Between 1768 and 1771 James Cook and his crew made an epic voyage on board HMB Endeavour.   Ninety-four men, a goat, and two dogs departed on a sea journey to visit unknown lands and people, to make scientific discoveries and to search for the mythical southern continent Terra Australis Incognita. 

While charting the coast of north-eastern Australia the Endeavour crashed onto the Great Barrier Reef. In his own handwriting, this is how Cook described the situation, and how his men managed to save the ship.    Courtesy of the Nat'l Library of Australia

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SUNDAY 10th   After hauling round Cape Grafton we found the land trend away NWBW. Three miles to the Westward of the Cape is a Bay wherein we anchord about 2 miles from the shore in 4 fathom water an owsey bottom. The East point of the bay bore S 74° East, the west point S 83° West and a low green woody Island laying in the offing bore N C East. This Island lies NBE½E distant 3 or 4 legs from Cape Grafton, and is known in the Chart by the name of green Island.

As soon as the Ship was brought to an Anchor I went ashore accompaned by Mr Banks and Dr Solander, the first thing I did was to look for fresh water and with that View rowed out to wards the Cape because in the bottom of the Bay was low mangrove land and little probability of meeting with any there, but the way I went I found two small streames which were difficult to get at on account of the surff and rocks upon the shore. As we came round the Cape we saw in a Sandy Cove a small stream of water ran over the beach, but here I did not go in the boat because I found that it would not be easy to land.

We hardly advance any thing into the Country, it being here hilly which were steep and rocky and we had not time to viset the low lands and therefore met with nothing remarkable. My intention was to have stay'd here at least one day to have looked into the Country had we met with fresh water convenient or any other refreshment, but as we did not I thought it would be only spending time and looseing so much of a light moon to little purpose and therefore at 12 oClock at night we weigh'd and stood away to the NW having at this time but little wind attended with showers of rain. At 4 oClock the breeze freshend at SBE with fair weather. We continued steering to NNW ½W as the land lay having 10, 12 and 14 fathom at the distance of 3 Leagues from the land. At 10 oClock we hauld off north in order to get without a small low Island which lay about 2 Leagues from the Main it being about high water at the time we pased it great part of it lay under water.

About 3 Leagues to the north-westward of this Island close under the Main land is another Island tolerable high which bore from us at Noon N 55° west distant 7 or 8 Miles, we being at this time in the latitude of 16°20' S Cape Grafton bore S 29° East distant 40 Miles and the northermost point of land in sight N 20° w and in this situation had 15 fathom water. The shore between Cape Grafton and the above northern point forms a large but not very deep Bay which I named Trinity Bay after the day on which it was discovered, the north point Cape Tribulation because here begun all our troubles. Latitude 16°6' S, Long de 214°29' W.

MONDAY 11th    Wind at ESE with which we steer'd along shore NBW at the distance of 3 or 4 Leagues off having from 14 to 10 & 12 fm with saw two small Islands in the offing which lay in the latitude two small Islands in the offing which lay in the latitude of 16°0' S and about 6 or 7 Leagues from the Main.

At 6 oClock the northermost land in sight bore N½W and two low-woody Islands which some took to be rocks above water bore N½W. At this time we shortend sail and hauld off shore ENE and NEBE close upon a wind. My intention was to stretch off all night as well to avoid the dangers we saw ahead as to see if any Islands lay in the offing, especialy as we now begin to draw near the Latitude of those discover'd by Quiros which some Geographers, for what reason I know not have thought proper to tack to this land, having the advantage of a fine breeze of wind and a clear moonlight night.

In standing off from 6 untill near 9 oClock we depen'd our water from 14 to 21 fathom when all at once we fell into 12, 10 and 8 fathom. At this time I had every body at their stations to put about and come too an anchor but in this I was not so fortunate for meeting again with deep water I thought there could be no danger in stand g on. Before 10 oClock we had 20 and 21 fathom and continued in that depth untill a few Minutes before a 11 when we had 17 and before the Man at the lead could heave another cast the Ship Struck and Stuck fast.

