Zachary Hickes (Hicks)* (1739–1771)
Lieutenant Zachary Hickes may be best remembered for being the first person on the HMB Endeavour to sight the east coast of Australia and holler, ‘Land ho!’, but it isn’t his only claim to fame.
From Stepney to the South Pacific
Few details are known about Zachary Hickes’ early life.
His mother Thomasin Cope was widowed in 1734 after two years of marriage to Joseph Cope. It appears she then moved in with Edward Hickes as his housekeeper and they had four children together. There is no evidence they ever married.
Hickes gave his parish of birth as Stepney in London when he enlisted, or was pressed into service, in the Navy in Ripon, Yorkshire.
He became a skilled seaman and, in 1760, passed his lieutenant’s examination after four years in Britain’s Royal Navy and about five years in the East India Company.
His service on various Navy vessels ended in his appointment by commission on 26 May 1768 to the HMB Endeavour.
Hicks joined the HMB Endeavour on 3 June 1768, as second lieutenant to Captain James Cook. The expedition departed England on 26 August 1768 and proved anything but uneventful for Hickes.
Early in the voyage, in November 1768, Hickes was held hostage during challenging diplomatic negotiations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
A year later, in New Zealand, his quick thinking action as temporary commander of the ship is said to have saved the lives of Cook.
Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander who had gone ashore and unexpectedly found themselves surrounded by 200 -300 armed Maori.
Hickes was familiar with the basics of nautical astronomy and led one of the outlying observation teams during the 1769 transit of Venus. His team of four was located on Taaupiri Island, just off the east coast of Tahiti, and is said to have successfully observed the transit.
A man of firsts
Hickes was not the first European to sight Australia’s coastline but, at 6pm on 19 April 1770, he was the first to do so from HMB Endeavour.
His rewards included a gallon of rum and having Point Hicks in south-east Victoria named after him—the first place name on Captain Cook's map of New Holland.
Later that month Hickes was given command of the first shore party to collect wood and water for the ship and made contact with some Aboriginal people near the watering place.
Cook recorded his observations of the meeting in his journal:
‘Mister Hicks did all in his power to entice them to him by offering them presents and company but it was to no purpose, all they seemed to want was for us to be gone.’
During the ship’s short stay in Botany Bay, Hickes and two other members of the crew—Surgeon William Monkhouse and Isaac Smith—managed to interpret some 60 Aboriginal words into English.
These word lists went missing for almost 200 years but have now been verified as authentic and go some way towards showing there were perhaps some friendly interactions between the Indigenous people and HMB Endeavour’s crew members.
An untimely end with home so close
On the return voyage, Hickes’ health began failing. Sent ashore in Batavia (Jakarta) to recover, he somehow survived the outbreak of dysentery and malaria that claimed the lives of 26 other crewmen.
But, tragically, just over six weeks before the HMB Endeavour docked in Dover, on 26 May 1771, Hickes succumbed to tuberculosis and was buried at sea off the South Atlantic island of Saint Helena.
It was three years to the day since he had been commissioned as second-in-command to Cook on the HMB Endeavour.
Cook’s journal recorded his death as follows:
‘About one o’clock in the PM departed this life Lieutt Hicks and in the evening his body was committed to the Sea with the usual ceremonies, he died of a consumption which he was not free from when we sailed from England so that it may be truly said that he hath been dying ever since, tho he held out tolerable well until we got to Batavia.’
*Zachary’s surname is variously spelt Hickes and Hicks. His family used Hickes and his Royal Navy commission also carried that spelling but Cook and Banks usually wrote Hicks in their journals.