Captain Cook’s Very Bad Day

Cape Tribulation
Cape Tribulation on a warm, stormy day.

Captain Cook, navigator and explorer, came up with some atrocious names for the spots he ‘discovered’ and mapped along the east coast of Australia. Many were named after jumped up lords, earls, and the odd prince, many of whom were dissolute and pompous members of the British aristocracy of the day.¹ Cook, the son of a farmer and once shopkeeper, was a self-made man and capitano, so was probably in awe of this lot, or was currying favour.

strangler fig on host mahogany tree
Strangler fig on host Mahogany tree

Other spots on the map were given sad, desolate names reflecting the way James felt at the time. Cape Tribulation and the nearby Mt Sorrow are two of these. As his ship, the Endeavour, ran aground on a coral reef midst this dazzling wonderland, the Great Barrier Reef, he was stuck for 46 days as repairs were carried out in nearby Cooktown.  After he cursed and cussed, he named the area Cape Tribulation “because here began all our Troubles”.

Those of you who have visited the rainforest area around Cape Tribulation would not have experienced much sorrow, unless confronted by an ominous crocodile, or pestered by the incessant sand flies and mosquitoes. Dense rainforest fringes the ocean, the climate in the dry months is warm and the sea and its reefs offer an underworld garden of delight.

Fan Palm, Daintree, Queensland.
Fan Palm, Daintree, Queensland.

I’m sure that while Captain Cook was stressing about his boat repairs and writing his journal, the crew may have gone fishing and caught large prawns, coral trout and Barramundi, all abundant in these coral seas. Some of the crew may have gone beneath the sea to view the enchanting gardens of the reef.

Giant clam one metre wide in spaghetti grass. Mackay reef off Cape Tribulation.  Photo by Mr Tranquillo, diver of deep blue seas.
Giant clam one metre wide in spaghetti grass. Mackay reef off Cape Tribulation. Photo by Mr Tranquillo, diver of the deep blue seas.

Joseph Banks, naturalist and botanist, stole the show as he busied himself with documenting the exotic plants and flowers of the rainforest. Most of these plants and ancient trees can be seen today in the Daintree National Park, a listed UNESCO World Heritage site.

Fan palm
Fan palm, Daintree

In his later and final voyage, Captain Cook was killed by Hawaiians, his body boiled up and stripped of flesh. Another rather bad day for this captain. He was known for treating the local inhabitants badly.

plants of the daintree Rainforest, queensland, Australia
Daintree Rainforest, Queensland, Australia

¹ Some place names in Australia named by Captain Cook after 18th century aristocrats include: Temple, Cockburn, Moreton, Keppel, Palmerston, Hillsborough, Townshead, Edgecombe, Halifax, Hervey, Hawke, Stephens, Howe, Cumberland, Gloucester, Grafton, Bedford, Weymouth, York, Rockingham and Dunk.

The original aboriginal name of Dunk Island was Coonanglebah meaning ‘ the island of Peace and Plenty.’ What a lovely name indeed!


12 thoughts on “Captain Cook’s Very Bad Day”

  1. FNQ is a natural wonderland if you seek it out. I never ever tire of snorkelling in the tepid waters, spying on the myriad of rainbow hued fish and coral though last time I was there it didn’t look in great shape! Cook certainly lacked imagination methinks!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Every time I see the acronym FNQ, ( Far North Queensland) I have to think twice. Is it the F or is it the NQ ( not quite) that makes my head spin? The reef, more than ever, needs our vigilance.


  2. Lovely pics 🙂
    How interesting about Cook’s death… I hadn’t realised there was further gory detail to him being killed in Hawaii in a fight with Hawaiians… His cartography has given those names far more exposure than they would have had belonging onto to their original identities.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Beautiful photos, Francesca. I have never seen much good said about Cook, but I hadn’t realised his horrible demise. Seems to have gotten his just desserts, so to speak. Mr. T’s photo is amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lovely photos of a very photogenic place. Names of places resonate with places here. They seem more placenames rather than aristocratic names, but then, the two are often interlinked. Have seen the replica of the Endeavour when it is docked in Whitby (from where Cook originally set sail). Interesting about his demise – something I didn’t know. I tend to take these historical figures with a grain of salt – yes, by today’s standards they did and believed in unacceptable things, but they were, for the most part typical “of their time”. Had to keep reminding myself of this while studying missionaries to Greece just after the Napoleonic Wars. Unacceptable behaviour now, but back then, it was regarded as the right thing to do. Makes one wonder how future generations will view us!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Julie, James had a few nasty run ins with Maori in NZ and I am so surprised that they still have Captain Cook memorials in the North Island. I guess he deserved all he got in Hawaii.

      Liked by 1 person

Now over to you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.