Australia in the 1770s


First encounter


At the end of April 1770, Joseph Banks (1743–1820) described in his journal the first sighting of the inhabitants of New Holland at Botany Bay. He observed that two Indigenous men were watching the ship at anchor in Botany Bay and he described them as decorated, with broad white strokes painted on their chests, backs and legs. The men shook their weapons and shouted at them, which could have been a customary way of meeting with strangers or to warn them off, or may have been part of a ceremonial ritual if they believed the new arrivals were part of the spirit world.

A local Aboriginal man, Yadyer, described the same event, saying he and other members of his clan, Bullmayne, Dolmoik, Kurrul, Bluitt and Potta, had seen the ship first from the northern shores. They told other members of the group, who went to the hill to observe the ship. He reported that their first impression was that the ship was a large bird, but as it came closer they decided that it was a large canoe with people in it. HM Bark Endeavour took anchorage beside the southern shores in the land of the Gweagal people.

The Gweagal, known as the 'Fire Clan', lived along the southern shores of Botany Bay. They numbered somewhere between 20 and 50 people. They were the guardians of the sacred white clay pits in their territory. This white clay was probably used to paint the bodies of the men on the northern headland described by Joseph Banks.

After anchoring in Botany Bay, Cook took two boats with marines and scientists to land on the shore very close to what they identified as a village with six or eight huts. As they approached land, two armed men came forward and shouted and gesticulated. The latter gesture was interpreted by Cook as a warning against landing. With no common language, signing was the only way of communicating. Cook had some nails and beads thrown ashore and then tried to approach, but again the men opposed his attempts.

Cook decided to resort to using guns to ensure the boats could land. He wounded one man and ordered his men to take a shield and many spears that were used by the Aboriginal people there for fishing. After eight days and eight nights in Botany Bay, and having collected large quantities of plant and flower specimens, some spears and at least one shield, he departed on 7 May 1770.


A snapshot of 1778

  • January
    • Captain James Cook began his third Pacific expedition in the ships HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery.

  • February
    • France entered the War of American Independence.

  • June
    • Spain declared war on Great Britain.

  • July
    • Louis XIV of France declared war on Great Britain.

  • November
    • Captain James Cook was the first European to sight Maui Island of the Hawaiian Islands.

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