Captain James Cook(1728-1779). Nathaniel Dance. BHC2628
Captain James Cook(1728-1779). Nathaniel Dance. BHC2628 Will Punter

250 YEARS ON: How Hervey Bay got its name

Exactly 250 years ago a remarkable group of men, led by James Cook, were making their way north up the Queensland coast aboard the HMS Endeavour.  It was quite a navigational feat, they had no maps to go on, and did not know what they would find. 

We are very fortunate to have the diaries that some of the men aboard kept on the journey.

Cook wrote in his diary that on 20 May 1770 at about 1pm he identified from a distance of four miles "a black bluff head or point of land on which a number of the natives were assembled, which occasioned my naming it Indian Head."

With this sentence, Cook provides the first record of contact between Europeans and Butchulla people.  It would be several decades before personal interaction would be recorded in the diaries of Matthew Flinders.

Joseph Banks, the first European whale watch tourist in Hervey Bay.
Joseph Banks, the first European whale watch tourist in Hervey Bay.

The Butchulla name for this spot on K'Gari (Fraser Island) is Tacky Wooroo.

It is of course quite possible that other visitors from Europe or Asia had been here before Cook, but history is the domain of the recorded and we have no earlier records apart from suggestive Portugese maps.

Not knowing he was sailing past a very large sand island, after he named Indian Head, Cook named the northernmost section Sandy Cape.  If he had realised it was an island he quite possibly would have named it Hervey's Island after the politician and naval officer, Augustus John Hervey.

As it turns out, after rounding Sandy Cape and finding sheltered waters, Cook named them Hervey's Bay.  The man for whom Hervey Bay was named was known as the English Casanova due to his extraordinarily colourful personal life.  The Hervey family in general, stretching back centuries to the present day can be described as eccentric and unconventional.  The Dictionary of National Biography describes the family as "active and brave, but reckless and overconfident ... greatly addicted to intrigue ..."

One of the men aboard the Endeavour whilst it was in our waters 250 years ago was the botanist Joseph Banks and he would write in his diary:

"The sea was so clear that we could distinctly see the bottom and indeed when it was 12 and 14 fathom deep the colour of the sand might be seen from the mast head at a large distance. While we were upon the shoal innumerable large fish, Sharks, Dolphins ect and one large turtle were seen; A grampus of the middle size leaped with his whole body out of water several times making a splash and foam in the sea as if a mountain had fallen into it."

Grampus was the term used at the time for the animal we now commonly refer to as an orca or killer whale.  His description of whale watching in Hervey Bay is not that different to what many, much more recent, tourists have penned on the back of postcards.

In the years since the Endeavour sailed through on its famous journey, Hervey's Bay has become known simply as Hervey Bay and come to refer to the town as much as to the body of water.

Cook died less than nine years after his visit here, whilst at Hawaii.  Joseph Banks, however, lived for another 50 years, contributing a great deal to scientific study and our understanding of the world around us.  Through their curiosity, intelligence and bravery Banks and Cook left lasting legacies.