A Source Book in Geography

Author: James Cook  | Date: 1958

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Captain James Cook: Secret Orders from the Admiralty and His Description of New South Wales

Secret By the Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral of Great Britain &c

Additional Instructions for L

Whereas the making Discoverys of Countries hitherto unknown, and the Attaining a Knowledge of distant Parts which though formerly discover’d have yet been but imperfectly explored, will redound greatly to the Honour of this Nation as a Maritime Power, as well as to the Dignity of the Crown of Great Britain, and may trend greatly to the advancement of the Trade and Navigation thereof; and Whereas there is reason to imagine that a Continent or Land of great extent, may be found to the Southward of the Tract lately made by Captn Wallis in His Majesty’s Ship the Dolphin (of which you will herewith receive a Copy) or of the Tract of any former Navigators in Pursuits of the like kind; You are therefore in Pursuance of His Majesty’s Pleasure hereby requir’d and directed to put to Sea with the Bark you Command so soon as the Observation of the Transit of the Planet Venus shall be finished and observe the following Instructions.

You are to proceed to the southward in order to make discovery of the Continent above-mentioned until you arrive in the Latitude of 40°, unless you sooner fall in with it. But not having discover’d it or any Evident signs of it in that Run, you are to proceed in search of it to the Westward between the Latitude before mentioned and the Latitude of 35° until you discover it, or fall in with the Eastern side of the Land discover’d by Tasman and now called New Zeland.

If you discover the Continent above-mentioned either in your Run to the Southward or to the Westward as above directed, You are to employ youself diligently in exploring as great an Extent of the Coast as you can; carefully observing the true situation thereof both in Latitude and Longitude, the Variation of the Needle, bearings of Head Lands, Height, direction and Course of the Tides and Currents, Depths and Soundings of the Sea, Shoals, Rocks, &ca. and also surveying and making Charts, and taking Views of such Bays, Harbours and Parts of the Coast as may be useful to Navigation.

You are also carefully to observe the Nature of the Soil, and the Products thereof; the Beasts and Fowls that inhabit or frequent it, the fishes that are to be found in the Rivers or upon the Coast and in what Plenty; and in case you find any Mines, Minerals or valuable stones you are to bring home Specimens of each, as also such Specimens of the Seeds of the Trees, Fruits and Grains as you may be able to collect, and Transmit them to our Secretary that We may cause proper Examination and Experiments to be made of them.

You are likewise to observe the Genius, Temper, Disposition and Number of the Natives, if there be any, and endeavour by all proper means to cultivate a Friendship and Alliance with them, making them presents of such Trifles as they may Value, inviting them to Traffick, and Shewing them every kind of Civility and Regard; taking Care however not to suffer yourself to be surprized by them, but to be always upon your guard against any Accident.

You are also with the Consent of the Natives to take possession of Convenient Situations in the Country in the Name of the King of Great Britain; or, if you find the Country uninhabited take Possession for His Majesty by setting up Proper Marks and Inscriptions, as first discoverers and possessors.

But if you should fail of discovering the Continent before-mention’d, you will upon falling in with New Zeland carefully observe the Latitude and Longitude in which that Land is situated, and explore as much of the Coast as the Condition of the Bark, the health of her Crew, and the State of your Provisions will admit of, having always great Attention to reserve as much of the latter as will enable you to reach some known Port where you may procure a Sufficiency to carry you to England, either round the Cape of Good Hope, or Cape Horn, as from Circumstances you may judge the Most Eligible way of returning home.

You will also observe with accuracy the Situation of such Islands as you may discover in the Course of your Voyage that have not hitherto been discover’d by any Europeans, and take possession for His Majesty and make Surveys and Draughts of such of them as may appear to be of Consequence, without Suffering yourself however to be thereby diverted from the Object which you are always to have in View, the Discovery of the Southern Continent so often Mentioned.

But for as much as in an undertaking of this nature several Emergencies may Arise not to be foreseen, and therefore not particularly to be provided for by Instruction before hand, you are in all such Cases, to proceed, as upon advice with your Officers you shall judge most advantageous to the Service on which you are employed.

You are to send by all proper Conveyances to the Secretary of the Royal Society Copys of the Observations you shall have made of the Transit of Venus; and you are at the same time to send to our Secretary, for our information, accounts of your Proceedings, and Copys of the Surveys and drawings you shall have made. And upon your Arrival in England you are immediately to repair to this Office in order to lay before us a full account of your Proceedings in the whole Course of your Voyage, taking care before you leave the Vessel to demand from your Officers and Petty Officers the Log Books and Journals they may have Kept, and to seal them up for our inspection, and enjoyning them, and the whole Crew, not to divulge where they have been until they shall have Permission so to do.

Given under our hands the 30th of July 1768.


