fortune to see the beast so much talked of … he was not only like a greyhound in size and running, but had a long tail, as long as any greyhounds; what to liken him to I could not tell, nothing certainly that I have seen at all resembles him.

Excerpt from Bank’s journal

Discover more about Captain Cook on the Captain Cook Society website.

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