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Convicts & Transportation

Convicts and transportation

AUSTRALIA- It’s Discovery

Captain James Cook. RN. SLNSW

Captain James Cook. RN. SLNSW


The history surrounding the ‘discovery’ of the immense southern landmass that eventually became known as ‘Australia’ is a fascinating study. In truth it had been inhabited by an indigenous population for centuries, some say for over 4000 years, when Dutch, French and British mariners noted its existence. There is even conjecture that Portuguese and Chinese sailors had scouted the region. It was eventually declared for Britain by Captain James Cook, a master navigator and mapmaker. The following excerpts, mostly taken down from my Mitchell Library research, and mostly from first hand reports, show how that ‘discovery’ was viewed. WF.

There are no songs detailing the ‘discovery’ of Australia or praising James Cook. [WF.]


The Land, in general, is low and level with very few Hills or Mountains; further to the northward it may in some places be called a Hilly, but hardly any where can be cali’d a Mountainous Country, for the Hills and Mountains put together take up but a small part of the Surface in comparison to what the Planes and Vallies do which intersect or divide these Hills and Mountains.

It is indifferently well watered, even in the dry seasons, with small Brooks and springs, but no great Rivers. unless it be in the wet Season when the low lands and Vallies near the Sea I do suppose are mostly laid under water, the small brooks may then become larg-e Rivers but this can only happen with the Tropick. It was only in Thirsty Sound, excepting one small pool or two which Gore saw in the Woods, where we could find no fresh Water which no doubt was owing to the Country being there very much intersected with Salt Creeks and Mangrove land. …

Land Animals are scarce as so far as we know confined to a very few species; all that we saw I have before mentioned, the sort that is in the greatest plenty is the Kangooroo or Kanguru so called by the Natives, we saw a good many of them about Endeavour River, but kili’d only Three which we found very good eating. Here are likewise Batts, Lizards, Snakes, Scorpions, Centumpees &c. but not in any plenty – Tame Animals they have none but Dogs and of these we saw but one and therefore must be very scarce, probably they eat them faster than they breed them, we should not have seen this one had he not made us frequent Visits while we lay in Endeavour River –
From Captain Cook’s Journal


“In running along the shore, we observed a number of steep rocky clifts and after having run about 3 leagues we were abreast of some high sand clifts at the northern extremity of which the land of the entrance of Port Jackson commences, and the entrance is soon discovered lying between 2 steep bluff heads. There is no danger in entering the harbour but what is visible, and, when within the heads, a rock lies in the mid channel, the shoal of which extends a cable’s length around. This rock is just covered at high water. When in the inside of the harbour, the larbord arm leads to the place where the settlement is formed, which lies about 6 miles from the entrance of the harbour. We anchored there the same evening at about 7 o’clock, being obliged to turn up.”
Lieut.P. G. King’s diary, 25 January 1788


We got into Port Jackson early in the afternoon, and had the satisfaction of finding the finest harbour in the world, in which a thousand sail of the line may ride in the most perfect security. The different coves were examined with all possible expedition. I fixed on the one that had the best spring of water and in which the ships can anchor so close to the shore that at a very small expanse quays may be made at which the largest ships may unload.

This cove, which I honoured with the name of Sydney, is about a quarter of a mile across at the entrance, and half a mile in length.
Governor Phillip, despatch to Lord Sydney. 16 May 1788

Convicts + Transportation