History and discovery of the Glass House Mountains

Naming of the Glass House Mountains

by Lieutenant James Cook R.N.


Lieutenant James Cook R.N.

In the nomination for National Heritage listing, local researcher Beth Hodge maintained that James Cook had recorded the importance of the Glass Houses as an aid to navigation on the east coast of Australia. In August 2006, ten of the Glass House Mountains peaks were included in the national heritage list a spectacular examples of intrusive volcanic bodies and a distinctive and spectacular landform of Eastern Australia.

James Cook was born on October 27, 1728 in the Yorkshire (England) village of Marton, the second son of James Cook Snr., a Yorkshire Labourer, and his mother Grace. Cook had some elementary schooling both at Marton and later at Great Ayton until he was 13. He then worked with his father who was managing a farm in Great Ayton. At 17 Cook became an apprentice shopkeeper in the seaport of Staithes, and 18 months later gained a three year apprenticeship in the merchant navy shipping out of Whitby on a collier named the “Freelove”.

And so begins our adventure:

Following his stint in the collier trade, Cook at the age of 27, volunteered in the Royal Navy on board HMS Eagle as an Able Seaman. With the war against France gaining momentum it became much easier to gain promotion (albeit without a change in rank). However, with the skills in navigation he had achieved in the collier trade he was given command of his own ship before sailing for Newfoundland, Canada. This theatre of war was to be the making of Cook where he earned a second to none reputation in navigating and mapping the St. Lawrence River in Canada to help the British defeat the French at Quebec.

On his return to England his reputation had preceded him and after being granted his first commission as lieutenant he left England as the Captain of HM Bark “Endeavour” on the first of three voyages to the Pacific. On this first voyage he and a party of scientists were to observe the transit of Venus at Tahiti in June 1769. Following that task his sealed orders required him to then search for “Terra Australis Incognita”, the supposed southern continent. After circumnavigating and mapping New Zealand he continued to sail west.

Finally, on March 19, 1770, his Second Lieutenant, Zachary Hicks sighted our continent at what Cook named Point Hicks. The Endeavour then commenced its voyage of discovery up the east coast of the land that Cook was to name New South Wales. During his journey north, he was always alert to naming specific landmarks or harbours that would benefit future mariners or explorers. He named Botany Bay (his first landing), Port Jackson, Cape Byron, Mt. Warning and Point Lookout to name a few.

Such was also the case on May 17, 1770 after naming and rounding Cape Moreton (without the ‘e’) where some on board suspected that the opening to Moreton Bay may have been the mouth of a large river. However, Cook was not convinced and because the weather was not in his favour (“we had the wind”) he decided to sail on.

In his log however, he stated that “:…should anyone be desirous of doing it (investigate for a river) that may come after me this place may always be found by three hills which lay to the northward of it in the Latitude of 26 ⁰.53’ S these hills lay but a little way inland and not far from each other, they are very remarkable on account of there (sic) singlar (sic) form of elivation (sic) which very much resemble glass houses which occasioned me giving them that name, the northermost (sic) of the three is the highest and largest…”
The mountains as possibly seen by James Cook as he sailed further north.

The glass houses he was referring to were the conical shaped brick enclosures for glass making furnaces or kilns in his native Yorkshire. They were known throughout Europe as the “English Glasshouses”.

The Glass Kilns in Yorkshire England.

It may be worth noting that if any reader was to obtain a copy of the page of Cook’s Journal dated Thursday 17th (May 1770) they may be confused that the day started in the PM and progressed through the night. This was because in that era, ship’s time started at noon on the day previous (16th May) and finished 24 hours later. As far as we are concerned our date in history has not changed as Cook named the Glass Houses in the morning of the following day so it was still May 17th our time.

On his way back to England Cook made his first landfall in Queensland, and only his second in Australia at Bustard Bay (Town of 1770) on May 23, 1770. He named the bay after a bird they managed to shoot. The next landfall of note was almost a disaster when on June 11 the ship struck fast on the Barrier Reef and the crew struggled for 11 days before they could find a suitable spot to beach it for repairs in the Endeavour River. The repairs to the ship and the wait for suitable weather meant it was not until August 6 that the ship was able to get under sail.

