Botany Bay

Botany Bay, an open oceanic embayment,[2] is located in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 13 km (8 mi) south of the Sydney central business district. Its source is the confluence of the Georges River at Taren Point and the Cooks River at Kyeemagh, which flows 10 km (6 mi) to the east before meeting its mouth at the Tasman Sea, midpoint between the suburbs of La Perouse and Kurnell. The northern headland of the entrance to the bay from the Tasman Sea is Cape Banks and, on the southern side, the outer headland is Cape Solander and the inner headland is Sutherland Point.

Botany Bay
Sting Ray Harbour[1]
Aerial photo of Sydney showing Botany Bay in the foreground.
The two protrusions into the bay are runways of Sydney Airport.
LocationGreater Metropolitan Sydney
Coordinates33°59′59″S 151°13′59″E
Primary inflowsGeorges River, Cooks River
Primary outflowsTasman Sea
Catchment area54.9 km2 (21.2 sq mi)
Max. length10 km (6.2 mi)
Surface area39.6 km2 (15.3 sq mi)
Average depth11.4 m (37 ft)
Water volume440,815.8 km3 (105,757.3 cu mi)
WebsiteNSW Environment & Heritage webpage

The total catchment area of the bay is approximately 55 km2 (21 sq mi). Despite its relative shallowness, the bay serves as greater metropolitan Sydney's main cargo seaport, located at Port Botany, with facilities managed by Sydney Ports Corporation. Two runways of Sydney Airport extend into the bay, as do some port facilities. Botany Bay National Park is located on the northern and southern headlands of the bay. The area surrounding the bay is generally managed by Roads and Maritime Services.

The land adjacent to Botany Bay was settled for many thousands of years by the Tharawal and Eora Aboriginal peoples and their associated clans. On 29 April 1770, Botany Bay was the site of James Cook's first landing of HMS Endeavour on the land mass of Australia, after his extensive navigation of New Zealand. Later the British planned Botany Bay as the site for a penal colony. Out of these plans came the first European habitation of Australia at Sydney Cove. Although the penal settlement was almost immediately shifted to Sydney Cove, for some time in Britain transportation to "Botany Bay" was a metonym for transportation to any of the Australian penal settlements.


Aboriginal history

Archaeological evidence from the shores of Botany Bay has yielded evidence of an Aboriginal settlement dating back 5,000 years. The Aboriginal people of Sydney were known as the Eora with sub-groups derived from the languages they spoke. The people living between the Cooks River and the Georges River were the Bidjigal clan; on the southern shores of the bay were the Gweagal clan,[3] while on the northern shore it was the Kameygal clan.[4] An artefact collected on Cook's first voyage in Botany Bay is the bark shield left behind by a member of a local Aboriginal tribe. This very rare object is now in the British Museum's collection and was the subject of a programme in the BBC radio series A History of the World in 100 Objects.[5]

British history

Lieutenant James Cook first landed at Kurnell, on the southern banks of Botany Bay, in what is now Silver Beach, on Sunday 29 April 1770, when navigating his way up the east coast of Australia on his ship, HMS Endeavour. Cook's landing marked the beginning of Britain's interest in Australia and in the eventual colonisation of this new "southern continent".[6] Initially the name Stingrays Harbour was used by Cook and other journal keepers on his expedition, for the stingrays they caught.[7] That name was also recorded on an Admiralty chart.[8] Cook's log for 6 May 1770 records "The great quantity of these sort of fish found in this place occasioned my giving it the name of Stingrays Harbour". However, in the journal prepared later from his log, Cook wrote instead: (sic) "The great quantity of plants Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander found in this place occasioned my giving it the name of Botanist Botany Bay".[8]

Eighteen years later, in 1788, Governor Arthur Phillip sailed the armed tender HMS Supply into the bay on 18 January. First contact was made with the local indigenous people, the Eora, who seemed curious but suspicious of the newcomers. Two days later the remaining ships of the First Fleet arrived to found the planned penal colony. However, the land was quickly ruled unsuitable for settlement as there was insufficient fresh water; Phillip also believed the swampy foreshores would render any colony unhealthy as the bay was open and unprotected, the water too shallow to allow the ships to anchor close to the shore, and the soil was poor.[9]

