Captain Cook Memorial Hyde Park

Captain Cooks Memorial Hyde Park Front

With Australia Day upon us, and many people either celebrating or commiserating the colonisation of Australia by Europeans, it seemed the ideal time to share the image above. Captain Cook, who is commemorated by the statue shown above, was one of those responsible for the British claiming Australia and for the eventual colonisation. Yet he was far from the first to discover Australia, as the statue claims.

In 1770, Captain James Cook, accompanied by his crew and Dr Solander and Joseph Banks, sailed into Botany Bay on board his ship, The Endeavour. For many years, this visit was lauded as the ‘discovery of Australia’, and indeed the statue in the image above does just this, and has recently become somewhat controversial as a result. Yet, although Captain Cooks visit was the first step towards European colonisation, he did not discover Australia.

The discovery of Australia is actually a long and somewhat convoluted story. Of course, the Aboriginal People of Australia should be credited with the discovery, as they inhabited this land long before any subsequent discoveries took place. Yet Captain Cook was not even the first European to discover Australia! There are some who suggest that as early as the 1500s, the Portuguese had sighted, and perhaps even set foot on Australian soil. They point to early maps which hint at Australia as evidence. Whether this is true or not, by the early 1600s the Dutch had certainly located Australia.

The Dutch East India Company was formed in 1602 and was soon doing extensive trade with islands which are now part of Indonesia. In 1606, William Janszoon, on board his ship the Duyfken, made charts of the western coast of Australia, and also made landfall and interacted with Aboriginal people. The same year, a Spanish expedition led by Pedro Fernandez de Quiros explored the area and his deputy Luis Vaez de Torres traversed the Torres Strait and sighted the northern part of Australia. Many more sightings of Australia, and particularly the western coast, were made in the 1600s and into the 1700s. In 1642, Abel Tasman sighted what he named Van Diemens Land, but which we know as Tasmania. In 1644 he returned and charted much of the northern coast of Australia, naming the area New Holland. Then, in 1688, William Dampier, who was searching for the Tryall, a ship which had been wrecked nearly 70 years earlier, became the first Englishman to set foot on the continent of Australia. He careened his ship in the area of King Sound on the west coast.

In the 1700s, more voyages still were made to Australia, and more of the map of the Great Southern Land was filled in. Indeed, by the time Captain Cook arrived in 1770, much of Australia had been charted, and featured on maps! Captain Cook did not discover the Great Southern Land, but did find an area heretofore unexplored and unknown. However, Captain Cook should be remembered for his efforts, for although the claims that he discovered Australia may be false, his voyages (there were more than one) to the Pacific were very significant. He was the first to chart the coastline of Eastern Australia, and did indeed ‘discover’ New South Wales, enabling future European colonisation. He also charted the Great Barrier Reef, ‘discovered’ New Zealand and made more accurate charts of the Pacific than any who had come before him.

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