Emmidiatly upon this we took in all our sails hoisted out the boats and sounded round the Ship, and found that we had got upon the SE edge of a reef of Coral rocks having in some places round the Ship 3 and 4 fathom water and in other places not quite as many feet, and about a Ships length from us on our starboard side / the ship laying with her head to the NE / were 8, 10 and 12 fathom as soon as the long boat was out we struck yards and Topmts and carried out the stream Anchor upon the starboard bow, got the Costing anchor and cable into the boat and were going to carry it out the same way; but upon my sounding the second time round the Ship I found the most water a stern, and therefore had this anchor carried out upon the Starboard quarter and hove upon it a very great strean which was to no purpose the Ship being quite fast, upon which we went to work to lighten her as fast as possible which seem'd to be the only means we had left to get her off as we went a Shore about the top ofhigh-water. We not only started water but throw'd over board our guns Iron and stone ballast Casks, Hoops staves oyle Jars, decay'd stores &ca, many of these last articles lay in the way at coming at heavyer. All this time the Ship made little or no water.

At a 11 oClock in the AM being high-water as we thought we try'd to heave her off without success, she not being a float by a foot or more notwithstanding by this time we had thrown over board 40 or 50 Tun weight, as this was not found sufficient we continued to Lighten her by every method we could think off. As the Tide fell the Ship began to make water as much as two Pumps could free. At Noon she lay with 3 or 4 Strakes heel to Starboard. Latitude Observed 15°45' South. 

TUESDAY 12th  Fortunatly we had little wind fine weather and a smooth Sea all these 24 hours which in the PM gave us an oppertunity to carry out the two bower Anchors, the one of the Starboard quarter and the other right a Stern.  Got blocks and tackles upon Cables brought the falls in abaft and hove taught.  By this time it was 5oClock in the pm, the tide we observed now begun to rise and the leak increased upon us which obliged us to se the 3rd Pump to work as we should have done the 4th also but could not make it work.


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At 9 oClock the Ship righted and the leak gaind upon the Pumps considerably. This was an alarming and I may say terrible Circumstance and threatend immidiate destruction to us as soon as the Ship was afloat. However I resolved to resk all and heave her off in case it was practical and accordingly turnd as many hands to the Capstan & windlass as could be spared from the Pumps and about 20' past 10 oClock the Ship floated and we hove her off into deep water having at this time 3 feet 9 Inches water in the hold. This done I sent the Long boat to take up the stream anchor, got the anchor but lost the Cable among the rocks, after this turn'd all hands to the Pumps the leak increasing upon us.

[The following lines were written down the left margin of the page]   A Mistake soon after happened which for the first time caused fear to operate upon every man in the Ship. The man which attend the well took ye depth of water above the ceiling, he being relieved by another who did not know in what manner the former had sounded, took the depth of water from the out side plank, the difference being 16 or 18 Inches and made it appear that the leak had gain'd this upon the pumps in a short time, this mistake was no sooner clear'd up than acted upon every man like a charm, they redoubled their Vigour in so much that before 8 oClock in the morning they gain'd considerably upon the leak. We now hove up the best bower but found it impossible to save the small bower so cut it away at a whole Cable. Got up the fore topmast and fore yard, warped the Ship to the SE and at a 11 got under Sail and Stood in for the land with a light breeze at ESE, some hands employ'd sowing ockam wool &ca into a l0wer Studding sail to fother the Ship, others emplo'd at the Pumps which still gain'd upon the leak.

WEDNESDAY 13th    In the PM had light airs at ESE with which we kept edgeing in for the land, got up the Main topmast and Main yard and having got the sail ready for fothering the Ship we put it over under the Starboard for chains where we suspected the Ship had sufferd most and soon after the leak decreased so as to be kept clear with one Pump with ease, this fortunate circumstance gave new life to every one on board.

[The following lines were written on paper and added to the journal]   It is much easier to conceive than to discribe the satisfaction felt by every body on this occation, but a few minutes before our utmost wishes were to get hold of some place upon the Main or an Island to run the Ship ashore where out of her Materials we might build a vessel to carry us to the East Indias, no sooner were we made sensible that the outward application to the Ships bottom had taken effect than the feild of every mans hopes inlarged so that we now thought of nothing but rainging along shore in search of a harbour where we could repair the damages we had susstaind.

[This section of text appears below a flap of paper later added to the journal] In justice to the Ships Company I must say that no men ever behaved better than they have done on this occasion, animated by the beheavour of every gentleman on board, every man seem'd to have a just sence of the danger we were in and exerted himself to the very utmost. 


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