The area was studded with enormously strong trees. When the convicts tried to cut them down, their tools broke and the tree trunks had to be blasted out of the ground with gunpowder. The primitive huts built for the officers and officials quickly collapsed in rainstorms. Crucially, Phillip worried that his fledgling colony was exposed to attack from Aborigines or foreign powers. Although his initial instructions were to establish the colony at Botany Bay, he was authorised to establish the colony elsewhere if necessary.[10] As such, Phillip decided instead to move to the excellent natural harbour of Port Jackson to the north.[11]

On the morning of 24 January the French exploratory expedition of Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse was seen outside Botany Bay. On 26 January, the Supply left the bay to move up to Port Jackson and anchor in Sydney Cove. On the afternoon of 26 January, the remaining ships of First Fleet arrived at Sydney Cove. In 1789, Captain John Hunter surveyed Botany Bay after returning from the Cape of Good Hope, trading for grain. The good supply of fresh water in the area led to the expansion of its population in the 19th century.

The western shore of Botany Bay remained in its virgin state for almost fifty years after the initial settlement of Sydney Town. Land access to the area was difficult until a route from the west was established via Canterbury. As this route developed it became known as Illawarra Road, which is still one of the main access routes to the south-eastern suburbs of Sydney. The land nearer to this crossing of Cooks River was cleared and settled quite early in the infancy of the new colony.

Cook's Secret Overland Walk

The British Admiralty had instructed Captain Cook to seek out useful ports of shelter and refreshment during his voyage of discovery.[12] Botany Bay did not qualify because it was shallow and unpromising as François Péron, the French naturalist, saw when visiting nearby Sydney Town in 1802:

Even though in Europe these settlements go by the name of the colony of Botany Bay, there is no settlement in Botany Bay itself, where the land is damp, marshy and infertile, the climate is unhealthy, and there is no suitable or safe anchorage for ships[13]

Even so, Cook evidently found a valuable port while Endeavour was anchored in Botany Bay in 1770 because, after leaving the Bay, the ship did not enter and investigate any other inlet on the temperate coast of Australia.

Cook probably followed an ancient Aboriginal track (Frenchmans Road [14]) that lead him to Port Jackson, which lies some ten kilometres north of Botany Bay. Knowing that its strategic value had to be concealed in an age of furious Anglo-French rivalry, Cook did not record the vast extent of the deep natural harbour (which is not visible from outside the Heads) in his journal and charts. However, he reported it to the Admiralty immediately upon returning to London. Documentary and other evidence of Cook’s overland walk from Botany Bay was first presented in 2018 in the book Lying for the Admiralty: Captain Cook's Endeavour Voyage.[15]


Sydney Airport, Australia's busiest airport, sits on the northwestern side of Botany Bay. After World War II the mouth of the Cooks River was moved two kilometres west to make way for the airport extension. Land was reclaimed from the bay to extend its first north–south runway and to build a second, parallel, runway.

The first container terminal at Port Botany, east of the airport, was completed during the 1970s and is the largest container terminal in Sydney. A second container terminal was completed during the 1980s and bulk liquid storage facilities are located on the northern and southern edge of the bay. A third container terminal was completed in 2011.

The land around the headlands of the bay is protected by the National Parks and Wildlife Service as Kamay Botany Bay National Park. On the northern side of the mouth of the bay is the historic site of La Perouse, and to the south is Kurnell. Despite its relative isolation, the southern shore of the bay is dominated by an unusual mixture of pristine national park and heavy industrial use that includes Kurnell Desalination Plant, the Caltex Fuel Terminal, sewer treatment, and historical sand mining facilities.[16] On the southern side of the bay a section of water has been fenced off under the authority of the National Parks and Wildlife Service at Towra Point for environmental conservation purposes.

The western shores of the bay feature many popular swimming beaches including Lady Robinsons Beach and are highly urbanised.

Marine life

Botany Bay has a diverse marine population, and the area around its entrance is a popular area for scuba diving. In recent times, the Botany Bay Watch Project[17] has begun with volunteers assisting to monitor and protect the Bay Catchment and its unique marine life.

