Celebrating Australia's first surf report

Stu Nettle
Swellnet Dispatch

As Australia observes 250 years since Captain James Cook landed in Australia, the surf forecasting community is celebrating another significant milestone: It's also 250 years since Australia's first surf report!

In late April, 1770, HMS Endeavour spotted the Australian mainland at Point Hicks and then sailed up the south coast of what would become New South Wales. Each of the Endeavour's officers kept a log, which in various ways mention the surf, usually as a barrier to launching a landing party.

They also record the wind, which for almost a week blew from the west or southwest.

Lots of surf, offshore wind.

On the 27th April, 1770, the Endeavour was offshore from Garie in the Royal National Park, midway between Sydney and Wollongong, but light wind saw it drifting south on the southerly current.

Lots of surf, variable wind.

The next day, Cook tried to land at Woonona, just north of Wollongong. If circumstances had been different, the Gong would've been the first place the Brits set foot on Aussie soil, but alas, Cook was beaten back by a solid autumn swell.

Cook subsequently dialled it in: “...we found that we nowhere could affect a landing by reason of the great surf which beat every where upon the shore.”

However, Cook's 2IC Zachary Hicks made the more memorable observation: “Ye captain went away in ye yawl, but could not land for ye surf."

Thus, on 28th April 1770, 250 years ago, the wind was light and variable following a week of offshore west and southwest winds. No doubt the swell Cook passed while heading up the coast would've been related to that southerly wind regime, perhaps a Long Wave Trough passing under Victoria and moving out into the Tasman Sea.

Whereas on the day of the attempted landing the offshore winds dropped and turned variable, while the swell - still big enough to stop ye yawl from landing - continued unabated.

Even from 250 years hence we can be farily sure the surf was pumping.

"At this time it fell calm and we were not above a mile and a half from shore...and within some breakers that lay to the southward of us" - Captain James Cook (Photo Shield)

This was to be the last day of the southerly weather cycle that accompanied the Endeavour up the coast.

After the failed landing, the Endeavour was becalmed in the shallow bay that comprises Woonona and Bellambi slowly drifting south towards a dangerous offshore reef. Cook's journals said they were, "within some breakers that lay to the south of us.”

At 6pm, a west-southwest change hit and filled the Endeavour's sails, moving it away from virginal danger. Cook sailed north with the wind and the swell at his back, and the next morning he rounded Cape Solander to land at Botany Bay.

From ship logs, to fax, to helicopter, and computer: A history of surf reporting

Comments

loungelizard's picture
loungelizard's picture
loungelizard commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 10:02am

nice work, if he'd subscribed to swellnet he may have done a better job of "respecting the locals"

scroty's picture
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scroty commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 11:26am

Where does swellnet stand on shooting locals in the leg on your first meeting?

Lottolonglong's picture
Lottolonglong's picture
Lottolonglong commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 1:43pm

Why should swellnet staff have to have a PC stance on something that happened 250 years ago? Do U question every German U meet about the nazi regime?
Jerez scroty,I love surf sites for stories of surf and surf related history and to me this is article is very relevant as I have been to all spots mentioned
Great article SW, keep em coming

JackStance's picture
JackStance's picture
JackStance commented Thursday, 30 Apr 2020 at 3:00pm

Germany is honest and ashamed about its Nazi history. In South Africa and Canada, as part of reconciliation, they've had truth commissions - national truth process and healing processes. All around the world Treaties with First Nations peoples are common, as are mechanism for First Nations people to be heard in parliament on law that effect us.

Australia is not honest about its history.

In Australia we've got the highest rate of incarcerating First Nations people IN THE WORLD. The gaps in economic wealth, life expectancy, education, child removal, youth incarceration, covid19 fines by racist cops, abuse of biker/consorting laws, the abuse of the Suspect Target Management Plan to harass Aboriginal at any hour of the night without warrant (this list could go on and on and on) is staggering.

Despite all of these examples of the unbroken chain of continued oppression (that is putting it lightly), many people still trust the voices that promote the narrative that all this happened 250 years ago.

It is clearly still happening.

