First nations culture and kinship

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The encounters between the crew of the Endeavour and Indigenous Australians saw a collision of cultures. The ways of knowing and being—connection between place and people—in the culture and kinship systems of Indigenous Australians are at the heart of those colliding worlds.

Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders are two distinct and separate cultural groups. In turn, these groups are made up of hundreds of different cultural and language groups. However, there are certain cultural beliefs and practices that are common to both cultural groups and which continue to underpin ways of knowing and living today.

Lore and law

Australia before European colonisation was neither uninhabited nor lawless. Over the thousands of years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations coexisted across the country in accordance with complex cultural practices, traditional law and a unique relationship with the land and sea.

Traditional law, or ‘lore’, are the rules and behavioural norms surrounding appropriate behaviour. These include rules around homicide, abduction, assault, incest, adultery, sacrilege and the violation of one’s responsibilities. Any conflicts between members of a community and traditional law were handled by that community’s elders—the most senior people or those with cultural status in their community.

British settlers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations often came into conflict, in particular during the early years of settlement.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations were practicing their lore and culture for thousands of years before European arrival and expected that the British would respect the existing lore of the land. However, the British colonial authorities established courts in Australia and instead expected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to follow the new British laws.

Today, there is greater understanding among Australians about the differences between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lore and customs and non-Indigenous laws and customs. 

Lore and country

There is also broader understanding and appreciation today of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rich connection to Country. Land and sea is of great significance to First Nations people and communities. It is integral to language and culture. Indeed, the living environment of the land and sea and its connection to people and communities goes beyond a sense of physical place. Connection to Country is also spiritual and is central to individual identity.

The term ‘Country’ encompasses not just a place, but also an interdependent relationship between a person and their ancestral lands and seas. In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, the relationship between people and country is viewed as reciprocal, with people having responsibility to care for their environment. For this reason, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are often referred to as traditional custodians.

Connection to Country includes the sense of being in touch with one’s history and stories. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures have a strong tradition of storytelling. Understanding the environment is as much about knowing stories of that environment as it is about knowing which plants to eat and where to hunt. These stories include how the world was formed, the meanings of the constellations in the sky and the songlines that tell of great journeys and moments in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history. In this way, knowing the stories of Country, provide more than knowledge of place and environment and are central to individual identity.

Kinship and communication

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kinship is a complex system that underpins all social interaction. A person’s place within the kinship system establishes their relationship to others and to the world. It determines their responsibilities towards other people, towards the land and towards natural resources.

Kinship is founded on moiety, totems and skin names. Here is what each of these terms mean.

  • According to moiety, everything is split in half, including people and their environment. To understand the world, these halves must come together to form a whole. This means moiety influences who a person can marry and how they might interact with others.It is possible to have the same moiety as someone else. In this case, you are considered siblings within the kinship structure. This means you have a responsibility to support one another.
  • Totems link a person to the physical world: to land, water, animals and geographical markers. An individual totem will recognise personal strength or weakness and must be safeguarded by that person to be passed on to future generations. Each person is given at least four totems: one for themselves alone, one for family, one for clan and one for nation.
  • Skin names work similarly to surnames within the kinship system. They denote how people are connected and how they must therefore interact. Unlike surnames, however, a child will not have the same skin name as their parents, with skin names being given according to a naming cycle. 

The kinship system is used throughout Australia, with each tribe, nation and language having its own network of kinship that guides individuals in their interactions with other people both within and beyond their groups. It provides people with order and purpose. In this sense, kinship pervades every aspect of social organisation and structure.

Kinship typically sees each member of a group sorted into categories with tribe-specific names. Qualifying names are given to relatives-in-law and blood relatives, such as “aunty”. Husbands and wives are classified as being one another’s kin. Kinship also guides behaviour, with a person’s place within the system determining which relatives they can talk to and which ones they cannot speak with directly, out of respect.

Kinship behaviour includes playing tricks on or teasing certain relatives—a behaviour predominantly found in grandmother-grandchild relationships. Kinship rules also govern customs for gift-giving, dancing, ceremonies, hunting parties and camp layout.

Understanding and appreciating kinship systems is valuable for all Australians. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies have a long history of deep connection and a sense of belonging. Certain aspects and attitudes of Indigenous kinship systems could be of value for providing a stronger sense of connection with people and country in broader Australian society.

Use of land and food

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s worldview and connection to Country have long made them skilled at managing land and water and keeping the Australian continent healthy. In turn, the land, seas and waterways have provided sustenance and become an integral part of societies, traditions and livelihoods.

Indigenous Australians have long used traditional burning, fishing traps, as well as sowing and storing plants in order to provide themselves with food. Existing land formations and natural vegetation has also been used to provide shelter. These techniques of acquiring food and shelter were sustainable for thousands of years, especially because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities did not take more from the land and water than they needed.

