Possession Island (Queensland)

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Possession Island
Geography
LocationNorthern Australia
Coordinates10°43′36″S 142°23′49″E / 10.72667°S 142.39694°E / -10.72667; 142.39694Coordinates: 10°43′36″S 142°23′49″E / 10.72667°S 142.39694°E / -10.72667; 142.39694
Area5.5 km2 (2.1 sq mi)
Administration
StateQueensland
Captain Cook raises the Union Flag on Possession Island, 22 August 1770

Possession Island is a small island in the Torres Strait Islands group off the coast of far northern Queensland, Australia. It is known as Bedanug or Bedhan Lag by the one of the indigenous Australian inhabitants, the Kaurareg[1] though the Ankamuti were also indigenous to the island.

Possession Island is located at the centre of the Possession Island National Park, an area of 5.10 km² established as a Protected Area in 1977 and managed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service

Captain's Cook's fabricated claim of possession[edit]

Hilltop signal for safe passage[edit]

In 1770 the British navigator Lieutenant James Cook sailed northwards along the east coast of Australia in the Endeavour, anchoring for a week at Botany Bay. Three months later, at about midday on 22 August 1770, he reached the northernmost tip of the coast and, without leaving the ship, named it Cape York. Having completed his survey of the east coast, it was time to go home and so Cook turned west and nursed his damaged ship through the dangerously shallow waters of Torres Strait. After two years at sea, the ship's company was hoping to find a navigable passage, instead of spending many weeks sailing round New Guinea.

Searching for a high vantage point, Cook saw a steep hill on a nearby island from the top of which he hoped to see 'a passage into the Indian Seas'.[2] Rowing ashore in the pinnace, Cook climbed the hill with a small party, including the naturalist Joseph Banks. On seeing a navigable passage, he signalled the good news down to the men on the ship by raising a hand-held flag and firing a gun into the air. There were loud cheers from the crew in the ship and from the marines waiting down on the beach.

No annexation in Australia in 1770[edit]

Later, Cook would record that, when he was on that hill, he took possession of the east coast in the name of King George III and named the place 'Possession Island'. However, it is unlikely that any such possession ceremony occurred when Cook was in Australia. The Admiralty's instructions did not authorize Cook to annex New Holland (Australia), as Justice Evatt indicates:

the authorisation was limited to the mythical Southern Continent and to islands not previously discovered by any Europeans. The Eastern Coast of Australia did not fall under either of these heads'.[3]

Joseph Banks, who was the only witness within earshot of Cook to record the hilltop event, does not mention any possession claim. Banks writes:

we concluded we might have a much better view than from our mast head, so the anchor was dropd and we prepard ourselves to go ashore to examine whether the place we stood into was a bay or a passage; for as we sailed right before the trade wind we might find dificulty in getting out should it prove to be the former... The hill we were upon was by much the most barren we had been upon; it however gave us the satisfaction of seeing a streight, at least as far as we could see, without any obstruction.[4]

If Cook intended to annex Australia's east coast, he would have conducted the ceremony on the mainland before rounding Cape York, and not on an island off the west coast of the Dutch-named Carpentaria peninsula. Significantly, Cook gives no hint of any intention to take possession; he made no preparations for a ceremony; and he does not mention either seeking the consent of the islanders, or erecting markers. [5]

Cook amends his journal[edit]

The fabrication of Cook's 'possession ceremony' was first proposed in the book Lying for the Admiralty (2018).[6] Two months after departing Australia, the Endeavour arrived in the Dutch port of Batavia (Jakarta). Here the Britons were told that the French mariner Louis Bougainville, had sailed across the Pacific the previous year and, as Banks records, the French had discovered "divers lands unknown before ... so that they probably have done some part of our work for us.[7] Cook was alarmed by this news, which came at a time of furious rivalry as France and Britain raced for strategic discoveries in the South Seas. Fearing he had been pre-empted by the French, Cook altered his journal by turning the hilltop signal-drill into a possession ceremony, in the hope of securing British priority over any French claim to Australia. [8]

Imaginative Commemorative Painting[edit]

In 1857 the artist, John Gilfillan, exhibited in Melbourne his painting commemorating the purported annexation titled Captain Cook taking possession of the Australian continent on behalf of the British crown 1770 [9]. It is an idyllic tableau, but it is completely fanciful. On the day in question, Cook and his small landing party were not standing in lush parkland at sea level, but on a high barren hill in the tropics. There were no drums, no tent, no campfire, no brandy, no loyal toasts, and no Tupaia wearing a bright jacket and carrying a tray of goblets.

History[edit]

In 1770 the British navigator Lieutenant James Cook sailed northward along the east coast of Australia in the Endeavour, anchoring for a week at Botany Bay. Three months later, at Possession Island in Queensland, he claimed possession of the east coast for Britain. In his journal, Cook wrote: "I now once more hoisted English Coulers and in the Name of His Majesty King George the Third took possession of the whole Eastern Coast...by the name New South Wales, together with all the Bays, Harbours Rivers and Islands situate upon the said coast."[10]

In 2001 the Kaurareg people successfully claimed native title rights over the island (and other nearby islands).[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Local history page"[dead link] at the Shire of Torres
  2. ^ Beaglehole, J.C. (1955). The Journals of Captain James Cook, Vol.1. Cambridge: Hakluyt Society. p. 387. ISBN 0851157440.
  3. ^ Evatt, Elizabeth (1970). ‘The Acquisition of Territory in Australia and New Zealand’, in CH Alexandrowicz (ed) Grotian Society Papers 1968. The Hague: Nijhoff. p. 25.
  4. ^ Banks, Joseph (1962). The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks, vol.2. Sydney: Angus & Robertson. p. 110.
  5. ^ Cameron-Asn, M. (2018). Lying for the Admiralty:Captain Cook's Endeavour Voyage. Sydney: Rosenberg. p. 180-189. ISBN 9780648043966.
  6. ^ Cameron-Asn, M. (2018). Lying for the Admiralty:Captain Cook's Endeavour Voyage. Sydney: Rosenberg. ISBN 9780648043966.
  7. ^ Banks, Joseph (1962). The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks, vol.2. Sydney: Angus & Robertson. p. 188-189.
  8. ^ Cameron-Asn, M. (2018). Lying for the Admiralty:Captain Cook's Endeavour Voyage. Sydney: Rosenberg. p. 190-197. ISBN 9780648043966.
  9. ^ nla.obj-135699884. National Library of Australia: Canberra.
  10. ^ Secret Instructions to Lieutenant Cook 30 July 1768
  11. ^ Kaurareg People v State of Queensland [2001] FCA 657, Federal Court.