Let me put it to you another way:

Lets say your father owned a massive pot of gold, then my father stole from him. Both of our fathers died. I inherit the gold, you get nothing, and you and your family have nothing. Whilst 'possession' of the gold moved to my father, then to me, did 'ownership' of the gold pass with it?

Of course not, its stolen goods.

Lets add to the scenario: my father and all his people did this to your father and all his people. They die, the possession of the wealth passes to decedents, but does the ownership of the wealth also pass?
Of course not. It is the same thing whether one person does it, or a group of people do: stealing is stealing.

No matter how many generations possession passes through, under no law, or just reasoning, does ownership move.

Obviously this is a bit simplistic. We can add that my people, with all the wealth, wrote all the laws, including the constitution, and we don't recognise you as human - until fairly recently you were born flora and fauna - so our law of justice does not apply to animals.

You may argue the nation was taken by war.

There are only 3 ways that ownership of a nation can be claimed: terra nullius (no mans land); by treaty; or by winning a war. Under British and Maritime law there are specific laws that had to be followed then, and now, to start a war - like a declaration or a decree of war.
The 2nd Mabo case demolishes the Crowns claims: none of these 3 events happened, as Terra Nullius was a lie. Sovereignty was never ceded. Hence Howard's 'there gonna take your backyard' fear campaign after Mabo. - I'm assuming you're old enough to remember that. The war in it's cunning form is a war on consciousness - to divide and rule.

Our kids are 8 times more likely to enter the Care system then yours, thats about 1400 of our kids being removed from our families each year - in NSW alone. Thats about 15,000 of our young ones in Out OF Home Care in NSW right now. Our Communities refer to this as the 2nd Stolen Generation. Nationally, the number of Aboriginal children removed from Aboriginal families overtook that of the 1st Stolen Generation in 2017. And also think of the thousands of our beautiful people locked up.

I don't blame you, or anyone, for being an unwitting tool of the state because I, and many people, appreciate the power of propaganda: it has lead us to this dire situation. And to many dire situations.

I will however ask you to consider, as a rule of thumb, to not trust establishment sources of information - as 'history is written by the victor'.

If learning about your country is your thing, I can recommend reading this:
https://www.familyisculture.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/72632...

Sovereignty Never Ceded.

Always was, always will be Aboriginal Land.

[-o-]

Breath. Murdoch's empire will one day fail to control our minds.

blower's picture
blower's picture
blower commented Friday, 1 May 2020 at 11:08am

Thank you JackStance for the reference/link within your contribution. I was raised and thus influenced on the 'modern' reckoning that the Aboriginal were a race in need of our European forefathers aid. Admittedly it has taken much of my life to educate myself and now my children of the misinformed beliefs thrust upon us by the noting of the 'Australian history' we were subject to throughout our family and schooling lives.
I am lucky to have been educated enough to seek my own truths as has my wife, and along with the references presented by informed people and our own quest for knowledge we have been able to form our own views that we present to our children. A few months back we spent a much anticipated few weeks in and around your peoples lands to the north (Alice way) and this only reinforced our understanding and respect for the culture of the longest continual civilised peoples ever to exist 'OF' the Earth.
Yes, we must acknowledge all those that have come and gone and their skills in doing so, but the social behaviors born of those early explorers and continued by our past, present and likely future European based systems of society can only be questioned for their supposed moral, financial and political endeavors.

Lottolonglong's picture
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Lottolonglong commented Thursday, 30 Apr 2020 at 8:05pm

Some good info JS,I respectfully still stand by my original question though

scroty's picture
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scroty commented Friday, 1 May 2020 at 7:09am

To answer your question - they don't.
I was just putting an off-hand comment out there that I thought might be amusing given the recent "Baz" postings and loungelizards comment about respecting the locals.
Some nice postings afterwards though.

JackStance's picture
JackStance's picture
JackStance commented Friday, 1 May 2020 at 6:23pm

Respectfully, of course you do. Thats how cognitive dissonance works. And the reason I didn't, and am not asking you to change your mind. The most reasonable and respectful thing I can to is do my best to provide some info and suggest not trusting imperialist source of information so much.
Heres a brief, yet accurate article on cognitive dissonance: https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2019/11/06/propaganda-narratives-are-custom...