When Europeans arrived in Australia, however, they attempted to implement European farming practices, resulting in long-term changes to the environment. This environmental change and degradation has in turn threatened the continuation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and customs. This is because when a creek runs dry due to a dam upriver, for example, it is no longer possible to practice fishing there.

While many European accounts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land management have been lost, Australians are increasingly recognising—with the help of remaining documents and accounts—that Indigenous Australians had sophisticated and sustainable cultural practices. The stereotype of hunter-gatherers is not entirely true; rather, there is evidence that many groups rotated and managed crops, developing intricate agriculture and aquaculture across the continent.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities have had thousands of years of experience living in Australia. Their knowledge, expertise and innovations are important today to help preserve the health and the prosperity of this country.
 

This Place: View from the Shore

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When James Cook charted the east coast of Australia in the HMB Endeavour in 1770, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had lived and thrived on this continent for more than 60,000 years.

The sites, landmarks and places that Cook gave new names to during this part of the voyage already had names and histories, well before Europeans knew of the very existence of the continent. Mount Dromedary was Gulaga. Botany Bay was Gamay. Endeavour River was Waalumbal Birri. Possession Island was Bedanug, Bedhan Lag, Thunadha and Tuidin.

These places, their names, their history, their significance and their stories were well known by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities to whom they were sacred. Through oral storytelling, ceremony and language, this knowledge and these stories continue to be shared and passed down to new generations. To many, Gulaga is still Gulaga, Gamay is still Gamay, Waalumbal Birri remains Waalumbal Birri, and Possession Island will always be Bedanug, Bedhan Lag, Thunadha and Tuidin.

In collaboration with the National Museum of Australia's exhibition marking the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook's first voyage to Australia, the ABC has launched the ‘This Place: View From the Shore’ series, which focuses on the history and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities along Australia's east coast.

These short videos feature a range of stories and information, shared by members of these communities, allowing all Australians to learn more about the cultures and experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities on the east coast, including those who encountered the Endeavour 250 years ago.

Watch This Place: View From the Shore on ABC iView.

Mount Gulaga and Gurung-gubba

Djiringanj Yuin knowledge-holder Warren Foster stands among trees overlooking the ocean Djiringanj Yuin knowledge-holder Warren Foster explains the sacred significance of Mount Gulaga and shares his ancestors' prescient view from the shore when Captain Cook sailed past his country.

This is Our Country

A Gamayngal man standing next to Gamay (Botany Bay) Gamay (Botany Bay) provided Gamayngal, the people belonging to Botany Bay, the resources needed to thrive for many generations. The old people taught the Gamayngal that their language is inseparable from their country.

Three Brothers Mountains

A still of an animation of the three brothers walking along a bush trackPassing what is now known as the mid-north coast of NSW, Captain Cook thought he named these mountains the Three Brothers. Unbeknownst to him, the Birpai nation had been calling them the Three Brothers Mountains for millennia.

Lake Burmeer: The Women's Lake

A photo of Lake Burmeer and the surrounding area from the airDr Aileen Moreton-Robinson explains the cultural importance and recent devastation of Minjerribah's Lake Burmeer, also known as Brown Lake on North Stradbroke Island.

How Dimpuna Became Mooloomba

A photo of the rocks that form Mooloomba (Point Lookout) on North Stradbroke IslandQuandamooka songman Josh Walker tells the fascinating story of Mooloomba, also known as Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island - a lesson for all in the tribe to follow the law of the Old Ones.

Language Remains in the Landscape

A photo of the sea at Seventeen SeventyGooreng Gooreng Traditional Owners talk about their ancestors' first encounter with Captain Cook and share the language of their landscape around what is today known as Seventeen Seventy.

Cultural Knowledge is Empowering

Young medicine man from the Bunda Bunda clan, Everett Johnson overlooking the bushYoung medicine man from the Bunda Bunda clan, Everett Johnson, takes us to some of the most significant and spectacular places on his country.

Mungurru the Rock Python and Waalumbal Birri

A still from a drawn animation showing a blackbird and three rock pythonsLong before being named the Endeavour River by Captain Cook, that body of water was referred to as Waalumbal Birri. This is the story of that life-giving water, and the clan boundaries it defines.

Gudang Yadhaykenu on Possession Island

Two Gudang Yadhaykenu Traditional Owners standing next to a treeGudang Yadhaykenu Traditional Owners take us to the Captain Cook monument on Possession Island, which is where he planted the Union Jack, mistaking the island for the mainland.

Ankamuthi on Possession Island

A Ankamuthi Traditional Owner showing an Utang (Bush peanut)Ankamuthi Traditional Owners explain the social and cultural significance of Possession Island for their clan group and discuss the ways in which every member of the clan had a role to play in gathering foods.

