"The Southernmost point of land we had in sight, which bore from us West quarter South, I judged to lay in the Latitude of 38 degrees South and in the Long. of 211 degrees 7 minutes West from the Meridian of Greenwich. I have named it Point Hicks, because Lieutenant Hicks was the first who discovered this Land".
From the journal of James Cook.
Ship's log date: Thursday 19th April, 1770.
Calendar date: Friday 20th April, 1770.
Thus James Cook described the first sighting of the Australian East Coast from the deck of the Endeavour early in the morning (6 am) of what he believed to be Thursday, 19th April, 1770. The apparent anomaly in dates is explained by the fact that "when crossing the 180th meridian of Longitude, Cook made no adjustment to the dates in the log and journal, and all dates mentioned in the log during the period spent on the Australian East Coast must be advanced by one full day to give the correct chronology".
Whether Cook or Hicks actually sighted land at Point Hicks is a matter of considerable controversy. Many authorities over the years have debated the issue - some believe that what Hicks sighted was a cloud mass off the coast, others mention alternative landmarks and Brigadier L. Fitzgerald considers that what Hicks sighted was, in fact, Mount Raymond, a reasonably prominent peak (964 feet high) situated about 10 miles East of Orbost.
It is not the purpose of this note to canvass further the issue as to what Hicks (and/or Cook) sighted on that April morning 215 years ago and those interested have many references available to facilitate their studies. Suffice it to say that official sources have chosen to recognise what we now refer to as "Point Hicks" as Cook's first Australian landfall and this was first commemorated in 1925 when the Australian Government erected the obelisk there which bears the following inscription:-
"Lieutenant James Cook R.N. of the Endeavour first sighted Australia near this point which he named Point Hicks after Lieutenant Zachary Hicks who first saw the land.
April 19th (Ship's Log Date) 1770
April 20th (Calendar Date) 1770"
The Lighthouse on this point was erected in 1887/88 and for many years it was known as the Cape Everard Lighthouse. This reflected further confusion in the location of the "Point Hicks" named by Cook because when Commander John Stokes was surveying the area in 1843, he either chose to ignore or overlooked the naming of this point by Cook and named it Cape Everard after Sir Everard Home, the Admiral commanding the Australian Station of the Royal Navy. However, this was corrected in 1970 by Sir Henry Bolte the then Premier of Victoria who considered that the Bi-Centenary of Cook's first sighting of the Australian coast was an appropriate occasion to set the record straight - and so Cook's "Point Hicks" reverted from Stoke's "Cape Everard" to the present day Point Hicks on 20th April, 1970.
Between 1925 and 1970 the only item of interest in relation to Point Hicks and Cook refers to the activities there in 1934 when Sir Russell Grimwade arranged for a quantity of granite quarried at Point Hicks to be shipped to Great Ayton in Yorkshire where it was used to build a replica of the Point Hicks obelisk on the site from which Cook's parents' cottage had been removed to its present position in Melbourne's Fitzroy Gardens. The removal of the cottage and its relocation in the Fitzroy Gardens in 1934 was an important segment of Victoria's Centenary celebrations and it is therefore appropriate that this weekend's visit to Point Hicks should be regarded as an official "Victoria 150" occasion.
The Bi-Centenary of Cook's great voyage of discovery along Australia's eastern coastline was suitably commemorated in Victoria in many ways, notably by the visit of the then Victorian Premier, Sir Henry Bolte and his party to Point Hicks on Monday, 20th April, 1970 during the course of which, the name "Point Hicks" was restored to the list of Australian places names (as mentioned earlier), a cairn alongside the earlier obelisk was unveiled by Sir Henry commemorating the occasion and the Captain James Cook National Park was proclaimed. This has more recently (1979) been incorporated in the much larger Croajingalong National Park but the area adjacent to the Point Hicks Commonwealth Government area is still known as the "James Cook Reserve". A full account of the ceremonies at Point Hicks on 20th April, 1970 is given in the Victorian Historical Magazine Volume 41, No. 2, May, 1970 - a special Captain Cook Bi-Centenary Celebrations issue of the Magazine.
Cook continued to keep the land in the vicinity of Point Hicks in sight and, in fact, continued in a general direction directly towards it from 6 am until 8 am on the original 20th April and then altered course almost 90 degrees to head in a general easterly direction, naming Ram Head (visible from the top of the Point Hicks Lighthouse) at midday and at this stage he commented in his journal that ... "what we have seen of this land appears rather low and not very hilly, the face of the country green and woody, but the sea-shore is all a white sand" - a description with which I think most of us visiting Point Hicks to-day would agree. As we view the obelisk, I feel we would also agree with the wording on what is claimed to be the first monument erected to Cook soon after his death by his long time friend and supporter, Sir Hugh Palliser -
"To the memory of Captain James Cook, the Ablest and Most Renowned Navigator this or any country hath Produced".
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 384, volume 8, number 4 (1985).