Captain Cook’s Great Misadventure
Captain James Cook and his First Fleet sailed into the warm waters of the Tasman Sea. Crisp sunshine beamed down on the ship's decks as the crew took in as much Vitamin D as they could. Many long weeks had passed since the sea-faring party had been able to relax. The journey from England had been fraught with illness and starvation; many of the dead convicts were offloaded as shark fodder. Still, Captain Cook was optimistic. Within his sight was the glorious coastline he would soon plunder in the name of Great Britain. He'd already thought of a wonderful name for this part of Australia - New South Wales.
“I hate to be a downer, Captain, but I don’t think ‘New South Wales’ is catchy enough,” offered Cook’s second-in-charge, Lieutenant Zach Hicks.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Cook replied. “It’s perfect. And besides, the King will love anything I suggest. I am his favorite.”
“Right you are,” said Hicks. Arguing with his superior had never helped in the past. The Captain regularly ended a debate he wasn’t winning with an illogical declaration or threat of keelhauling.
Cook packed his pipe and lit the tobacco. Nothing like a nicotine fix to complement a lungful of fresh ocean breeze. He stood smiling for a few moments, considering the fame and fortune that would be his on returning to England. Years and years of preparation (done by officers inferior to him, of course), grueling hard labor (also thanks to lower-ranked boatmen), and substantial investment (again, none contributed by himself) were about to finally bear fruit. Cook was ecstatic. But his joy-bubble was rudely busted by frantic shouts from the crow’s nest. “Bloody hell,” he mumbled and set his pipe down on the stuffed hessian bag closest to him.
A nest of burnt tobacco tumbled out of the pipe’s chamber, an ember or two still burning. Smoke soon became fire and fire soon engulfed the sacks parked at the base of a mast. Within seconds, flames tore up the mainsail and jumped to adjoining ropes that had been thoroughly dried out by successive fine days.
“Hicks! Hicks! Raise the alarm and get all hands on deck!” ordered Cook. “I look away for one second and all hell breaks loose. My job is literally now just putting out fires. Good grief.”
But Cook’s comments went unheard, drowned out by the screams of officers and convicts running to douse the flames that had spread through the bow and were roaring towards the barrels of gun powder.
There was a massive explosion. Bodies and debris flew into the air and then, quietly and slowly, the ship’s stern started taking water. More screaming ensued as people scrambled to cling to anything buoyant. The ship’s carcass eventually slipped beneath the surface and by nightfall, there were no survivors.
* * * * *
The crews of the remaining ships in the fleet observed the blast from afar. There was certainly no grieving for the Captain, whose obnoxious personality had won him few friends throughout his career.
“Oh well. We’ll soldier on without them, shall we? Long live the King!” the master said.
The fleet sailed for two more days before reaching what would become known as Botany Bay. On disembarking the first ship to land, the commanding officer saw a near-naked native man standing in the distance. The officer laid a peace offering on the ground and backed up to his party. The native man and his off-siders approached the new arrivals. Amazingly, the two groups began to communicate. They agreed to share the terrain and its resources, and to resolve any future conflict without bloodshed. Aboriginal populations continued to flourish and the European newcomers studied their ways. Despite originating from vastly dissimilar backgrounds, the settlers and the custodians of the land overcame their differences and built a harmonious existence that still thrives today.