Piercy BRETT


By Command of their Lordships


New South Wales

Thursday 23rd August. In the Course of this Journal I have at different times made mention of the appearence or Aspect of the face of the Country, the nature of the Soil, its produce &ca. By the first it will appear that to the Southward of 33° or 34° the Land in general is low and level with very few Hills or Mountains, further to the northward it may in some places be called a Hilly, but hardly any where can be call’d a Mountainous Country, for the Hills and Mountains put together take up but a small part of the Surface in comparison to what the Planes and Vallies do which intersect or divide these Hills and Mountains: It is indefferently well watered, even in the dry Seasons, with small Brooks and springs, but no great Rivers, unless it be in the wet Season when the low lands and Vallies near the Sea I do suppose are mostly laid under water; the small brooks may then become large Rivers but this can only happen with the Tropick. It was only in Thirsty Sound where we could find no fresh Water, excepting one small pool or two which Gore saw in the woods, which no doubt was owing to the Country being there very much intersected with Salt creeks and Mangrove land.

The low Land by the Sea and even as far in land as we were, is for the most part friable, loose, sandy Soil; yet indefferently fertile and cloathed with woods, long grass, shrubs, Plants &ca. The Mountains or Hills are Chequered with woods and Lawns. Some of the Hills are wholy covered with flourishing Trees; others but thinly, and the few that are on them are small and the spots of Lawns or Savannahs are Rocky and barren, especially to the northward where the country did not afford or produce near the Vegetation that it does to the southward, nor were the Trees in the woods half so tall and stout.

The Woods do not produce any great variety of Trees, there are only 2 or 3 sorts that can be call’d Timber; the largest is the Gum Tree which growes all over the Country, the Wood of this Tree is too hard and ponderous for most common uses. The Tree which resembles our Pines, I saw no where in perfection but in Botany Bay, this wood as I have before observed is some thing of the same nature as America Live Oak; in short most of the large Trees in this Country are of a hard and ponderous nature and could not be applied to many purposes. Here are several sorts of the Palm kind, Mangro[v]es and several other sorts of small Trees and shrubs quite unknown to me besides a very great Variety of Plants hetherto unknown, but these things are wholy out of my way to describe, nor will this be of any loss sence not only Plants but everything that can be of use to the Learn’d World will be very accuratly described by Mr Banks and Dr Solander. The Land naturly produces hardly any thing fit for man to eat and the Natives know nothing of Cultivation. There are indeed found growing wild in the woods a few sorts of fruits (the most of them unknown to us) which when ripe do not eat a miss, one sort especially which we call’d Apples, being about the size of a Crab-Apple, it is black and pulpy when ripe and tastes like a Damson, it hath a large hard stone or kernel and grows on Trees or Shrubs.

In the Northern parts of the Country as about Endeavour River, and probably in many other places, the Boggy or watery Lands produce Taara or Cocos which when properly cultivated are very good roots, without which they are hardly eatable, the tops however make very good greens.

Land Animals are scarce, as so far as we know confined to a very few species; all that we saw I have before mentioned, the sort that is in the greatest plenty is the Kangooroo, or Kanguru so call’d by the Natives; we saw a good many of them about Endeavour River, but kill’d only Three which we found very good eating. Here are like wise Batts, Lizards, Snakes, Scorpions, Centumpees &ca but not in any plenty. Tame Animals they have none but Dogs, and of these we saw but one and therefore must be very scarce, probably they eat them faster than they breed them, we should not have seen this one had he not made us frequent Visets while we lay in Endeavour River.

The Land Fowles are Bustards, Eagles, Hawks, Crows such as we have in England, Cockatoes of two sorts, white and brown, very beautifull Birds of the Parrot kind such as Lorryquets &ca, Pidgeons, Doves, Quales, and several sorts of smaller birds. The Sea and Water Fowls are Herons, Boobies, Nodies, Guls, Curlews, Ducks, Pelicans &ca and when Mr Banks and Mr Gore were in the Country at the head of Endeavour River they saw and heard in the night great numbers of Geese. The sea is indifferently well stock’d with Fish of various sorts, such as Sharks, Dog-fish, Rock-fish, Mullets, Breames, Cavallies, Mackarel, old wives, Leather-Jackets, Five-fingers, Sting-Rays, Whip-rays &ca—all excellent in their kind. The Shellfish are Oysters of 3 or 4 sorts, viz Rock oysters and Mangrove Oysters which are small, Pearl Oysters, and Mud Oysters, these last are the best and largest; Cockles and Clams of Several sorts, many of these that are found upon the Reefs are of a Prodigious size; Craw-fish, Crabs, Musles, and a variety of other sorts. Here are also among and upon the Shoals & reefs great numbers of the finest Gree[n] Turtle in the world and in the Rivers and salt Creeks are some Aligators.

