James Cook, better known to history as Captain Cook, was born in Yorkshire, the second of eight children. After a period of service and learning in the merchant navy, Cook joined the Royal Navy in 1755, and rose through the ranks to become Captain of his own ship. In this role, he would distinguish himself as one of the greatest navigators and surveyors the world has ever seen.
He is best remembered for his three voyages to the Pacific, where he lead missions that were the first Europeans to set foot on New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia, and the first people ever to cross the Antarctic circle, among other accomplishments. Even during his lifetime, Cook was so respected the world over that during the American Revolution, the rebel navy had orders not to fire on his ship, but to render him assistance as ‘a friend to all mankind’.
It was on his first voyage of discovery that Captain James Cook’s ship the Endeavour, sighted the eastern coast of Australia. A man aloft in the crows nest, one Lieutenant Zachary Hickes, made the first sighting, which Cook repaid by naming Point Hicks (spelling was not, apparently, one of Cook’s many talents). But although they saw evidence of the natives of this new land – the smoke of numerous campfires, mostly – it was not until four days later that first contact was made between the Englishmen and Australian Natives. (Specifically, members of the Gweagal people, who dwelt on the shores of Botany Bay around modern Kurnell.)
Perhaps setting a template for future interactions between blacks and whites in Australia, the contact was hostile, although no one was killed. Cook and his crew continued on their way after spending a week or so in Botany Bay, taking home news that would eventually spell the doom of the Gweagal and a great many of their relatives.
It had already been a long voyage – the Endeavour had been at sea since August 1768 – when the eastern coast of Australia was first sighted. Lieutenant Hicks made the sighting, and Cook named the point he had discovered in Hicks’ honour. Point Hicks is located near the eastern extremity of the state of Victoria, between Orbost and Mallacoota. Although he had been aiming for Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), Cook quickly realised that he had found a separate landmass to the north of it, based on the the south-westerly trend of the coastline away from Point Hicks.
From here, Cook and his crew proceeded northward along the coast of Australia. Ten days later, he made his famous landing at Botany Bay and encountered the Australian natives for the first time (members of the Gweagal tribe) – although from observations of their many campfires, Cook had been aware of them (and presumably, they of him) for several days by that ppint.