Kuarareg/Gudang Yadhaykenu on Possession Island

An aerial photo of Possession IslandKuarareg/Gudang Yadhaykenu Traditional Owners show us some of the important food sources they gathered from Possession Island.

New sculptures at Botany Bay

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Three bronze sculptures have been installed at Kurnell to mark the 250th anniversary of the first encounter between the Gweagal people, James Cook and the crew of the HMB Endeavour at Kamay Botany Bay in 1770.  

The sculptures commemorate the meeting of two cultures and help to interpret the cultural heritage and significance of Kamay Botany Bay National Park.

The installation of these sculptures is a major component of the Kamay 2020 Project, a joint initiative by the Australian Government and the New South Wales Government. The Project supports interpretation and community education programs, provides new ways to learn about this place of historical importance, and delivers on the vision to recognise Kamay as a place of significance to all Australians.

Choosing the designs

In 2019, a range of sculpture design concepts were placed on public exhibition. In choosing the final designs the Kamay 2020 Project Board took community feedback into consideration, along with how well the designs included Indigenous Australian representation. The Project Board also sought designs that would provide a legacy for future generations to reflect on the important stories of the area.

The chosen designs are The Whales and The Canoes, two works designed by Gweagal artist Theresa Ardler and public artist Julie Squires, and The Eyes of the Land and the Sea, designed by Wadi Wadi and Walbanga artist Alison Page and Nik Lachacjzak.

Fabrication of the sculptures began off-site in early 2020. The La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council then conducted a smoking ceremony for each of the sculptures as they arrived on site. All three sculptures were installed in time for the 250th anniversary of the Endeavour crew stepping ashore on 29 April 1770.

The Eyes of the Land and the Sea

Image of bronze sculpture elements on rock facing out to sea. The sculpture is in the shape of the ribs of a ship or bones of a whale, with detailed etchings on each rib element.
The Eyes of Land and the Sea, Alison Page and Nik Lachacizak, Kamay Botany Bay 2020. Source: L Sturis, NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment

Alison Page and Nik Lachacjzak’s sculpture was created in collaboration with UAP Australia. The Eyes of the Land and the Sea, is described as an abstraction of the ribs of the HMB Endeavour and the bones of the Gweagal totem, the whale.

Each rib or bone has a different surface treatment, including carvings and text to represent the numerous layers of culture and history in Kamay Botany Bay. The carvings also describe the encounters at Kamay in 1770, inviting viewers to deeply engage with the diverse stories.

The artists worked closely with Gweagal artist Shane Youngberry and researchers at the Gujaga Foundation to develop the designs that have been engraved onto each rib.

Describing the meaning behind the sculpture, Page has explained that:

“The Eyes of the Land and the Sea is a story about discovery. Not the discovery of land by England, but of all Australians discovering our true history as we move together towards a reconciled Nation.”

Wi-Yanga and Gurung (the Whales) and Nuwi (the Canoes)

Image of bronze sculpture of mother whale, baby whale and rock weave fishing net on rocks on a headland.
The Whales and Rock Weave, Theresa Ardler and Julie Squires, Kamay Botany Bay 2020. Source: R Newton, NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment

Artists Theresa Ardler and Julie Squires, in partnership with ThinkOTS, have created two distinct sculptures: The Whales and The Canoes.

To create The Whales, the artists used foam to sculpt their shape, and carved the intricate details on the surface of the foam by hand. The work was then cast in bronze, creating each statue.

The Whales are based on Ardler’s painting on her Budbili, a possum skin cloak:

“The story behind my Budbili is connected to the Sydney rock engravings of the mother humpback whale and her baby, out at La Perouse on the shores of Botany Bay. This engraving is a prominent landmark from my ancestors who carved the rock and continues to hold cultural and spiritual connection to our sea and country.”

A fishing net, also known as a ‘rock weave’, was woven by Aboriginal Master Weaver Phyllis Stewart, and cast into bronze by Squires. This additional piece sits alongside The Whales in Kurnell.

Image of two bronze nuwi canoe sculptures on rocks and sand looking out over water.
The Nuwi Canoes, Theresa Ardler and Julie Squires, Kamay Botany Bay 2020. Source: K Ashley, NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment

To create The Canoes Ardler and Squires had a locally made canoe or ‘nuwi’ cast in bronze. Explaining the story behind the canoes, Ardler stated:

“the Gweagal Clan traditionally fished from stringy bark canoes. They lit fires in their canoes on a base of white clay. The firelight attracted fish to the canoe, making them easier to catch. During their ‘first contact’ observations, both Cook and Banks recorded this practice.”

