On Monday afternoon, 21 May, 1770, Endeavour rounded Sandy Cape and Breaksea Spit, and the following day crossed Hervey Bay, as she sailed up the east coast of Australia.1 Dusk was about 6 pm. She anchored at 8 pm in eight fathoms about five miles off the coast. The next morning, at 6:30 am, at high tide, the ship sailed up the coast to Bustard Bay, where Captain Cook went ashore on Thursday morning, 24 May, the first time he had landed since leaving Botany Bay earlier that month. The landing place is now marked by a cairn in the town of Seventeen Seventy.2
Two charts from the Endeavour voyage show a creek or river west of the overnight anchorage of 22 May. When I looked at the charts I puzzled over the identity of the creek, and wondered how it was charted. I became interested in this coast after sailing to the town of Seventeen Seventy.
Along the fifty miles of coast from Bundaberg north to Seventeen Seventy there are three creeks, in order: the Kolan River, Littabella Creek and the Port of Baffle Creek. According to a claim I found on the Internet, Cook had sent some men in a boat into Baffle Creek for water but they were baffled, hence the name.3 There is no evidence for this claim at all; the name appears first in the 1850s.4
My curiosity about the creek led me to Andrew David’s book about the charts of the Endeavour voyage.5 Information on the two charts that show the creek imply that a boat was sent to check the depth over Breaksea Spit, or to find an anchorage in Bustard Bay. Neither chart mentions Baffle Creek nor of the men being baffled. However, they did take on water from Round Hill Creek when later anchored in Bustard Bay.
The Two Charts
The first chart6 I looked at was by Robert Molyneux, the ship’s Master, who died after Endeavour left Cape Town on the way home. He left a series of small-scale Mercator projection charts that cover the entire eastern coast of Australia. They include a considerable river, the one in question.
Richard Pickersgill, Master’s Mate,7 drew two charts of this coast, the first being a small-scale Mercator’s chart like Molyneux’s, but without a creek. The second is a larger-scale plane chart covering two degrees of latitude from Sandy Cape to the Keppel Islands.8 It shows details of landmarks that don’t appear on any other Endeavour chart. Pickersgill shows the Sloping Hummock at Bundaberg,9 the sand hills on Sandy Cape, Round Hill,10 and a creek that is less splendid than the one on Molyneux’s chart.
Who Saw the Creek, and When?
According to several Endeavour journals low tide was at 12:30 am that night, giving a high tide just after 6:30 am. Modern calculations from the Queensland Transport Maritime Section give a high tide for the morning of 23 May, 1770, at Bundaberg, 25 miles south of the anchorage, as 6:45 am with a height of 2.67 metres, and at Seventeen Seventy, 25 miles north of the anchorage, as 7:08 am with a height of 2.55 m.
The main masthead on the Endeavour replica is 17 m above sea level giving a visible horizon of 8.4 nautical miles, and her topmast head is 26 m above sea level, giving a horizon of 10.4 nautical miles.11
A full moon had appeared on 16 May. The last quarter of the moon was on 24 May, so I speculate that on the morning of 23 May, Molyneux and / or Pickersgill climbed a mast, looked to the southwest up the creek at high tide with a half-moon overhead and with the sun rising behind them in the east, and that the ship swung as the tide changed. As Molyneux gives the creek such prominence I feel that he must have seen it, and was so impressed he included it on his chart. Pickersgill’s inclusion of the creek on his chart, along with Sloping Hummock and Round Hill (both readily in view), makes me feel that he saw it also.