The National Museum of Australia’s Cultural Connections Initiative received funding from the Australian Government as part of a package of initiatives to mark the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s historic voyage charting the east coast of Australia.
In the mid-19th century, life at sea was not for the faint-hearted. Many ships fell victim to storms, were sunk in combat or were marooned on rocks and reefs.
However, one of the biggest problems for sailors at the time HMB Endeavour set sail was scurvy—the plague of the sea.
This disease was so lethal that it is estimated to have killed more than two million sailors until the mid-19th century. More sailors in the English Navy died from scurvy than battle, storms and shipwrecks combined.
John Thompson (unknown-1771)
Not much is known about the life of John Thompson, the ship’s cook on the Endeavour, but what is known is that it was a challenging job, especially with only one hand.
Thompson rose to the challenge and maintained the health of the 94 people on-board for most of the voyage.
The HMB Endeavour was not the first boat the First Peoples of Australia had seen. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander watercraft are Australia’s original boats and one of the earliest surviving examples of watercraft in the world.
Captain James Cook and the HMB Endeavour did not circumnavigate Australia in 1770. However, 33 years later, a man from Sydney became the first Indigenous Australian to voyage around the continent.
Bungaree, also known as Boongaree, was an Indigenous Australian explorer and community leader. He was eventually nicknamed ‘King of Port Jackson’, which is why he continues to be remembered by many as King Bungaree.
In June 1770, from the shores of Gungardie, the Guugu Yimithirr people watched a strange sailing ship enter the mouth of their river, Waalumbaal Birri. The strangers on board the ship navigated it to the calm waters near the mouth of the river and beached it on the sands.
For tens of thousands of years before Cook’s voyage to Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people inhabited this land, speaking hundreds of different languages.
To Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, language is about more than communicating. It is critical to identity, place, people and culture.
It is estimated that more than 250 Indigenous Australian languages and 800 dialects were spoken in Australia when the HMB Endeavour arrived in 1770. Today, just over 100 Indigenous Australian languages are still spoken, with most of these in danger of being lost.
Despite the role European colonisation had in this loss, records made during early contact between European arrivals and Indigenous Australians serve as a vital resource in the recovery and preservation of Indigenous languages.