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MW5 - Captain Cook & Other Mariners

Located around Wanda Headland on water edge. Turn off Soldiers Point Rd into Randall Drive (at roundabout near shops) and drive approximately 20 metres where on your left there is limited room for parking on grass roadside. From your parked car you will see a pathway that leads down to the waterfront. The pathway veers off to the right at waterfront where a well maintained, flat and even  bush /gravel path follows the waterline around the headland. You will see the signs approx 100m to 150m apart if you continue along this pathway.

This sign is located towards the eastern limits of Wanda Wanda, along the headland pathway. It is also located  just west of the appropriately named access road of Cook Street, Salamander Bay and west of the Bob Cairns Reserve.

The sign is captioned as the replica ship HM Bark Endeavour as this is the best representation of the original vessel, later renamed the Lord Sandwich and among those scuttled off Rhode Island, USA in 1778. It was recently (April 2016) reported in the press as being found.

James Cook, a noted navigator and cartographer had proven himself serving with Britain’s General Wolf to defeat the French at Quebec. This reputation gained him the task of plotting the transit of Venus for the Admiralty. Opening sealed orders in Tahiti, he then set course in the South Pacific for the postulated rich continent of Terra Australis.

The most remarkable aspect of Cook’s presence in the Port Stephens area in May 1770, was that he did not in fact, enter the port. From his journal, Cook recorded:

Passing this bay at the distance of 2 or 3 miles from shore our soundings were from 33 to 27 fathoms, from which I conjectiond that there must be sufficient depth of water for shipping in the bay.

He inspected the harbour opening from Endeavour’s masthead and noted in his log that it should promise to be a good place to shelter. Nevertheless, he did name the island off Fingal Bay as “Point Stephens” and this harbour as “Port Stephens”. Other records show that he sailed on up the Eastern Coast and eventually back to England via Batavia (modern day Indonesia) and Cape of Good Hope.

In 1791, the whaling ship Salamander of the Third Fleet sought shelter in Port Stephens and Captain Broughton in HMS Providence also heeded Cook’s advice and sheltered in the port from a storm. Whilst here, Broughton undertook some cartography and named the island offshore after himself. Other ships like the brig Cumberland in 1797 and HMS Reliance entered the port and explored the area. Eventually, timber was sought from both the local forests and those areas north towards Karuah - the logs were then shipped to Sydney by sea.

With the 1824 decision to set up the Australian Agricultural Company at Tahlee and sea-trade expanded. Access to the port and the area’s assets remained cut-off by land and it seemed logical that names of ships and their masters should be repeated in the identification of local landmarks and locations. Salamander Bay, Broughton Island, Cromarty Bay and Corlette, are examples.

Returning to James Cook, he arrived back in England in 1771. (It was another 13 years before his journals and findings became public knowledge i.e. just four years before the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay). His second voyage (1772-75), started this time with his Commander rating and with his ship HMS Resolution, taking him again to the South Pacific in search of “the Great South Land”. Sailing quite low (approx. Latitude 71ᴼ), he circum-navigated New Zealand before returning home via Cape Horn, Cape of Good Hope and then north to England.  He was given honorary retirement from the Royal Navy and made a Fellow of the Royal Society.

On his third voyage (in 1776-79) he set out again commanding HMS Resolution and another ship HMS Discovery to determine the North-West Passage - twice visiting the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). After leaving the first time, a mast broke and while attempting repairs back in Hawaii arguments arose; he attempted to retrieve a stolen cutter and in so doing, kidnapped the King. In retaliation, he was clubbed to death along with some of his crew. Their ships were sailed home minus their leader.

Want To Know More?
  • National Library of Australia, Endeavour
  • Dr. Ian Pfennigwerth, The Naval Heritage of Port Stephens

The above information and research has been undertaken by the Port Stephens Historical Society.