Australia For Visitors > Cooktown, QLD


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Cooktown is a small settlement in the tropical far north of Queensland. Located on the Endeavour River, the town is a small dot of a town set against unspoilt jungles, rainforests and wide ocean expanses of the Pacific Ocean.

Endeavour replica in Cooktown harbour (image)

A replica of Captain Cook's ship, the Endeavour, in Cooktown harbor
(Photo: John Hill)

Some of the main attractions of Cooktown include:

-- Memorials to Captain James Cook, to the explorer Edward Kennedy and to the ill fated Mary Watson
-- James Cook Historical Museum
-- Cooktown Cemetery (graves of Mary Watson and graves from the gold rush period, including Chinese graves)
-- the magnificent banks and other buildings from the gold rush period
-- Botanic Gardens
-- Grassy Hill Lookout
-- the Endeavour River and the Endeavour River National Park
-- Mt Cook National Park
-- Black Mountain National Park

A Little Bit of Cooktown History

Cooktown was probably the first British colony in Australia.

In 1770 Captain James Cook's ship the Endeavour was damaged just off Cape Tribulation, Great Barrier Reef, northern Queensland, and Captain Cook made straight for the nearest river to beach his ship for seven weeks and repair it. This river he called the Endeavour River and the place where Cook beached the ship was to be later called Cooktown.

During the seven weeks of enforced stay, the ship's naturalist, Joseph Banks, took the opportunity to to study the plants and animals in the immediate area. He also wrote the first European description of the kangaroo.

The contacts between Cook's party and the local Aborigines were on the whole amicable.


A century later gold was found in northern Queensland. The place where Cook had been in 1770 -- "Cook's Town" (or Cooktown as it was later called) -- quickly became the entry port for the 1873 gold rush in the nearby Palmer River. Cooktown began as a settlement consisting of a few tents, and quickly became a town of 30,000 and was the second largest town in Queensland (after the capital, Brisbane).

A building boom occurred with stately banks, government offices and houses being erected.
Race relations between the often ruly miners and the local Aborigines were very bad, pitched battles being fought at Hell's Gate and Battle Camp (both in Cooktown's hinterland) as the Aborigines tried to stop their land from being taken over.

After the Gold Rush

Then the supply of gold began to dwindle and by 1910 Cooktown had lost most of its population. On top of that, what with for fires in 1875 and 1919 that burnt whole blocks of Cooktown to the ground, a cyclone in 1907 and an evacuation during World War 2, and Cooktown became a semi-ghost town. In the 1960s the occasional visitor would wander along Cooktown's main street to view the imposing Greek-columned banks each manned by just a single teller inside!

Tourism Arrives in Cooktown

Then 1970 came with the Bicentennial festivities (celebrating the 200th anniversary of Cook's visit to the eastern coast of Australia and, of course, the Endeavour River and Cooktown). The splendid James Cook Historical Museum was opened in 1970 and tourists began to visit Cooktown.

Today Cooktown is visited by many visitors each year, although the permanent population of the town remains very low.

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Author: David Paul Wagner
(David Paul Wagner on Google+)

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