Fish, traditional fishing paraphernalia and replica fire mounds can all be seen inside the nuwi sculptures.

More information on the commemorative sculptures and the Kamay 2020 Project can be found on the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment website.

Sydney Parkinson

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Natural history artist

Sydney Parkinson was employed by Sir Joseph Banks to travel with him on the Endeavour voyage. Parkinson was the first European artist to visit Australia, New Zealand and Tahiti.

Self portrait, Sydney Parkinson. Oil on board, c1770. Original held at the Natural History Museum.

Self portrait, Sydney Parkinson. Oil on board, c1770. Original held at the Natural History Museum.
 

Early life — Humble origins

Sydney Parkinson was born in 1745 in Edinburgh, Scotland. After receiving a basic education, he was apprenticed to a draper in preparation for a future career as a fabric merchant.

In keeping with his Quaker roots, Parkinson considered personal industry to be a great virtue, which led him to continue studying drawing even while apprenticed.

Eventually he became proficient enough at drawing flowers and plants that he decided to pursue a new path. He moved to South London in 1766, where he soon met the young Joseph Banks. Upon seeing the quality of Parkinson’s work, Banks hired him to draw plants at the botanical garden at Kew.

His time on the Endeavour — A botanical illustrator

Parkinson was again hired by Banks in 1768, this time as a botanical illustrator (or draughtsman) to draw the plants on the Endeavour’s upcoming voyage to South America, Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia.

Parkinson worked on board the ship in a small cabin surrounded by specimens. He made thousands of drawings of plants and animals collected by Banks and Daniel Solander over the course of the voyage.

Working conditions, however, were not favourable for the artist. Tropical temperatures, cramped quarters and a rocking ship made it difficult at times to draw, and according to some accounts, swarms of bugs would sometimes eat the paint as Parkinson worked. Nevertheless, Parkinson was prolific. A diary entry from Banks in May 1770 indicated that despite these adverse conditions, Parkinson had completed 94 sketches in only 14 days. Over the course of his time on the Endeavour, Parkinson produced a total of more than 1,300 drawings and paintings.

Death and legacy

When the Endeavour arrived in Batavia—now Jakarta—Cook decided to make more repairs to the ship. During their stay in Batavia, however, many members of the crew contracted tuberculosis, malaria and dysentery. Scores of crew members died including Parkinson, who passed away on 26 January 1771 and was buried at sea. He was 26 years old.

In 1773, Parkinson’s papers and drawings were published under the title A Journal of a voyage to the South Seas, with a second enlarged edition printed in 1784.

Parkinson was the first European artist to set foot on Australian soil, to draw Australian landscapes from direct observation and to draw portraits of Indigenous Australians.

While Parkinson remained a somewhat obscure historical figure during the 18th century, he is today recognised as a master among botanical artists and a key contributor to the Endeavour voyage. Ficus parkinsonii was named in his honour and reproductions of his artworks can be found in books and museums throughout the world.

Indigenous art

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Indigenous Australian art is the world’s longest unbroken art tradition. It is used to record events, teach, communicate, and to express culture and identity. It also provides us with a record of the long and rich history of our nation, as well as the many interactions and experiences of Indigenous Australians over the years. By protecting and investing in Indigenous art we protect our cultural heritage.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists continue to use a range of materials. These include traditional media such as rock art, rock carving, bark painting, wood carving, sculpting, ceremonial clothing, weaving, body art and storytelling. Modern mediums are also frequently used today, such as painting on paper or canvas, digital media and performance. 

Symbols and styles vary greatly across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations and are sometimes highly personal. For instance, body art often indicates facts about the wearer, including their age, social status, role and totemic responsibilities. As an important aspect of traditional ceremonies and dance, body art also has significant spiritual meaning. It can represent a person’s relationship with Country, ancestors, animals and nature more broadly.  

The history of Indigenous Australian art

Indigenous Australian art is thousands of years old, the oldest of which have not yet been dated. One of the oldest examples of art in the world is a rock art fragment found in the Nawarla Gabarnmang shelter in the Northern Territory. It had fallen from the ceiling of the shelter and become buried in the cave, where hundreds of paintings overlap across the ceiling and walls.  Charcoal on the back of the painted rock was identified as coming from later nearby campfires. Scientists were able to accurately date the charcoal as 28,000 years old using radiocarbon dating, indicating that the fragment and its painting must be at least that old - if not older!

Recording encounters

By studying Indigenous art we can find out about the many encounters Indigenous nations had throughout history, both before and after the Endeavour voyage. 

For instance, we now know that some of the earliest visitors to Australia were the Makassar, from Sulawesi, Indonesia. Analysis of Indigenous art in Arnhem Land suggests that the Makassar were trading with Indigenous Australians from as early as the mid-1600s, and their visits were well established by the early 1700s. 

