Thursday, October 6, 2011

Queensland or Cooksland?

If the Reverend Doctor John Dunmore Lang had his way in 1859, the new colony of Queensland would have been named after the great navigator, Captain James Cook.

Portrait of Dr. Lang
J. D. Lang (1799-1878), was born in Scotland and first came to Australia in 1823 as a clergyman to establish a Presbyterian Church in Sydney.  During his long career in the colonies he was variously an entrepreneur, politician, prolific writer, newspaper proprietor, and lifelong clergyman.  He was an enthusiastic advocate of many causes including the end of convict transportation, assisted emigration, cotton-growing.  He established a mission to the aborigines at the Morton Bay Settlement.

Dr. Lang was a tall imposing man and was possessed of a boundless energy and passion for the issues he promoted. He was a true mover and shaker, fearless and not afraid of a fight. Reportedly a difficult man to work with, he also made many enemies. Writing in his own newspaper in Sydney, one of the targets of his vitriol took offence and he was jailed for libel for four months.

Lang was a prominent and early advocate for the Moreton Bay District to be separated from New South Wales and suggested that it be called Cooksland.  In 1851 he addressed a meeting in Brisbane[1]:

With reference to the name of Cooksland, which was applied in the petition to this territory, he considered that such was only a faint tribute of respect to the memory of England's greatest navigator, Captain Cook, who, in the month of May, 1777, had discovered Moreton Bay.

Title page of Lang's book promoting Cooksland
Lang first mentioned the name Cooksland in a book[2] he wrote on a voyage to England to promote emigration to the Moreton Bay Settlement and the establishment of a cotton growing industry.  His plan was to lobby the cotton barons of Manchester to support his scheme financially. He emphasised the securing of a reliable cotton supply from Australia as an alternative to the slave-produced product from America.[3]

But the circumstance that must render the territory of Cooksland peculiarly interesting, as a field for extensive emigration and colonization, to all philanthropic and Christian men, and especially to a great manufacturing community like that of Manchester, is the practicability of applying European and British labour in that country to the production of an article of prime necessity in the manufactures of Britain, which is supplied to us exclusively at present by foreigners with the labour of slaves.

Some correspondents were of the opinion that Lang was guilty of arrogance in assuming the power to rename parts of the Australian Colonies.[4]

At the present moment there are many places in Australia ready for a population of industrious   persons. The portion of the island which the author, in his wisdom, calls Cooksland is, perhaps, the most eligible; but, before proceeding further, a word or two on the name. To rescue the nomenclatures of Australia from "Downing Street and parliamentary incapacity" our modest author takes upon himself to give fresh names to different portions of the country.

Lang was an enthusiastic spruiker of the attractions of Cooksland, even if he tended to”guild the lily”.[5]

Having shown that Cooksland was at every fifty miles intersected by a river navigable for steamboats of 100 tons, for a distance inwards of from thirty to eighty miles - the average breadth of the territory, up to the range of mountains which skirted it, and which run parallel with the sea, being about sixty miles. All the products of tropical climates might be grown there, including cotton. On the banks of the rivers favourable to steam navigation, there was a boundless quantity of land ready for the plough; and an agricultural population settled thereon would have advantages of soil and climate, and means of communication, such as were enjoyed in no other country on the face of the globe.

Brisbane Town 1862

In 1856 Lang took part in the drafting of the petition to Queen Victoria to create the new Colony of Cooksland.[6]

That it has been suggested from time to time for a series of years past, and with general approval, that the Moreton Bay country should, in the event of its being erected into a separate colony, be designated the colony of Cooksland, in honour of its illustrious discoverer, Captain Cook, to whom, your Majesty is aware, the British nation has hitherto neglected to rear any befitting memorial in the great empire of the future which he discovered for his country and for the whole civilised world.

Your Majesty's petitioners therefore humbly pray that in consideration of the premises, your Majesty will be graciously pleased to separate the district of Moreton Bay from the colony of New South Wales, and to erect it into a separate colony under the designation of the colony of Cooksland.

The general approval Lang assumed for the name Cooksland was not, however, universal.[7]


To the Editor of the Moreton Bay Courier.
SIR, We hope soon to celebrate the annunciation of our new Northern Colony. I have heard an objection raised to the proposed name of "Cooksland" as not being euphonious. Without wholly sympathising with such an objection―one which may be considered insignificant compared with the propriety of perpetuating the name of one of the earliest English discoverers of Australia, I think there is another name which might be equally acceptable. 

It is that of "Eugenia." We have already had Victoria and Adelaide chronicled in our Australian Colonial Records. Eugenia, it seems to me would not be unworthy to rank by their side. It would be a well merited―an esteemed―compliment to the French nation. 

In such names also we have precedents in the old American colonies―Virginia, Carolina, and Florida, are names which have been enrolled in history, and will yet become more illustrious.