The Natives of this Country are of a middle Stature straight bodied and slender-limbd, their skins the Colour of Wood soot or of a dark Chocolate, their hair mostly black, some lank and others curled, they all wear it crop’d short, their Beards which are generaly black they like wise crop short or singe off. Their features are far from being disagreeable and their Voices are soft and tunable. They go quite naked both Men and women without any manner of Cloathing whatever, even the Women do not so much as Cover their privities. Altho none of us were ever very near any of their women, one gentleman excepted, yet we are all as well satisfied of this as if we had lived among them. Notwithstanding we had several interviews with the Men while we lay in Endeavour River, yet whether through Jealousy or disrigard they never brought any of their women along with them to the Ship, but always left them on the opposite side of the River where we had frequent oppertunities [of] Viewing them through our glasses. They wear as Ornaments Necklaces made of shells, Bracelets or hoops about their arms, made mostly of hair twisted and made like a cord hoop, these they wear teight about the uper parts of their Arms, and some have girdles made in the same manner. The men wear a bone about 3 or 4 Inches long and a fingers thick, run through the Bridge of the nose, which the Seamen call’d a sprit sail yard; they like wise have holes in their ears for Earrings but we never saw them wear any, neither are all the other oraments wore in common for we have seen as many without as with them. Some of those we saw on Posession Island wore Breast Plates which we suppose’d were made of Mother of Pearl shells. Many of them paint their bodies and faces with a sort of White paist or Pigment, this they apply different ways each according to his fancy. Their Offensive weaphons are Darts, some are only pointed at one end others are barb’d, some with wood others with the Stings of Rays and some with Sharks teeth &ca, these last are stuck fast on with gum. They throw the dart with only one hand, in the doing of which they make use of a piece of wood about 3 feet long made thin like the blade of a Cutlass, with a little hook at one end to take hold of the end of the Dart, and at the other end is fix’d a thin peice of bone about 3 or 4 Inches long; the use of this is, I beleive, to keep the dart steady and to make it quit the hand in a proper direction; by the help of these throwing sticks, as we call them, they will hit a Mark at the distance of 40 or 50 Yards, with almost, if not as much certainty as we can do with a Musquet, and much more so than with a ball. These throwing sticks we at first took for wooden swords, and perhaps on some occasions they may use them as such, that is when all their darts are expended, be this as it may they never travel without both them and their darts, not altogether for fear of enimies but for killing of Game &ca as I shall shew hereafter. Their defensive weapons are Shields made of wood but these we never saw use’d but once in Botany Bay. I do not look upon them to be a warlike People, on the Contrary I think them a timorous and inoffensive race, no ways inclinable to cruelty, as appear’d from their behavour to one of our people in Endeavour River which I have before mentioned. Neither are they very numerous, they live in small parties along by the Sea Coast, the banks of Lakes, River creeks &ca. They seem to have no fix’d habitation but move about from place to place like wild Beasts in search of food, and I beleive depend wholy upon the success of the present day for their subsistance. They have wooden fish gigs with 2, 3 or 4 prongs each very ingeniously made with which they strike fish; we have also seen them strike both fish and birds with their darts. With these they like wise kill other Animals; they have also wooden Harpoons for striking Turtle, but of these I beleive they got but few, except at the Season they come a shore to lay. In short these people live wholy by fishing and hunting, but mostly by the former, for we never saw one Inch of Cultivated land in the whole Country; they know however the use of Taara and sometimes eat them. We do not know that they eat any thing raw but roast or broil all they eat on slow small fires.

Their Houses are mean small hovels not much bigger than an oven, made of peices of Sticks, Bark, Grass &ca, and even these are seldom used but in the wet seasons for in the dry times we know that they as often sleep in the open air as any where else. We have seen many of their Sleeping places where there has been only some branches, or peices of bark ris about a foot from the ground on the windward side. Their Canoes are as mean as can be conceived, especially to the southward where all we saw were made of one peice of the bark of Trees, about 12 or 14 feet long, drawn or tied together at one end as I have before made mention. These Canoes will not carry above 2 people, in general their is never more than one in them, but bad as they are they do very well for the purpose they apply them to, better then if they were larger, for as they draw but little water they go in them upon the Mud banks and pick up shell fish &ca without going out of the Canoe. The few Canoes we saw to the northward were made of a log of wood hollow’d out, about 14 feet long and very narrow with out-riggers, these will carry 4 people. During our whole stay in Endevour River we saw but one Canoe and had great reason to think that the few people that resided about this place had no more; this one served them to cross the River and to go a fishing in &ca.

From The Explorations of Captain James Cook, ed. A. G. Price (New York: Heritage Press, 1958), pp. 18–20, 81–84.


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Chicago: James Cook, "Captain James Cook: Secret Orders from the Admiralty and His Description of New South Wales," A Source Book in Geography, ed. A. G. Price in A Source Book in Geography, ed. George Kish (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 341–347. Original Sources, accessed July 23, 2024, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3Z3WMTVLLXEITEE.

MLA: Cook, James. "Captain James Cook: Secret Orders from the Admiralty and His Description of New South Wales." A Source Book in Geography, edited by A. G. Price, in A Source Book in Geography, edited by George Kish, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1978, pp. 341–347. Original Sources. 23 Jul. 2024. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3Z3WMTVLLXEITEE.

Harvard: Cook, J, 'Captain James Cook: Secret Orders from the Admiralty and His Description of New South Wales' in A Source Book in Geography, ed. . cited in 1978, A Source Book in Geography, ed. , Harvard University Press, Cambridge, pp.341–347. Original Sources, retrieved 23 July 2024, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3Z3WMTVLLXEITEE.