Indigenous art today

In the 1930s, Albert Namatjira, a Western Aranda (Arrernte) man, became the first artistic Aboriginal household name. He changed the face of Australia’s landscape art through his watercolour paintings of Central Australia from the late 1930s to the 1950s.

Contemporary Indigenous Australian art is generally considered to have begun in 1971, with the emergence of the Papunya Tula painting movement that started at Papunya, northwest of Alice Springs. The movement helped spur new interest in art across rural and remote Aboriginal Australia. It also led to the development of new artistic styles in regional and urban centres, including the style popularly known as ‘dot painting’.

Today, Indigenous art is held in gallery collections both in Australia and overseas, and represents a large part of Australia’s international art trade. In 2007, Emily Kngwarreye’s painting Earth’s Creation became the first piece of Indigenous art to sell for over $1 million.

Looking to the future, it is anticipated that works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists will continue to be among Australia’s most prized cultural heritage, informing the contemporary art world both in Australia and abroad.

Reflecting on the 250th anniversary 

For the 250th anniversary of the HMB Endeavour’s voyage, the National Museum of Australia, the National Library of Australia, and the Australian National Maritime Museum were each funded for exhibitions that included Indigenous art and perspectives on Captain Cook and the impact of the voyage.

Explore the exhibitions and collections online:

John Satterley and The Endeavour's Carpenters

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Just as the construction of a tall ship’s mast begins with a single tree, so too did Cook’s crew for the Endeavour voyage begin with just a single man. John Satterley. Master carpenter. Valued crew member. Highly-respected man.

Born in Chatham, Kent, Satterley was no stranger to the sea, having previously served on British ship the Prince Edward. On 22 April 1768, he was appointed ‘Carpenter’ of the Endeavour, making him the first member of the ship’s 94-strong crew.

The skillset of an experienced carpenter was critical to a voyage as ambitious as this. With the intention to travel into areas uncharted by Europeans – far from any known ports – the ability of a ship’s carpenter to maintain and repair a vessel could mean the difference between life and death. It was vital, then, for James Cook to have the utmost faith in his team of carpenters, led by John Satterley.

This faith was not only apparent, with Cook hinting at the high level of respect he held for Satterley on numerous occasions throughout the voyage, but also proved to be well-founded. When possible disaster struck, Satterley showed that he could be called upon.

Disaster on the Reef

At 11pm on 11 June 1770, the Endeavour suddenly ran aground on a coral outcrop of the Great Barrier Reef. The hull was seriously damaged, with broken planks of timber seen floating on the surface. Water was beginning to flood the ship, and death seemed likely.

Against the odds, and in large part due to the coordinated efforts of the crew, water was pumped out and, using the small boats, the ship was winched off the coral some 23 hours later. But the ordeal was not over. The damage that the ship had sustained had to be examined, and any necessary repairs would need to be carried out urgently.

Of course, this could not be done at sea. To inspect and repair its hull, the Endeavour first needed to find sanctuary. Miraculously, it was eventually able to enter the mouth of a nearby river (Walmbaal Birri), which had been scouted by the ship’s pinnace, one of the smaller boats.

Despite again running aground in the river’s narrow channel and becoming momentarily stuck in sand near its mouth, the difficult manoeuvre was executed. Having built a makeshift gangway extending a distance of about 6 metres to the river’s sloping bank, the stores could now be unloaded. This itself was no small task; over a few days the sails, timber, water casks, gunpowder, coal and other stores were carried ashore and stored in tents.

The Endeavour was now light enough to be hauled higher up on the river bank. Cook and Satterley had inspected the damage, and the decision to ‘beach’ the vessel was made:

“One of the Carpenter’s crew, a Man I could trust, went down and examined [the damage] and found three streaks of the sheathing gone about 7 or 8 feet long and the Main plank a little rub’d …

The Carpenter who I look upon to be well skilld in his profission and a good judge of these matters was of opinion that this was of little concequence, and as I found that it would be difficult if not impractical for us to get under her bottom to repair it I … Moor’d her along side the beach.”

A makeshift shipyard was promptly constructed, complete with a blacksmith’s forge and a timber workshop, where Satterley and his fellow carpenters began the work to replace the damaged timbers. Despite being thousands of kilometres from the nearest established shipyard, the Endeavour was repaired within just a few weeks, thanks – in no small part – to the competence and ability of John Satterley.

