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“HMS Endeavour off the coast of New Holland” – water colour by Samuel Atkins 1794

On the 11th of June 1770 HMS Endeavour under the command of Captain James Cook grounded on the Great Barrier Reef off the east coast of New Holland (Australia). The Endeavour came close to sinking but was eventually refloated and beached at Endeavour river for repairs, Cook later described the passage between the reef and the mainland as an “Insane Labyrinth”.

Insane Labyrinth

Between the mainland and the reef they sail
With shoals and islands all around.
“Ten fathoms – sandy bottom!” is the hail,
Then strikes the reef! – they’re stuck aground.

Take in the sail and launch the boats to sound –
Four fathoms to four feet they read;
Before the rising waves to pieces pound,
The bark Endeavour, must be freed.

With capstan, windlass, from this peril draw
Before the sea her timbers breach,
And fothered, then make for the barren shore
And haul her bow upon the beach.

Repair and rest then climb the highest peak
And gaze upon the hopeless sight.
Hides there the passage Captain Cook must seek;
Sees only from this lofty height

An insane labyrinth of shoal and reef,
Of danger beckoning them there.
This navigator blessed with self belief,
He’ll not surrender to despair.

So all the way by lead and line they sound,
‘Round obstacles they thread their way.
And there the waves upon the great reef pound;
For passage through that reef they pray.

Then eyes that strain, see – there the reef it breaks!
And soundings – deep the water shows
And under sail she for the passage makes
As now the wind from shore it blows.

Pacific’s waves break white – the wind it wails;
Endeavour’s deck is drenched with spray
As bravely through the narrow gap she sails
Then safe in open sea makes way.

And now this ship, the first upon this coast,
To home is bound with all her crew
And other men in times to come would toast
The strength and courage of these few.

© D.N. O’Brien, 2012

Image from Wikipedia