On their journey home the crew were still not out of trouble for after leaving Australian waters Cook called into Batavia (now Jakarta) where his crew contracted an illness that eventuated in the death of 28 of them, including Lieutenant Hicks. Cook eventually reached England on July 13, 1771 where the admiralty subsequently promoted him to Commander.

James Cook has been referred to as ‘Captain Cook’ throughout his illustrious career, but this was not a rank he held, rather it was representative of him captaining a vessel. It was not until his return to England in July 1775, after his second voyage to the Pacific, that he was promoted to Captain.

On his third voyage in the sloop HMS Resolution he was killed on February 14, 1779 in the Hawaiian Islands after an altercation over a stolen ship’s cutter. He was just 50 years of age.

Lieutenant Matthew Flinders R.N. – Our First Visitor

Like James Cook, Matthew Flinders was also argued as a reason why we should be awarded National Heritage listing however, like Cook it was originally knocked back. It is true that very few of the exploits of Matthew Flinders related to the Glass house Mountains and it is understandable why the suggestion was refused. It is also true he was a great man and a courageous seaman to whom our country owes a debt of gratitude. We are honoured that he was the first European to visit our mountains and to camp overnight. This is the man who gave our country its name, Australia, so surely he deserves more recognition in Glasshouse Country than what he has received to date.

Matthew Flinders was born at Donington, Lincolnshire, England on March 16, 1774 into a relatively well-off family, the head of which was a well-established doctor. It was the wish of Matthew’s father that he follow in the same profession. However, a chance exposure to Daniel Defoe’s ‘Robinson Crusoe’ and visions of adventure in far off lands changed young Matthew’s thinking from medicine to maritime.

Lieutenant Matthew Flinders R.N.

After finally overcoming his differences with his father, Flinders joined the Royal Navy in 1789 at the age of 15 and was appointed Midshipman the following year. It was ironic that his first voyage was to the lands he associated with Robinson Crusoe when he sailed under Captain Bligh in the “Providence” in August 1791. Unlike the first by Bligh on the “Bounty” to Tahiti, this trip was a great success and the crew of the “Providence” were feted as heroes on their return to England in August 1793.

This voyage had a great effect on Flinders, with his first contact with Terra Australis (the south-east coast of Tasmania), plus the charting of many islands in the Pacific. With itchy feet, Flinders signed on for service on the ‘Reliance’ under Captain Waterhouse with his destination being Terra Australis. Also, on board was Admiral John Hunter who was replacing Captain Arthur Phillip the Colony’s first Governor, and a young surgeon, George Bass. The Reliance arrived at Port Jackson (Sydney) in September 1795.

In 1798 after promotion to Lieutenant, Flinders together with George Bass circumnavigated Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in the sloop Norfolk. The proving of a strait between the mainland and Tasmania cut the travel time between England and Port Jackson considerably and prevented many shipwrecks with the subsequent saving of numerous lives.

On July 8, 1799 at the request of Governor Hunter, Flinders left Sydney for a six-week expedition in the Norfolk to explore the Glass House and Hervey Bays and to check for the suspected river mentioned in Cook’s log. Included in the crew was an Aboriginal man named Bongaree who was held in high esteem by Flinders and remained his constant companion including, during his circumnavigation of Australia. From July 15 to 20 he mapped the six most northern islands of Moreton Bay but failed to find the elusive (Brisbane) river. During his exploration of Moreton Bay the Norfolk sprung a leak via a loose plank and it was decided to beach the ship in Pumicestone Passage, which Flinders thought was a river, for repairs.

The next morning after checking the approaches to the mountain they decided that scaling the peak would be too difficult, so the party returned to the Norfolk.  After leaving Pumicestone Passage, Flinders carried out a survey of Hervey Bay before setting course for Port Jackson where they arrived on August 20, six weeks and one day after leaving. Following that expedition, it was decided that a request be put to the authorities in England for a larger ship to complete the survey of the coast line of Australia.