‘A view of Endeavour River, on the coast of New Holland, where the ship was laid on shore in order to repair the damage which she received on the rock’. Engraving by William Byrne, 1743-1805. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia. View this item (PIC Drawer 7412 #S1698) online
‘A view of Endeavour River, on the coast of New Holland, where the ship was laid on shore in order to repair the damage which she received on the rock’.
Engraving by William Byrne, 1743-1805.
Courtesy of the National Library of Australia. View this item (PIC Drawer 7412 #S1698) online

Satterley was highly regarded by most of the crew. Some have suggested that a few of the gentlemen on board the Endeavour, including surgeon William Monkhouse, were displeased (if not resentful) with the high level of respect that Cook held for his carpenter – a position traditionally less prestigious than those held by the other gentlemen. We can be sure, however, that Satterley was well-regarded by most of the crew, particularly for his role in this critical part of the voyage.

Weeks later, the ship departed Walmbaal Birri (Endeavour River), and eventually made it safely to the Dutch port of Batavia (Jakarta), where further repairs could be carried out.

Death of a ‘Man much Esteem’d’

January and February 1771 saw many of the Endeavour’s crew members die of tuberculosis, malaria and dysentery in Batavia. Satterley was among these. His last contribution to the voyage was to provide Cook with an account of the damage to the ship, which was considerable, but not beyond repair.

Cook wrote in his journal that he

“consulted with the Carpenter and all the other officers concerning the Leake, and they were all unanimously of opinion that it was not safe to proceed to Europe without first seeing her bottom.”

Not long after, Satterley died ‘after a long and painful illness’ on 12 February 1771.

On the day of Satterley’s death, Cook wrote that he was

“a Man much Esteem’d by me and every Gentleman on board”

a level of praise that many of the others who died during the voyage did not receive. He is remembered in Cook’s logbooks as being “a most worthy and respectable man”.

The Endeavour’s Carpenters

The following men were members of Satterley’s team of carpenters: Francis Haite (42), Richard Hughes (22), Samuel Moody (40), George Nowell (unknown) and Edward Terrell (19). All died in 1771, except for young Edward Terrell.

Endeavour strikes the reef

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In June 1770, the HMB Endeavour continued its passage northwards along the east coast of Australia, near what is now called far north Queensland.

Although the decision to sail at night in such waters was uncommon, it was not unheard of during the Endeavour voyage. On 11 June, Cook records in his journal that ‘having the advantage of a fine breeze of wind and a clear moonlight night’ he decided to keep sailing.

Captain James Cook was aware that there were coral reefs in those waters. He also knew of their potential to tear through the hull of a ship like the Endeavour. With men assigned the task of looking out for any hazards and others ‘at the lead’ (consistently testing the depth of the ocean floor), however, they sailed into what seemed to be deeper waters.

But at about 11pm, the ship came to a sudden and dramatic halt. As Cook described it, ‘the Ship Struck and stuck fast.’

The sound of timber cracking and splitting could be heard by the crew, and shortly afterwards loose planks from the hull could be seen floating beside the vessel. Water soon began to slowly leak into the ship.

The Endeavour, without so much as a hint of a warning, had struck a coral outcrop of the Great Barrier Reef. Worse still, it had become wedged on the coral. In some places around it the ship was in less than 7 metres of water, while in other places the water was only about 1 metre deep.

Far from home and far from land, and without enough space in the ship’s smaller boats (the yawl, pinnace and longboat) to carry all men to safety, the situation appeared dire.

Many hands …

By all accounts, the men immediately focused on the task at hand. Botanist Joseph Banks noted that ‘no grumbling or growling was to be heard throughout the ship, no not even an oath.

The extent of the damage to the ship’s hull was still unknown. The yawl, pinnace and longboat were launched to assess the damage and, critically, to drop the anchors in suitable positions. The correct placement of these anchors, it was reasoned, would allow the men to help pull the ship free from the reef with the help of the capstan and windlass (winches).

But manpower alone would not be enough. If the ship was to be freed, it needed to be lightened significantly. Water casks, cannon balls, ballast stones, firewood, oil jars and decayed food were jettisoned. Six of the ship’s cannon, each weighing half a tonne, were discarded – they were not retrieved until 1969, some 200 years later. The sails were taken in and tops of the mast were also carefully dismantled, requiring hours of urgent and incredibly physically demanding work.

Cannon from HMB Endeavour, thrown overboard on the Great Barrier Reef in 1770 and salvaged in 1969.   Courtesy of the National Museum of Australia
Cannon from HMB Endeavour, thrown overboard on the Great Barrier Reef in 1770 and salvaged in 1969.
Courtesy of the National Museum of Australia

The first attempt

When the much-anticipated high tide finally arrived at about 10am, the crew worked furiously to free the ship, knowing that it was perhaps their best chance to do so. But, some 12 hours after the ordeal began, their efforts to free the ship were frustratingly to no avail. The vessel was still too heavy, even though they had thrown overboard more than 40 tonnes of weight. It would barely budge.