The world's largest population of weedy sea dragon ever surveyed is found at the 'Steps' dive site, on the Kurnell side of the Botany Bay National Park. Weedy sea dragons are just one of hundreds of territorial marine creatures found within Botany Bay. The eastern blue groper[18] is the state fish of New South Wales; it is very tame and is commonly found following divers along the shoreline of Botany Bay.

See also


  1. "Botany Bay". Geographical Names Register (GNR) of NSW. Geographical Names Board of New South Wales. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  2. Roy, P. S; Williams, R. J; Jones, A. R; Yassini, I; et al. (2001). "Structure and Function of South-east Australian Estuaries". Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science. 53: 351–384. doi:10.1006/ecss.2001.0796.
  3. Lawrence, Joan (1996). St. George Pictorial Memories: Rockdale, Kogarah, Hurstville. Crows Nest, NSW: Kingsclear Books. p. 3. ISBN 0-908272-45-6.
  4. "A Short History of the City of Botany Bay". City of Botany Bay. 2012. Archived from the original on 16 July 2012. Retrieved 7 September 2012.
  5. British Museum Highlights
  6. Cook, James; Hawkesworth, John (1773). "Entrance of Endeavour River in New South Wales. Botany Bay in New South Wales" (Map). David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. State Library of Queensland. Retrieved 7 September 2012.
  7. Wales, Geographical Name Board of New South. "Extract – Geographical Names Board of NSW". Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  8. Beaglehole (ed.) 1968, p. ccix
  9. Parker 2009, p.113
  10. "Governor Phillip's Instructions 25 April 1787 (UK)". Museum of Australian Democracy. Retrieved 24 November 2013.
  11. Governor Phillip to Lord Sydney, 15 May 1788, cited in Britten (ed.) 1978, pp. 121–123
  12. Beaglehole, J.C. (1968). Cook Journals vol.1. Cambridge: Hakluyt Society. p. cclxxxii. ISBN 0851157440.
  13. Peron's Report to General Decaen, 1803, in Fornasiero and West-Sooby (translators & eds.) (2013). French Designs on Colonial New South Wales. Adelaide: Friends of the State Library of South Australia. p. 293. ISBN 9781876154752.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. Protos, Alec (1988). The Road to Botany Bay : the story of Frenchmans Road Randwick through the journals of Lapérouse and the First Fleet writers. Randwick: Randwick & District Historical Society Inc. ISBN 1875160167.
  15. Cameron-Ash, M. (2018). Lying for the Admiralty. Rosenberg. p. 167-175. ISBN 9780648043966.
  16. "Kurnell Peninsula: a guide to the plants, animals, ecology and landscapes". Sydney Metropolitan Catchment Management Authority. 2010. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  17. "Botany Bay Watch Project". Archived from the original on 18 July 2008.
  18. "Marine Blue Groper". Archived from the original on 19 July 2008.
  19. Schwartz, Larry (15 April 2011). "Blowing in, yet again". Sydney Morning Herald. FairFax Media. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
  20. "Botany Bay". Runescape. Jagex Ltd. 26 September 2012. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
  21. Senior, Tom (4 May 2016). "Runescape puts botters on trial in Botany Bay and lets players decide their fate". PC Gamer. Future US, Inc. Retrieved 6 September 2018.


  • Beaglehole, J.C., ed. (1968). The Journals of Captain James Cook on His Voyages of Discovery, vol. I:The Voyage of the Endeavour 1768–1771. Cambridge University Press. OCLC 223185477.
  • Britton, Alex R., ed. (1978). Historical records of New South Wales. Vol. 1, part 2. Phillip, 1783–1792. Lansdown Slattery & Co. p. 56. OCLC 219911274.
  • Forster, George (2008). Allgemeines historisches Taschenbuch, oder, Abriss der merkwuridgsten neuen Welt Begebenheiten enthaltend fur 1787 [Neuholland und die brittische Colonie in Botany-Bay/New Holland and the British colony at Botany Bay] (in German). Robert J. King, translator. Canberra: National Library of Australia.
  • Tench, Watkin (2006). Anacharsis (ed.). Le texte fondateur de l'Australie, récit de voyage d'un capitaine de la First Fleet durant l'Expédition à Botany Bay (in French). preface by Merle, d'Isabelle. p. 320. ISBN 2-914777-30-2. Archived from the original on 25 November 2006. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
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