Another alternative name suggested was the decidedly unimaginative, North Australia. Dr. Lang was decidedly unenthusiastic.[8]

But why does Mr. Thomson designate that colony North Australia, repeating the same Downing-street absurdity as in South Australia, which is actually considerably farther north than Port Phillip? What designation will there be in reserve for the two colonies—for there will eventually be two—to the northward of Moreton Bay[9], if that designation is already appropriated for a colony to the southward of both? I have myself suggested Cooksland, in honour of the illustrious discoverer of Moreton Bay, as a measure of mere historical justice. Let any person suggest one that shall either be more richly merited or more appropriate, and I shall certainly not dispute about a name.

The much-adored Queen Victoria
Ultimately, in the spirit of the obsession with Queen Victoria throughout the Empire in the 19th Century, the Colonial Office in London dropped the “Cooks” in favour of “Queens” in assigning the name of the new colony in 1859. A local wit suggested that the idea should be extended to other features of the colony.[10]

As the Colonial Office has been pleased to call our colony by the euphonious name of Queensland, we should endeavour to harmonise the names, and make a similarity to prevent misunderstanding. We therefore propose, with all modesty, that the name of the Bay be Queensbay, and that the name of the capital be Queenstown or Queensburgh,   whichever it may please the people to assent to; but that in no wise should we permit the capital of Queensland to retain the name it at present bears.

A friend of ours has been very witty in accounting for the discarding of the name of Cooksland in its application to the colony. He says that name smells too strongly of the kitchen; and that the name given by the Colonial Secretary is far more appropriate.

A patriotic poem praising the name appeared in the local press.  The final verse sums up the poets feelings on the subject.[11]

True, Captain Cook glanced at the Bay,
Where lovely Brisbane winds its way,
And some called this Cooksland;
But we have better still, our Queen,
Than Captain Cook or other men,
It shall be called Queensland.

In his inimitable way, the Reverend Doctor Lang refused to let the subject rest.  The last words on the subject are left to him.[12]

There was a meeting in the Sydney School of Arts last night, for the purpose of making arrangements to collect funds for a statue to Captain Cook, when the doctor indulged his audience with the following interesting personal anecdote and elegant poetical quotation:—

"When he (Dr. Lang) arrived in the colony, that order of things had passed. It was not Sir Thomas Brisbane's name but that of the real Governor in those days, the Colonial Secretary, Major Goulburn, whose name was everywhere repeated. And participating in the sentiments of the two gentlemen he had just mentioned, he (Dr. Lang) wrote a few stanzas, one of which contained a number of native names, and another reprobated the spirit of which he had just alluded in these words :—  
Colonial Secretary Goulburn

I hate your Goulburn towns and Goulburn plains,
The Goulburn River and the Goulburn range,
Mount Goulburn and Goulburn vale;
One's brain's are turned with Goulburn.
Vile scorbutic manage for immortality.
Had I the reins of Government a fortnight, I would give
The country names that should deserve to live.

(Cheers.) And one of the first names he would give to this great south land was the name of the illustrious discoverer of this country, whom they were met to honour. (Cheers.) He (Dr. Lang) once took the liberty of affixing that name as the title of a work he published in London, in 1847, proposing after expressing the usual diffidence that authors are troubled with, that the Moreton Bay country should be called after that illustrious navigator Cooksland. (Cheers.)

Henry Pelham Pelham-Clinton,
5th Duke of Newcastle
And although the proposal had been ridiculed in this country not a little, Lady Franklin, relict of the famous navigator, Sir John Franklin, who had frequent opportunities of hearing the opinions of captains and admirals of the navy, and other official persons in Somerset House, had told him (Dr. Lang) that these naval gentlemen were all highly pleased at the idea of giving the name of our illustrious discoverer to some portion of this Australian land. (Cheers.)

 Even the Times newspaper of the day approved of the idea in one of their leading articles. But the Duke of Newcastle, who had the ordering of these matters in his hand, thought it better that a second of our Australian colonies should bear the name of her Majesty the Queen. He (Dr. Lang) thought, as the name of her Majesty had been already given to one colony (Victoria), that one might be spared for the name of the illustrious navigator; but it was deemed otherwise in high quarters."

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2011.

[1] The Moreton Bay Courier 29.11.1851
[2] Cooksland: The Future Cotton-Field of Great Britain, (London: Longmans, 1847)
[3] The Moreton Bay Courier 7.8.1847
[4] The Moreton Bay Courier 29.1.1848
[5] The Moreton Bay Courier 11.3.1848
[6] The Moreton Bay Courier 26.1.1856
[7] The Moreton Bay Courier 29.3.1856
[8] The Moreton Bay Courier 6.6.1857
[9] Lang was in favour of two other colonies based on capitals at Rockhampton and Townsville.
[10] The Moreton Bay Courier 20.7.1859
[11] The Moreton Bay Courier 30.7.1859
[12] The Queenslander 29.7.1863


  1. Hi nice information of Tales from Colonial Queensland.

  2. When was Moreton Bay found by James Cook? 1777 or 1770?