Breath. Murdoch's empire will one day fail to control our minds.

Clivus Multrum's picture
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Clivus Multrum commented Saturday, 2 May 2020 at 6:37am

Well said, JackStance. Respect.

Bnkref's picture
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Bnkref commented Saturday, 2 May 2020 at 6:48am

Thank you, JackStance. It's important that we all know what has happened (and the current issues that Aboriginal people are facing).

Keep fighting the good fight.

dp's picture
dp's picture
dp commented Sunday, 3 May 2020 at 6:33am

Well worth the read. Thanks mate

tango's picture
tango's picture
tango commented Monday, 4 May 2020 at 6:58pm

Very well said, JS.

I completely agree that Australia is not honest about its history. The twisting of the sad and continuing tale of colonisation makes both old and modern Australia complicit in what can only be described as a crime against humanity. The Family Is Culture report is an amazing piece of work, though just reading the history of it upset me enough. I hope the cynicism of Aboriginal people towards the state which is evident in the report is proved wrong.

keeif's picture
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keeif commented Tuesday, 5 May 2020 at 6:59am

Brilliantly written

sangsta's picture
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sangsta commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 10:42am

nice one Stu. I am thinking that after that long on the ship, the Endeavour crew would have welcomed a good reef washing. Oh, no wait, they were British........

gavin007's picture
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gavin007 commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 2:47pm

He not only gave the first surf report, but first WSL commentary - https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/what-first-european-visit-hawa...

velocityjohnno's picture
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velocityjohnno commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 2:51pm

Great story Stu. Endeavour began life as a collier if I recall - the flat bottom being perfect for anticipated (and actual) beach landings and repairs. Phenomenal sailors, navigators, and record keepers.

zenagain's picture
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zenagain commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 2:55pm

Aye.

Watashi wa metabo oyagi desu.

mattlock's picture
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mattlock commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 3:01pm

Did you check Abel Tasman's log for perhaps earlier report? What about William Dampier?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 3:22pm

Did I check Abel Tasman's log for a surf report?

How many people get asked that in the course of their working day?

Cheers Mattlock!

velocityjohnno's picture
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velocityjohnno commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 4:11pm

And Willem De Vlamingh - I think there's a surf report of sorts when they landed in Perth near Cables.

Also the French Bruni D'Entrecasteaux as well (sp?) - fantastic early accounts of their trip to southern Tassie & friendships etc, also very high quality officers and botanists etc, like with Cook's crew

Edit: there has to be some mention of the surf in the terrible accounts of the survivors of the wreck of the Batavia in 1629 - probably in Pelsaert's journals as well. Have flown over the reef and got a great pic of the first European building in Australia, put up by the marines on a neighbouring island to stop the mutineers cutting their throats in the night.

1629, quoted in 'Islands of Angry Ghosts':

"June 4th; on the 2nd day of Whitsuntide. I was lying in my bunk feeling ill when suddenly with a terrible rough motion the bumping of the ship's rudder. And immediately after that I felt the ship held up in her course against the rocks so that I fell out of my bunk. Whereupon I ran up and discovered that we lay right in the middle of thick spray."

June 5, when he was trying to get from the islands to the wreck to take off treasure, but the swell had risen:

"Waves broke over the poop... I remained a long time in the vicinity of the ship to wait for an opportunity for me to get aboard. But in vain. At last there was a carpenter, Jan Egbertsz of Amsterdam, who was bold enough to swim to the yawl through the surf, whom the Merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz with another 79 men who were on the ship had sent with a request to help them for there was for them no longer any safe place on the ship"

quotes from Pelsaert's journal I believe...

tango's picture
tango's picture
tango commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 9:08pm

I'm not so sure about the high quality aspect on Cook and company. Without writing an essay on the tensions between terra nullius and invasion, it's worth recalling that the culture which underpinned Cook & Co deemed it acceptable for Pemulwuy's head to be sent to Banks for his "collection".

https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/article/2016/04/21/8-war-heroes-you-didnt-le...

