James Cook Museum
Housed in a stunning 19th Century convent building, the James Cook Museum in Cooktown was opened in 1970 and is one of Queensland’s best regional museums, showcasing the fascinating history of this remarkable town. The museum follows the story of Captain James Cook’s enforced seven week stay at the Endeavour River, during which the first meaningful contact between Europeans and Indigenous Australian took place, to the days of the Palmer River gold rush, as well as personal stories and items from Cooktown’s early residents.
The museum’s exhibits are rich and varied. The Endeavour Gallery gives a fascinating insight into the seven weeks Cook and his crew spent at the site of modern Cooktown repairing their ship after their catastrophic grounding on nearby Endeavour Reef. The highlight of the gallery is the original anchor and cannon from the Endeavour, 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 also documents the many discoveries made by the scientific team during their stay at the Endeavour River. Integral to Australian history and 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 galleries explore the changing face of Cooktown. The galleries on the first 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 Nun’s 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 endured hardship, loneliness and isolation but who nevertheless carved out a life in this remote location. The Indigenous Gallery gives an unmissable insight into the culture and history of the Guugu Yimithiir people.
The museum is surrounded by the Sir Joseph Banks Garden, in which can be found some of the 170 species Banks identified and named in the region in 1770. The shady groves and cool breezes make this an ideal spot to sit back, relax and enjoy unparalleled views across the Endeavour River to the North Shore.