Captain Cook’s voyages of exploration

Terra Australis Incognita – the unknown southern land. The existence (or not) of this mysterious, mythical place had been puzzled over since it was first hypothesised by the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Joseph Banks and James Roberts

The naturalist’s observations

Joseph Banks (1743–1820) was just twenty-five yet he had already made a name for himself in natural history circles when the Endeavour first set sail. He’d lobbied the Royal Society to be included in this voyage, which also marked the beginning of his lifelong friendship with Swedish naturalist Daniel Solander and his tireless advocacy of British settlement in New South Wales.

Banks’ time on the Endeavour proved endlessly fruitful. Indeed, during the ship’s stay in a wide, shallow bay south of the present-day Sydney from 28 April to 5 May 1770, he added so many previously unrecorded specimens to his botanical collections that Cook named the area 'Botany Bay'.

For the rest of his life, Banks would influence almost every aspect of Pacific exploration and early Australian colonial life. He actively supported the proposal of Botany Bay as a site for British settlement and was instrumental in Matthew Flinders' voyage on the Investigator (1801–1803), which helped define the map of Australia. Following his return to England with the Endeavour in 1771, Banks was hailed as a hero, his reputation launched.

Banks’ journal from the Endeavour’s first Pacific voyage of 1768–1771 is one of the Library's most significant manuscripts, offering original observations of the land and people, plants and animals that have made a major contribution to our understanding of Australia before European settlement. Below is his account from April 1770, including the arrival of the Endeavour into Botany Bay and his descriptions of the indigenous people living in the area, as well as the myriad plant and animal life.

Read the complete journal via the Library’s catalogue

"The country tho in general well enough clothd appeard in some places bare; it resembled in my imagination the back of a lean Cow, coverd in general with long hair, but nevertheless where her scraggy hip bones have stuck out farther than they ought accidental rubbs and knocks have intirely bard them of their share of covering"

The servant’s journal

At just sixteen years of age, James Roberts boarded the Endeavour as servant to the young botanist Joseph Banks. Roberts’ writing shows him to be an observant traveller – as well as the poignant list of people on the Endeavour and their respective fates, Roberts’ journal recorded his weather observations, position of the ship and events on board. 

Roberts later went to live in Banks’ house in Soho Square, London, and died in 1826 aged seventy-four.

"at 6 PM departed this life Furbe Sutherland seaman of a consumtion which he had been troubled with ever since we left Streights of St. Marie"

Series 03. 02: Joseph Banks - Endeavour journal, 15 August 1769 - 12 July 1771

This story has been developed with the support of the State Library of NSW Foundation.

We would like to acknowledge the generosity of the Bruce and Joy Reid Foundation.