As a full-blooded whitey I have enormous difficulty attributing anything to Cook et al other than imperialism gone wrong.

velocityjohnno's picture
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velocityjohnno commented Thursday, 30 Apr 2020 at 8:41pm

I was thinking quality in terms of professional ability, not a moral judgement from today's point of view.

"In these voyages, Cook sailed thousands of miles across largely uncharted areas of the globe. He mapped lands from New Zealand to Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean in greater detail and on a scale not previously charted by Western explorers. He surveyed and named features, and recorded islands and coastlines on European maps for the first time. He displayed a combination of seamanship, superior surveying and cartographic skills, physical courage, and an ability to lead men in adverse conditions."

He wasn't alone - other officers from Palliser to Collingwood to Jervis to Rodney to Nelson to Bligh (remarkable open boat navigation after the mutiny) achieved great feats, including in a 2 year blockade at sea (ie, no port leave!) culminating in the victory at Trafalgar, and 100 years of peace on the high seas that followed. Cook himself achieved accurate navigation to measure the transit of Venus on the other side of the planet, to help calculate the distance between the Earth and the Sun. There's a reason for Russell Crowe's swagger in 'Master and Commander'.

tango's picture
tango's picture
tango commented Thursday, 30 Apr 2020 at 9:12pm

Fair point, VJ. I agree re their navigational ability and general seamanship, it was quite stunning in the context of their tech and limited understanding of the world in general.

I know I'm applying today's moral code (in the main) to the issue, but I think that even back then there was a growing awareness that severed heads weren't the ideal curio, either. Another age, of course, and quite easy to sit here at a keyboard near the fire pontificating rather than be freaking out in the midst of a storm 400nm off the coast in 1769.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Monday, 4 May 2020 at 5:14pm

totally, they would become very moral during the Victorian era. 1834 the Navy ended slavery, off the Barbary coast iirc - Thomas Jefferson was on board one of the ships for this battle, too.

bipola's picture
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bipola commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 5:57pm

where will surfing be in the next 100 years?

wax-on-danielson's picture
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wax-on-danielson commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 6:40pm

The fatal shore talks about how gnarly the row into Port Arthur was for convicts, which was only accessible by boat, not sure of that might have been going past Shipsterns?

mattlock's picture
mattlock's picture
mattlock commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 8:40pm

@vj.
The story of the wreck of the Batavia is almost so outlandish that it is difficult believe that it is true. There is an excellent book called "Batavia's Graveyard" by Mike Dash. Most worthy reading.

While you are at it check out "Pirate of Exquisite Mind"[about Dampier]. In it is a remedy
for constipation that involves a "well oiled spoon".

Surf Ads's picture
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Surf Ads commented Friday, 1 May 2020 at 11:17am

There's gotta be a bloody good movie from the Batavia, surprised it hasn't been done already.

Westofthelake's picture
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Westofthelake commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 9:09pm

Great stuff Stu.

What could have been, Woonona Wedge, 1770.

Endeavour-2020-wave

wildenstein8's picture
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wildenstein8 commented Thursday, 30 Apr 2020 at 9:03am

More like this

warddy's picture
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warddy commented Thursday, 30 Apr 2020 at 10:47am

I can remember at School and on TV how much of a big deal was made of the BiCentenary..
50 years later It’s hardly got a mention for obvious reasons ...
Only thing is imagine how this country would be if the Japanese or the Indos had got there claws in first ...
Cook for all the flaws of the British empire at least deserves some recognition for his voyages ...

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Thursday, 30 Apr 2020 at 8:26pm

Thanks Mattlock, I'll have a look for it. The tale is absolutely horror, unimaginable cruelty and bloodlust, complete with a final race to the returning yawl to see if evil gets there first! The place itself is very far away, feels very raw to visit it today.

simba's picture
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simba commented Thursday, 30 Apr 2020 at 8:59pm

Also VJ, Batavia by Peter Fitzsimons....great read.

simba

mikehunt207's picture
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mikehunt207 commented Thursday, 30 Apr 2020 at 9:05pm

Captain Cook must have known a bit about slab waves, Staithes reef (right near the town he was born) being one of the best waves in the UK. Ours must have looked doable for the captain. There is a monument to him not far from this left.
Not the best footage but gets bigger and more square
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGnBxZ66X2E
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24nu-omVKSM

