European Arrival

European arrival

While Australia Day marks the arrival of the British ships under Captain Arthur Phillip in 1788, this was not the first time the British had come to Australia. In 1768, the HMB Endeavour set sail from Plymouth, England under the command of Captain James Cook. The ship’s company of 94 men were instructed to make for Tahiti, where they would observe and record the transit of Venus across the face of the Sun. However, Cook also carried instructions from the Admiralty ordering him to explore the Southern Ocean in search of Terra Australis incognita – the unknown southern land.

The Endeavour entered the South Pacific via Cape Horn, reaching Tahiti in April 1769 where the crew observed the transit of Venus on 3 June. Cook’s instructions next took him south, where he was to determine the existence of a southern continent. The Endeavour circumnavigated and mapped New Zealand before travelling west, where on 19 April 1770 Cook spotted and claimed the east coast of Australia for the Crown. He named it New South Wales. On 22 April he made his first recorded direct observation of Aboriginal Australians, writing in his journal that they “were so near the Shore as to distinguish several people upon the Sea beach they appear’d to be of a very dark or black colour but whether this was the real colour of their skins or the clothes they might have on I know not.”

The Endeavour followed the coastline northward, landing on 29 April in Botany Bay, named after the expedition’s naturalist, Sir Joseph Banks, who collected plants there.  Continuing north, the Endeavour charted a dangerous course through the Great Barrier Reef, where on 11 June it ran aground. The Endeavour eventually limped to shore, where she underwent repairs in the Endeavour River. Cook rounded Cape York in August 1770 before making for the Dutch East Indies. The Endeavour and its crew finally reached England on 13 July 1771, having been away for almost three years.

Cook undertook two further voyages in 1772-75 and 1776-79, circumnavigating the globe and mapping much of the Pacific. While exploring the Hawaiian archipelago in 1779, Cook was killed by locals during a disagreement about the theft of a small boat.

(Source: Adapted from



Look at the complete article in the link – notice that it says Cook “discovered” Australia in the first line – does that seem at all odd to you? What does it  mean “to discover” a country?

Can you discover a country when there are already people living there, or is your discovery an invasion of their land?


Read this short article about the history of Aboriginal people in the Sydney area and their first experiences with the British. As you read, note down the impressions the British had of the Aboriginal people and culture they met. What were they actually observing that they did not realize or recognize? Why do you think that was?


Further work:

Read about Bennelong, an Aboriginal man who was captured by the British to teach them about local customs and language. He later became the first Aboriginal man to visit England and return to Australia:

His second wife, Boorong, also acted as a translator for the British, but in the end, she preferred to live her life in her own culture:


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