View an original anchor and cannon from Cook’s HMB Endeavour!
Housed in a stunning nineteenth-century former convent, the James Cook Museum in Cooktown is one of Queensland’s best museums, showcasing the fascinating history of this remarkable town. Were it not for the efforts of the National Trust and the people of north Queensland in the late 1960s, the then-deteriorating convent building would have been lost. Thanks to detailed restoration efforts, the building that was once St Mary’s Convent has been returned to its former glory and is brimming with artefacts, information and captivating stories, awaiting discovery by children and adults alike.
A rare, nineteenth-century brick building constructed during the 1880s boom, in its form James Cook Museum illustrates one solution found to the problem of educating children in remote regions of Queensland. Five Sisters of Mercy arrived in the goldfield port of Cooktown in 1888. St Mary’s Convent opened within a year, attracting both boarders and day students. Music, dancing and deportment also were taught there to until 1941.
The museum’s exhibits are rich and varied. The Endeavour Gallery gives a fascinating insight into the seven weeks Captain James Cook and his crew spent at the site of modern Cooktown, repairing their ship after a catastrophic grounding on nearby Endeavour Reef. Two highlights of the gallery are an original anchor and a cannon from HMB Endeavour, both jettisoned from the ship in 1770 and only retrieved from the reef in the early 1970s. The Endeavour Gallery not only explores the fight for survival Cook and his men faced on the reef, but it also documents the many discoveries made by the ship’s scientific team during their enforced stay at the Endeavour River. Integral to Australian history and cultural identity is the interaction between Cook and the local Guugu Yimithiir people – the most extensive he experienced in Australia – and this story is told from both perspectives.
Other museum galleries explore the changing face of Cooktown. The galleries on the ground floor – former classrooms and the school hall – house objects from pupils and Sisters who called the convent home, tales from the Palmer gold rush and a display dedicated to the rich Chinese heritage of the region. The Nuns’ cells and dormitories on the upper floor are home to exhibits detailing the strong maritime history of Cooktown and the personal stories and objects from local families who, although they endured hardship, loneliness and isolation, nevertheless carved out a life in this remote and often unforgiving location. The Indigenous Gallery provides an unmissable insight into the culture and history of the Guugu Yimithiir people.
Closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Good Friday and Anzac Day, James Cook Museum is an exceptional Australian history museum.