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Gweagal and Bidjigal country

A photo of a dark blue choppy sea with waves crashing against the rocky mainland. There is a treescaped peninsula with a rocky cliff in the background. Sky is cloudy.
Gweagal and Bidjigal country

A first encounter

Shayne Williams, Dharawal elder, 2014:

In a spiritual sense, it would be good to hold them again, just the way our ancestors held them, even in 1770 ... For us they feel like our national treasure.

On 29 April 1770, HMB Endeavour sailed into Botany Bay, in the country of the Gweagal and Bidjigal peoples of the Dharawal Eora nation, as part of Lieutenant James Cook’s broader exploration of the Pacific.

Approaching the southern shore, Cook's landing party was met by two Gweagal men with spears. Attempts to communicate failed, so Cook’s party forced a landing under gunfire. After one of their men was shot and injured, the Gweagal retreated.

Cook and his men then entered the Gweagal camp. They took artefacts, including a number of spears, and left trinkets in exchange.

Joseph Banks, The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks, 1768–1771, entry for 28 April 1770:

[We] threw into the house to them some beads, ribbands, cloths &c. as presents and went away. We however thought it no improper measure to take away with us all the lances [spears] which we could find about the houses, amounting in number to forty or fifty.

Seven days later, after little further interaction with Gweagal people, the Endeavour’s crew sailed away. Cook wrote in his journal: ‘All they seem’d to want was for us to be gone.'

The shield and the spears remain a powerful link to that first encounter.

Old objects

Four spears in the Cambridge University collection, are widely accepted as being among the material acquired when HMB Endeavour visited Botany Bay in 1770.

Note: This webpage was first published in 2015. More recently some scholars have questioned the provenance of the shield.

New objects


Gararra (fishing spear)

Rod Mason

James Cook’s journal, 29 April 1770:

As we approached the Shore they all made off, except 2 Men, who seem’d resolved to oppose our landing.
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