Cook sights the “small round rock or island”
According to the 1790 published account of Captain Cook’s Voyages Round the World, around noon on the 10th May 1770, Cook sights the “small round rock or island” later to be known to Europeans as “Nobbys” and to the Aboriginal people of Newcastle Mulubinba as “Whibayganba”. At 4pm he passed a “low rocky point” that he named “Point Stephens”, and the inlet, he named “Port Stephens”.
Cook’s Journal also appears to state that he sighted the “small round rock or island” on Thursday the 10th May 1770. He then sighted and named Point Stephens and Port Stephens on the following day; 11th May 1770.
There is probably an explanation to this, relating to how naval officers reckoned time.
Thanks to Mark Metrikas, who has directed us to an explanation posted on the Captain Cook Society site:
“When Joseph Banks recorded events in his journal, he used civil time, meaning that each day begins at midnight. So 10 am comes before 2 pm on the same day. However, in the eighteenth century, naval officers used nautical or ship’s time rather than civil time. Ship’s time means that each day begins at noon. So 2 pm comes before 10 am. Hence, Cook’s journal entries begin with the events of the afternoon, followed by midnight, followed by those of the morning, and end with noon.” – Civil Time, Ship’s Time and the Date Line by Ian Boreham (Editor)
Cook’s Endeavour Journal at the National Library of Australia
Cook’s entire Endeavour Journal is here:
- the original (digitised) Endeavour journal.
- a searchable transcript of the Endeavour journal.
- a searchable transcript of Joseph Banks’ journal.
- searchable transcripts of other manuscripts related to the Endeavour voyage.
Did Cook draw the position on the “small round rock or island”?
Captain Cook’s original charts were published between 1988-1997 by the Hakluyt Society in association with the Australian Academy of the Humanities, in The charts & coastal views of Captain Cook’s voyages / chief editor, Andrew David ; assistant editors for the views Rüdiger Joppien and Bernard Smith.
The chart of most interest to us, is 1.273 as it appears to record the position of Nobbys in close proximity to Port Stephens. The “finished” version, Chart 1.272, appears to omit Nobbys at that location.
Chart 1.273 (Unfinished Version)
[A chart of the east coast of Australia from Point Hicks to Smoky bay] [April-May 1770] 1° of Longitude = 4 in. (approximately 1:910,000 in 34° S), ink and east, 643 x 975 mm (whole sheet), squared in pencil. Inscribed on verso in ink ‘New Holland’ and in pencil in a later hand ‘(A Chart of part of the Sea Coast of NS Wales on the E Coast of N. Holland from Point Hickes to Smoaky Cape by Lieut J Cook 1770) See Add MS 7085 fol. 35 another copy.’. An unfinished version of 1.272, with additional soundings of Smoky Cape. (David, 1988-1997, 271)
And for comparison, Chart 1.272 (Finished Version)
1.272. James Cook/Issac Smith. A chart of the East Coast of New Holland from Point Hickes to Smoaky Bay] [April-May 1770] 1° of Longitude = 4 in. (approximately 1:910,000 in 34° S), ink and wash, 544 x 906 mm, pasted down on a sheet of paper exhibiting the w/m CHARLES WISE 1819. Inscribed in ink ‘A Chart of part of the Sea Coast of New South Wales on the East Coast of New Holland From Point Hickes to Smoaky Cape by Lieut.t J. Cook Commander of His Majestys Bark the Endeavour 1770′ (u.c.). For an unfinished version of this chart see 1.273. Reproduced in Hist. Records of NSW (1893), pl. 3; Rienits, p.66. B:, Add MS 7085, f.35 (David, 1988-1997, 270)
You can never have too many maps and charts. This “unfinished version” provides us with an early European representation of Nobbys Whibayganba, a feature, that the “finished” version appears to have omitted.
James Cook – A Journal of the proceedings of His Majesty’s Bark Endeavour on a voyage round the world, by Lieutenant James Cook, Commander, commencing the 25th of May 1768 – 23 Oct. 1770 (State Library of NSW)
The James Cook Heritage Trail Identifications
The James Cook Heritage Trail site provides identifications of the geographical features along the East Coast that Cook identified in his journal and logs.
Consult the following with regards to the Central Coast and Hunter Region coastlines:
Cape Three Points http://www.jamescookheritagetrail.com.au/Cape%20Three%20Points.html
Nobbys Head and Mount Sugarloaf
Point Stephens, Port Stephens and Black Head
Log of H.M.S. Endeavour, 1768-1770 [manuscript] MS 3
Mr Mark Metrikas has directed us to these additional entries.
To be found in the log of events in holographic sequence, as it was kept by the watch keeper – usually Cook by day. Page 168, 9th May 1770 is important. Log of H.M.S. Endeavour, 1768-1770 [manuscript]. (nla.gov.au)
- Note the astronomy (now astrological) symbols that denote the calendar day of the week.
- From the left you can see the hour of the day beginning at noon – so “1” would be an event that happened in the first hour after noon of a 24 hour maritime day (in this case around 1.00pm actual time on 10th May.
- The start of ’10 May’ in the Endeavour logs is actually noon 9 May calendar.
- So 9 May is correct for our purposes as the day Cook and crew sighted a ‘small high island ‘ – the very first words used by Europeans to describe what seems to be Whibayganba. Note the recording of ‘a small island, 3-4 leagues (15-20km) offshore. This is Nobbys Whibayganba; at that distance, and the position it was observed, seemingly while looking toward the stern, it would have obscured the entrance to Yohabba.
- Note – the hills of Port Stephens (often seen from Macquarie Pier) which appear as islands, were sighted shortly before the ‘small island’.
- The ‘land making like islands’ (Port Stephens) was sighted in the 18th watch hour ‘ship day’ 9 May – which equates to 0800 hours, calendar 9 May. The ‘land making like islands’ are the hills, peaks and offshore islands of Port Stephens (Tomaree Hill, Yacaaba, etc). On sighting those, they simply headed straight toward them, to save time and avoid the likely surf breaking onto Stockton Bight.
- This means that somewhere off Norah Head (is that the ‘bluff head’?), Cook spotted what appeared to be a string of islands (Port Stephens) about 4 hours before they noted a ‘small high island’ to the south.
- What is interesting, and confusing when read alongside the ships journals (something Cook would have done before retiring to bed) is reference to the coast broken and appearing like island, reported ‘smokes’ – possibly the Hunter coast, and a small opening (Yohabba or Swansea Channel, or is this the entry to Port Stephens?).
- This indicates that the ships log recorded functional matters, soundings, bearings, distance estimates and key observations, whereas the daily journal filled in the gaps.
- K for knots and F – unsure. Soundings would be in fathoms using weighted lines.
- Winds are recorded, sometimes tacks, reporting of ‘smokes seen’, etc.
- Cook was in the practice of taking readings of the position of the sun each noon, to establish his longitude, so it is likely that Cook himself noted the small island.” – Email Communication 7 April 2022
Gionni Di Gravio, OAM
University Archivist & Chair, Hunter Living Histories