On July 26 whilst still in the Passage, Flinders, Bongaree and two seamen set off to explore the major peaks of the Glass Houses but were diverted by marshy areas and Salt Creek (Glass Mountain Creek) and decided to try for the closer of the smaller peaks (Mt. Beerburrum) instead. After climbing Mt. Beerburrum and surveying the surrounding area, the party then set off to climb Mt.Tibrogargan but being late in the day decided to set up camp on the banks of Tibrogargan Creek.

On March 3, 1800 the Reliance with Flinders on board cleared Sydney Heads bound for England arriving on August 26. Back home Flinders began his campaign to obtain a ship to return to Terra Australis to complete his exploration of the continent. After much coming and going and after promotion to Commander he finally sailed as the Captain of HMS Investigator, a 334 ton sloop on July 18 1801.

As England was still at war there was not a great choice in the quality of available ships and the Investigator was not in pristine condition, however after some 20 weeks at sea Flinders arrived off Cape Leeuwin on December 6 1801. This day was to be the beginning of his circumnavigation of Terra Australis, the first known person to do so. During the exploration and mapping of the south coast, Flinders had a chance meeting with the French explorer, Captain Nicolas Baudin on Le Géographe on April 8, 1802 just east of Kangaroo Island. Flinders named this place Encounter Bay in what is now South Australia.

The Investigator finally arrived in Sydney on May 9, 1802 where the ship underwent an extensive refit (although supplies were limited) before continuing the historical circumnavigation on July 22 sailing north and through the Torres Strait. Soon after surveying the Gulf of Carpentaria and despite the refit undertaken in Sydney, the Investigator was deteriorating to such a degree Flinders had to decide whether to return to Sydney or continue his quest. He decided on the latter. He then set course for Kupang, Timor where he hoped to obtain fresh provisions and carry out additional repairs. He had little joy with either.

On April 7, 1803 the ship set sail and despite the loss of 10 days searching for the elusive Tryal Rocks off the Western Australia coast and the increasing illness of his crew, he eventually completed the circumnavigation arriving back in Sydney on June 9 with his ship close to foundering.

Flinders was somewhat frustrated that he was not able to complete the navigation of the continent as planned so he requested a return to England to obtain a replacement for the Investigator.

In August he left for England as a passenger on the “Porpoise” in convoy with the “Cato” and the “Bridgewater”. The Porpoise and the Cato were wrecked on the Barrier Reef (Wreck Reef) and Flinders sailed the ship’s cutter back to Sydney to seek help for the survivors. He was hailed as a hero when the 94 survivors were finally rescued. The Bridgewater which had left them for dead was later lost at sea with all hands.

On September 21 he was allotted the 29 ton schooner “Cumberland” to restart his return to England. The Cumberland was also in poor condition and when crossing the Indian Ocean, it leaked so badly that Flinders was forced to make for Mauritius. Flinders arrived at French held Mauritius on December 17 1803 to discover that war had broken out again between England and France. Despite having his passport endorsed by the French Government to provide free passage, he was held in close custody by the suspicious French Governor, General de Caen. Governor de Caen used the excuse that the passport for free passage was issued for the Investigator not the Cumberland.

His detention lasted six and a half years during which time his health continued to deteriorate until he was finally released in an exchange of prisoners in June 1810

Flinders finally arrived home on October 23, 1810 where he was received with honours and belatedly promoted to Captain. He completed the text of his journal “A Voyage to Terra Australis”, but lived just long enough to see his final draft through the press. The publishers worked frantically through the weekend of 16-17 July 1814 to complete the manuscript and on the Monday a leather-bound copy was rushed to his London home where his wife Ann placed the copy into the hands of the unconscious intrepid explorer. Flinders died the next morning on July 19 without regaining consciousness. He was just 40 years of age.

Matthew Flinders was the first man to systematically use the name “Australia” and after the publication of his journal the name was gradually adopted. He was a fine seaman who successfully brought ships home that were utterly unseaworthy and he was one of the great cartographers and navigators of the world.

He gave us our name…let us remember his.