@JackStance, good post mate, well said.

marcus's picture
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marcus commented Friday, 1 May 2020 at 2:02am

You got the name wrong mate

i remember the internet when it was just for intelligent people but.

mikehunt207's picture
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mikehunt207 commented Friday, 1 May 2020 at 8:23pm

"respect the locals" dont need to give everything away right?

scottishsponger's picture
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scottishsponger commented Friday, 1 May 2020 at 9:59pm

Are you trying to claim Staithes is a secret spot. Every surfer in the UK has either surfed it or already knows where it is. No surfer outside of the UK is going to bother travelling to Yorkshire to surf it, so what are you complaining about?

mikehunt207's picture
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mikehunt207 commented Friday, 1 May 2020 at 11:22pm

shhhh....

morg's picture
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morg commented Thursday, 30 Apr 2020 at 11:12pm

Cool article and an interesting read on history.

Brad Ferrier's picture
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Brad Ferrier commented Friday, 1 May 2020 at 1:58pm

JackStance. Best article reply I’ve read since I first subscribed. I’m with you all the way, every darn word you wrote, you took the words right out of my mouth. You are so correct, others on this forum simply just don’t get it. We should all just dip our heads in shame, we’ve always treated aboriginal people and their history very badly, and as a matter of fact, we still do. They had and have so much to offer. Again, great article.

scottishsponger's picture
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scottishsponger commented Friday, 1 May 2020 at 10:05pm

Totally agree Brad. Modern Australia has been lampooned internationally for centuries for having no “culture” and the bogan culture is still rife here. Yet there’s one of the richest, oldest and most fascinating cultures still in existence (just) despite generations of settlers trying to wipe it out. For a multitude of reasons, Aboriginal culture should be embraced, a Treaty signed and a full reconciliation process started to at least acknowledge and apologise for the centuries of wrongs committed against Australia’s first people’s.

brownie48's picture
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brownie48 commented Friday, 1 May 2020 at 4:59pm

A couple of great books to read are written by Bruce Pascoe, I heard him talk at the Alice Springs Writers Festival a few years ago and watched the various presenters and singers from Arnhem Land at the festival, I was ignorant like most until I read and researched and read again...

Jack Stance - so true and very well written reply

Stunet - love your play on words in that last paragraph hahaha

Brad Ferrier's picture
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Brad Ferrier commented Friday, 1 May 2020 at 5:53pm

Brownie48. Good one. Bruce is a great and thoughtful fellow who sticks to his guns and never gives up the fight or postures to anyone. I’ve read a few of his books. I’ve got my 18 year old son reading Dark Emu at the moment, all Australians, adult or children and in particular FARMERS ( can’t seem to farm without herbicide, fungicide or super-phosphate ) should read it. He’s been lambasted by many for his ideologies but ultimately he is proven to be correct for what he has written because he spends the time, visits many folk, to grab that last bit of historical narrative.

Spuddups's picture
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Spuddups commented Saturday, 2 May 2020 at 6:36am

If you ever get the chance to read JC Beaglehole’s “The life of Captain James Cook” you won’t be disappointed. It is still, in my opinion, after all these years, the definitive work on the subject. One of the highlights is when they get becalmed off the Great Barrier Reef and spend some fairly terrifying hours drifting towards their doom amongst the crashing surf and reef. At the last moment the wind comes up and they are saved.

stunet's picture
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stunet commented Saturday, 2 May 2020 at 7:12am

Sounds like Cooky had a few of those moments - saved by the wind at the last second.

Not sure if the incident inside the GBR compares to the one written about above. Just quietly, the photo I've used in the story is from the actual wave Cook sighted. That reef would instantly turn the Endeavour into toothpicks.

Spuddups's picture
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Spuddups commented Sunday, 3 May 2020 at 5:40pm

It really is amazing what those old explorers achieved back in those days. “Men against these sea” is a great example. This is of course an account of Bligh’s open boat journey from Tonga to Timor. He charted the Great Barrier Reef along the way to such a high degree of accuracy that it was still in use for many years. I dunno, all this talk of so called Watermen; these modern guys couldn’t hold a candle to those mariners.

