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15 August, 1770


On 15 August, 1770, James Cook wrote “At 6 oClock in the AM made sail and steer'd West in order to make the land being feerful of over shooting the Passage supposeing there to be one between this land and New Guinea [the island]. At Noon we had no land in sight... By one oClock in the PM... we saw high land from ye Masthead bearing WSW and at 2 oClock saw more land to the NW of the former makeing in hills like Islands but we judged it to be the continuation of the Main land. An hour after this we saw breakers between us and the land extending away to the Southward farther than we could see, but we thought we saw them terminate to the northward abreast of us, this however proved only any opening for soon after we saw the Reef or breakers extend away to the northward as far as we could see, upon this we hauld close upon a wind which was now at ESE. We had hardly trimed our sails before the wind came to EBN which was right upon the Reef and of Course made our clearing of it doubtfull, the northernmost of it that we could see at sun set bore from us NBE distant about 2 or 3 Leagues. However this being the best tack to clear it we kept standing to the northward with all the Sail we could set untill 12 oClock at night”.


Joseph Banks wrote “Fine weather and moderate trade. The Captn fearfull of going too far from the Land, least he should miss an opportunity of examining whether or not the passage which is layd down in some charts between New Holland and New Guinea [the island] realy existed or not, steerd the ship west right in for the land; about 12 O’Clock it was seen from the Mast head and about one the Reef laying without it in just the same manner as when we left it. He stood on however resolving to stand off at night after having taken a nearer view, but just at night fall found himself in a manner embayd in the reef so that it was a moot Point whether or not he could weather it on either tack; we stood however to the Northward and at dark it was concluded that she would go clear of every thing we could see. The night however was not the most agreable: all the dangers we had escapd were little in comparison of being thrown upon this reef if that should be our lot. A Reef such a one as I now speak of is a thing scarcely known in Europe or indeed any where but in these seas: it is a wall of Coral rock rising almost perpendicularly out of the unfathomable ocean, always overflown at high water commonly 7 or 8 feet, and generaly bare at low water; the large waves of the vast ocean meeting with so sudden a resistance make here a most terrible surf Breaking mountain high, especialy when as in our case the general trade wind blows directly upon it”.

The charts were probably from “Histoire des navigations aux terres australes, contenant ce que l'on sait des moeurs et des productions des contrées découvertes jusqu'à ce jour...” by Charles de Brosses, published in 1756.

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