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2009 articles 2009 articles

Confronting Cook

Keith Vincent Smith (notes)


A pronged fishing spear, a twisted bark shield with a handle and a length of timber used to propel spears. Those famous explorers James Cook and Joseph Banks picked them up from a beach after the first skirmish between Australian Aborigines and British voyagers. These objects, probably those now in British museums, hold the key to the identity of one of two brave Aboriginal warriors who confronted a landing party from HM Bark Endeavour at Botany Bay in 1770.

The possibility of identifying indigenous people who encountered Cook during his famous first voyage around the world is remote. A sketch by Banks's young natural history artist Sydney Parkinson, now in the British Library, reveals the face of the man who grasps the shield and stands ready to hurl the spear at Cook in that brief encounter. Aboriginal oral stories add another important detail his name.

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