Phil Jarratt's picture
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Phil Jarratt commented Sunday, 3 May 2020 at 7:47am

Of all Cook's exciting adventures as he sailed north, his landfall at Bustard Bay (1770) was probably the least. But it did set a precedent for NRL and cruise-ship behaviour of the future. From a piece I wrote for Australian Geographic:
It could be argued that the Cook expedition’s shambolic 36-hour presence in the beautiful bay that forms the southern gateway to the Great Barrier Reef on what is now known as the Discovery Coast would be better consigned to the forgotten annals of our history. For one thing, the men of the Endeavour were stir crazy after three weeks of looking at the coast but never making landfall, and when they finally did, many of them celebrated by being dead drunk from arrival to departure.
Cook wrote in his journal: “Last night some time in the Middle Watch a very extraordinary affair happend to Mr Orton my Clerk, he having been drinking in the Evening, some Malicious person or persons in the Ship took the advantage of his being drunk and cut off all the cloaths from off his back, not being satisfied with this they some time after went into his Cabbin and cut off a part of both his Ears as he lay asleep in his bed… I look upon such proceedings as highly dangerous in such Voyages as this and the greatest insult that could be offer'd to my authority in this Ship.”
Cook and his botanists Banks and Solander, along with some trusted armed men, went briefly ashore and found nothing much of interest, shot a bustard that gave them the best fresh meat they’d had since leaving England, named the bay after the delicious turkey, and they were gone.

Phil Jarratt

thermalben's picture
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thermalben commented Sunday, 3 May 2020 at 8:32am

I was fascinated to find how small and secluded the monument at 1770 is.

Sir Abacus Bent's picture
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Sir Abacus Bent commented Monday, 4 May 2020 at 8:24am

X

stunet's picture
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stunet commented Sunday, 3 May 2020 at 10:19am

Jeez you're a self-righteous and patronising twat.

How the hell do you know all our thoughts and deeds?

The article was about one particular moment in history, the anniversary of which passed this week. Nothing else, just that moment.

But indulging you for a moment, let's say the indigenuous not only played in the ocean - which they did - but they also "provided surf reports", can you point me towards one of those reports?

Sir Abacus Bent's picture
Sir Abacus Bent's picture
Sir Abacus Bent commented Sunday, 3 May 2020 at 12:13pm

Following on from JackStance excellent posts, all I did was point out that no reader had yet imagined that indigenous people would have had something akin to a surf report. I did not mention yours or anyone's thoughts and deeds. I did not refer to you or to the article which BTW I thought was good.
But still you shit your daks and shout 'self righteous twat ' at me because you thought it my post was ALL ABOUT YOU.
If any reader has taken offence I apologise, I know most of you choose to value and respect local knowledge when you travel.

stunet's picture
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stunet commented Sunday, 3 May 2020 at 12:28pm

No mate, I reacted, not about me but about my readers:

"the most notable thing I see here is that not one reader has been able to imagine an indigenous surf report ."

Your condescension is only surpassed by your clairvoyancy.

Sir Abacus Bent's picture
Sir Abacus Bent's picture
Sir Abacus Bent commented Sunday, 3 May 2020 at 2:37pm

I apologised to any reader that might have taken offence.
I complimented your article.
All you see is condescension?
You really are one sour dude.

Spuddups's picture
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Spuddups commented Sunday, 3 May 2020 at 6:00pm

Nah, you’re out of line Sir Abacus. Time for a re-think I reckon.

D-Rex's picture
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D-Rex commented Monday, 4 May 2020 at 9:33am

Be careful not to upset stu, abacus, lest your post be deleted - oops, too late!

stunet's picture
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stunet commented Monday, 4 May 2020 at 9:34am

He deleted it himself, mate.

Sir Abacus Bent's picture
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Sir Abacus Bent commented Tuesday, 5 May 2020 at 7:03pm

I deleted it Rex.
Confucius say: When apologies bring more abuse, its time to leave.

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Blowin commented Tuesday, 5 May 2020 at 7:27am