National Library of Australia

Lord Morton’s Hints

James Douglas, fourteenth Earl of Morton (1702–1768)Hints offered to the consideration of Captain Cooke, Mr Bankes, Dr Solander and the other gentlemen who go upon the expedition on board the Endeavour 10 Aug 1768

manuscript; 23.1 x 18.5cm

Manuscript Collection, MS 9

National Library of Australia
Hints offered to the consideration of Captain Cooke, Mr Bankes, Dr Solander and the other gentlemen who go upon the expedition on board the Endeavour 10 Aug 1768

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When HMB Endeavour set sail to observe the transit of Venus (1768–1771), the papers of its captain, Lieutenant James Cook, contained a list of suggestions from James Douglas, 14th Earl of Morton (1702–1768) and president of the Royal Society, which had organised the government-funded voyage. Among them was advice on how to treat indigenous inhabitants of the lands they visited, some of which—against unwarranted use of firearms, for example—was unusual counsel in the 18th century.

Morton was a product of the Enlightenment, a natural philosopher, deeply interested in scientific matters.

Cook observed most of the Hints—but had he followed all of them, Mabo might not be a household word in Australia today.

Taking possession of the east coast of Australia, Cook overlooked two significant pieces of advice: ‘They [the Indigenous inhabitants] are the natural, and in the strictest sense of the word, the legal possessors of the several Regions they inhabit’, and ‘No European Nation has a right to occupy any part of their country, or settle among them without their voluntary consent’.