The 11th of May 2020 was the 250th anniversary of the naming of Port Stephens by Lieutenant James Cook during his voyage of  British discovery in HMS Endeavour along the east coast of Australia.

Cook named Port Stephens after Sir Phillip Stephens, Secretary of the Admiralty.  As Secretary of the Admiralty, much of the correspondence concerning Cook’s voyages was written by or addressed by Stephens about Cook.

Portrait of Capt James Cook by Nathaniel Dance, 1776.
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection.

Sir Philip Stephens sat in the House of Commons for 47 years from 1759 to 1806.

During his 32 years as Secretary to the Admiralty, Stephens was one of the most powerful men in Britain.

He was operating at a time of intense Anglo-French rivalry. He sent out a fleet of navigators to explore the Pacific Ocean including Lieutenant James Cook.

In his logbook description of Port Stephens, Cook wrote: “In passing this bay at the distance of 2 or 3 miles from the shore our soundings were from 33 to 27 fathoms from which I conjectured that there might be a sufficient depth for shipping water in the bay.”

The three islands Cook sighted at the entrance to Port Stephens are now known as Boondelbah Island, Cabbage Tree Island and Little Island.

A plaque and replica of Cook’s sextant were erected on Boondelbah Island to celebrate the 200th Anniversary.

However, it was over 20 years before Port Stephens saw further European shipping.

In 1791 the convict transport “Salamander”, one of eleven vessels of the Third Fleet transporting convicts to Australia, paid a visit.

The Salamander departed Port Jackson bound for Norfolk Island on the 4th of September 1791 with 160 male convicts, stores, provisions, two non-commissioned officers and eleven privates.

The crew provided a sketch of Port Stephens and some of its arms. Salamander Bay is named after the first European vessel to enter Port Stephens.

For further information about the exploration of Port Stephens, we recommend this excellent page from the University of Newcastle’s `Hunter Living History‘ website.