As tide fell the ship started taking on more water and when the tide rose again the leak increased. With just three of the four water pumps working, the men took turns to keep pumping, including gentlemen like Banks and Dr Daniel Solander, who were ‘unusd to labour’.

Risk all and heave her off

As the next high tide approached at about 9pm, the decision to again push to dislodge the vessel was made by Cook.

Joseph Banks later captured this moment in his journal, noting that ‘The dreadfull time now aproachd and the anziety in every bodys countenance was visible enough … fear of Death now stard us in the face.’ Earlier, believing the ship would sink, Banks had packed his possessions and ‘prepard [himself] for the worst.’

With the tide now at its highest point, the Endeavour crew worked the capstan and the windlass to winch the ship towards the anchors, and free from the reef.

After 10pm, the Endeavour was floated.

The 23-hour effort to free the vessel from the reef had succeeded, but the ship was not free of its ordeal yet. The water that had leaked into the hull was more than a metre deep. Safe harbour would need to be found, and as quickly as possible.

A makeshift bandage

The exact extent of the damage to the hull remained unknown. The inflow of water was manageable so long as the pumps continued to be manned.

The leak was reduced further, however, by the using an ingenious technique known as ‘fothering’. This involved using one of the ship’s sails to temporarily plug the gap in the hull from the outside.

Midshipman Jonathan Monkhouse, brother of the ship’s surgeon, had previously seen the technique used while sailing from Virginia to London in a leaking merchant vessel. Having never used the technique himself, Cook trusted Monkhouse to coordinate its execution.

Pieces of old rope (oakum) and wool were mixed with sheep droppings, while the sail was laid out across the main deck. The mixture was then applied across the surface of the sail, before a rope was used to haul it over the edge of the Endeavour, into the sea below, and dragged towards the gap. The pressure of the leak then pulled the makeshift bandage into place, reducing the inflow of water so that working just one pump was enough to keep up with the water seeping in.

Cook was grateful for Monkhouse’s efforts, and wrote that he ‘exicuted it [the fothering] very much to my satisfaction’. Indeed, Cook’s praise for the efforts of all his crew throughout the ordeal was clear:

‘I must say that no men ever behaved better than they have done on this occasion, animated by the behaviour of every gentleman on board, every man seem’d to have a just sence of the danger we were in and exerted himself to the very utmost.’

Banks, in his assessment, echoed this praise:

‘During the whole time of this distress I must say for the credit of our people that I beleive every man exerted his utmost for the preservation of the ship, contrary to what I have universaly heard to be the behavior of sea men who have commonly as soon as a ship is in a desperate situation began to plunder and refuse all command.’

The lucky clump of coral

But it took more than the efforts of the more than 90 people aboard to prevent the vessel from sinking.

It also took a degree of luck.

The Endeavour found safe harbour and was beached at Waalumbal Birri (Endeavour River) on 17 June, almost a week after striking the reef. Once the ship’s remaining stores had been unloaded, which took five days, the damage could be properly assessed. Lying pitched to one side, the true extent of their luck was now clearly visible.

A clump of coral, about the size of a man’s closed fist, was found tightly lodged in the hull. The coral, despite causing damage to the hull, had acted as a plug, along with several pieces of the fothering mixture. If the lump of coral had come loose, the leak may have become unmanageable.

On 22 June, Cook records that the carpenter, went to work repairing the ship while the smiths became busy making bolts and nails.

The Endeavour eventually recommenced its journey and returned to Britain in 1771. But on that night in June, and the many hours and days that followed, it had come perilously close to disaster.

Today, the reef that was struck remains known as Endeavour Reef.

The HMB Endeavour

News

Ships typically have many lives and the HMB Endeavour was no exception. 

The HMB Endeavour is almost certainly best known as the ship that circumnavigated the globe in search of Terra Australis Incognita under the command of Lieutenant James Cook on his first voyage of discovery.

But, the vessel had several other lives before and after the 1768–71 expedition, before being lost for almost 200 years.

From humble beginnings as a coal carrier

HMB Endeavour began life with a name much grander than its function as a ‘collier’.

Designed to transport coal, the Earl of Pembroke was built by the master-builder Thomas Fishburn and launched in 1764 in Whitby, Yorkshire. A sturdy vessel with a square stern and wide bow, it proved itself a good workhorse carrying coal between ports in Britain.

 

Luny, Thomas. (1790). The Bark, Earl of Pembroke, later Endeavour, leaving Whitby Harbour in 1768
Luny, Thomas. (1790). The Bark, Earl of Pembroke, later Endeavour, leaving Whitby Harbour in 1768 Retrieved May 14, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-134301494

 

In March 1768, the Royal Navy selected the Earl of Pembroke for the Royal Society of London sponsored expedition to observe the transit of Venus in the South Pacific.

