Another Daintree Rainforest Conspiracy?

This post was contributed by Mike D’Arcy of Daintree 4WD Tours  

Who really named Mount Sorrow in the Daintree Rainforest? It was most definitely not Lt James Cook during his famous 1770 mapping of the east coast of Australia. Finding this out dismayed and shocked me. Just like when I discovered that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, I still wanted to believe in the Cook version.

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It’s true that a number of reputable sources mention Cook as the namer, including the Queensland National Parks Government website. Yet my early reading about the Daintree Rainforest and James Cook didn’t indicate any “Sorrowful” connection. Not a big issue; perhaps I’d just missed it.

To me, the issue became more serious when a series of overseas visitors insisted not just that Cook named Mt Sorrow, but that he had actually climbed to its top to find a safe reef escape route. Enough was enough. To coin a phrase from Donald Trump: Fake news! I needed to research the real story.

Certainly, Cook named Cape Tribulation in hindsight after he sailed past the Cape at 3pm on 10 June 1770. At 11pm that night, he pranged onto what was later called Endeavour Reef. He also named Weary Bay (tired from pumping the ship’s leak), Hope Islands (hole repairs partly done and feeling good) and the Endeavour River. Cook’s and Joseph Banks’ diaries and the published charts confirm these namings.

But no Mount Sorrow. So where did the name come from?

Matthew Flinders: The next marine surveyor to head up to Cape Tribulation was Capt Matthew Flinders, whose charts encompassed Cook’s earlier material as well his own. His 1802 visit account (published in 1814) mentioned Cape Tribulation along with the earlier place names. But again, no mention of Mount Sorrow.

Charles Jeffreys: In 1815, Lt Charles Jeffreys on HMS Kangaroo named Snapper Island, but again no Mount Sorrow. (Snapper Island was not named by George Dalrymple in 1873, as has been sometimes claimed.)

Phillip King: In 1819, Lt Phillip King, arriving on the Mermaid, was the next major surveyor. Again, Mount Sorrow was not mentioned, nor included on his charts, although he did include the very recently named Snapper Island. Interestingly, on 26 June 1819, King and crew sighted a 21 ft long outrigger canoe at a place he named the Blomfield Rivulet (now Bloomfield River), after Lt Blomfield of the 48th Regiment, which had recently been posted to New South Wales.

Owen Stanley: Next up was the famous Capt Owen Stanley, who carried out mapping voyages between Sydney and New Guinea with his surveyor Lt Yule on their several ships, including the Rattlesnake and Bramble. On 19 July 1848, they named the tall peak behind Cape Tribulation as Mt Pieter Botte, after a similar-shaped mountain in Mauritius, and an early Dutch East Indies Governor. No Mount Sorrow yet. In fact, there’s a big gap in my research after Stanley, until about 1935.

Andrew Arthur Mason and his brothers were among the early settlers of Cape Tribulation, moving here in 1932. Early Mason family stories mention the “Cliffs of Sorrow”. After that, somewhere, sometime, “Mount Sorrow” crept into usage – when and by whom still remains a mystery, to me anyhow. Perhaps she was sad because none of the early explorers wanted to name her.

Can anyone help? It would be good to know the answer, and I’m sure we’ll all be better corporate citizens for possessing the truth about this piece of Daintree Rainforest history.

Mike D’Arcy runs 4WD Daintree Rainforest tours departing from Cape Tribulation Beach House. You can book by going to our Daintree Rainforest Tours page, where you’ll find this and more of our recommended tours.

Where the Reef meets the Rainforest