The decision to find and use a collier was deliberate. Solidly built with a flat bottom, large hold and thick hull, this type of vessel could be easily converted to accommodate the necessary equipment and stores, and the 94 men who would eventually join the voyage—including Joseph Banks and his scientific team. 

One of the other advantages of this type of vessel was that if it ran aground in shallow water, the chances of ‘floating the ship off’ were much better than other heavier vessels. It was a decision that would later pay off, when, in 1770, the HMB Endeavour ran aground on a reef, coming perilously close to disaster.

A view of Endeavour River on the coast of New Holland.
A view of Endeavour River on the coast of New Holland. An engraving by William Byrne done in 1773 from a lost drawing likely by Sydney Parkinson in 1770. In June 1770 the HMB Endeavour was badly damaged running aground on a reef. The ship limped into the subsequently named Endeavour River for repair. Anchors, cables and stores were carried ashore to lighten the ship which was 'careened', or leant over, so the damage could be inspected and repaired before the voyage continued. Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Built to last, money no object

The newly fitted out ship was nine metres wide and 32 metres long. The refit took from April to July 1768 and cost £5,390 on top of the £2,840 paid for the vessel itself. 
A new name was selected and the HMB Endeavour was born.

Having sailed on many colliers, Cook knew them to be slow but sturdy and reliable in rough waters. Not only did he request a collier for the expedition, he also insisted on certain modifications, such as the reinforcement of the hull to reduce the potential of damage by shipworms.

The masts and the ship’s deck were made out of pine, while the deck beams, frame and planks were made of oak—a more durable material. The keel was made out of elm. The hull had to be lined with a thin layer of planks, coated with a paste made from animal hair, tar and bits of old rope and covered by another layer of thick oak planks.

To supplement provisions picked up in ports, the ship’s cargo hold had to be big enough to store sufficient supplies to last 18 months. When HMB Endeavour left Plymouth the hold was well stocked with live hens, pigs, a goat, 20 tonnes of biscuits and flour, 10,000 pieces of salted pork and beef, and 3.5 tonnes of sauerkraut to help prevent scurvy. 

For protection, the HMB Endeavour carried 12 swivel guns attached to the sides, bow and quarterdeck, as well as 10 cannons. 

After returning to England, Cook wrote of his admiration for the ship that had been home for close on three years: 

“I sailed from England, as well provided for such a voyage as possible, and a better ship for such service I never would wish for.”

(Letter from Cook to Captain Walker at Whitby, 17 August 1771).

Renamed, scuttled and lost

After the much lauded round-the-world voyage, the HMB Endeavour underwent a refit, becoming a naval transport vessel. The many months of sailing through the South Pacific were replaced with rough voyages in the freezing South Atlantic carrying soldiers and supplies to a new imperial outpost on the Falkland Islands. 

Little else was known about the fate of the HMB Endeavour until the late 1990s when a new link was established, revealing for the first time a full history of the vessel. 
Recognising the opportunity brought on by the outbreak of war, in 1775, shipping magnate J. Mather bought the HMB Endeavour from the Navy and offered it to the British Government as a transport ship to carry troops to North America. 

The years of hard voyages had taken their toll, however, and the ship was rejected as ‘unfit for service’. Not one to give up easily, Mather offered it again, this time under the name of Lord Sandwich. It was rejected again.

Repaired and re-named Lord Sandwich II, the vessel was finally accepted and used to carry British soldiers to fight in the American War of Independence. It was then used by the British as a prison ship in Newport Harbour (Rhode Island).

In August 1778, the ship was one of many deliberately sunk to block French ships from being able to resupply the revolutionaries.
The exact whereabouts of the vessel, once known as HMB Endeavour, has remained a mystery despite continued efforts to narrow the search down from the fleet of 13 wrecks in the harbour.

But in September 2018 there was finally a breakthrough when marine archaeologists identified a wreck with a high probability of being the missing HMB Endeavour, just off Goat Island, a small island in the Narragansett Bay. 

Investigations are ongoing but appear promising.

Did you know?


●    Fragments of the HMB Endeavour have been carried into space and taken to the moon—on two separate occasions.

●    The story passed on to the Djiringanj Yuin people tells of their ancestor’s first sighting of the ship—swimming on the ocean with its large white sails—and resembling Gurung-gubba the Pelican, a real greedy fella. 

●    The HMB Endeavour appears on New Zealand’s 50 cent coin, commemorating the first Briton to reach New Zealand (Cook arrived in 1769).

●    A replica of the HMB Endeavour can be found at the Australian National Maritime Museum. You can take a virtual tour of the replica here.
 

Replica of the HMB Endeavour
The replica HMB Endeavour, launched in 1993 and acquired by the Australian National Maritime Museum in 2005. Source: Australian National Maritime Museum