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Forby Sutherland

Photo by: Michelle Williams 2023
Original Stone in taken 1949.jpg
Photo by: Kurnell Trust (Mr Compagnoni), tablets at Kurnell, January 1948 / photographed by Max Dupain
Sketch of botany bay by James cook.jpg

Sketch of Botany Bay in New South Wales latitude 34°00'S 1770


By Lieutenant (Later Captain) James Cook

Contributed By State Library of Queensland


[Image No: 397436]

(Copied and digitised from Entrance of Endeavour River, in New South Wales [J. Cook] ; J. Gibson & T. Bowen sculp. [London: Strahan & Cadell, 1773])

The Sydney Morning Herald 28 April 1933 .jpg

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), 28 April 1933.

Forbes Sutherland was born in Stromness on the Orkney Islands of Scotland on 13th December 1736.


His father’s name was Alexander Sutherland, and his mother was Anne Brown. At the time of his baptism, his parents weren’t married. Forby grew up in Stromness, learning the skills of a farm labourer. He was particularly skilled in caring for poultry and birds.

In June 1757, James Cook was appointed Master on Solebay. One of the duties of a ship’s Master was to arrange for the replenishment of food and water for the ship. A few days after Cook assumed his position as Master, Solebay  left Leith on 2 August on patrol and called at Stromness on the Orkney Islands on 19 August. At this time, Cook would have been 29 years old, while Forby Sutherland was 21. It is easy to imagine that they met at this time.

On April 1st, 1768, Lieutenant James Cook was appointed captain of HMB Endeavour, a 3-year-old Whitby-built ship that was previously named Earl of Pembroke. (Ref: Cook's Log, page 18, volume 1, number 3 (1976). In 1768, by the time James Cook was taking on crew for his voyage to the south Pacific, Forby had already completed training as an Able-Bodied seaman, paid for by his employer (reputedly a Colonel Henderson). According to Cliff Thornton of the Captain Cook Society, Forby volunteered as an Able-Bodied Seaman and Poulterer on HMB Endeavour on 30th May 1768 (just a few days after Cook had started to recruit his crew on 27th May) at Deptford. Cook sailed for Tahiti from Deptford on 30th July 1768.

Forby began to show symptoms of Tuberculosis at Strait le Maire in Argentina on the voyage from England to Australia, and he died on board ship on 30th April 1770 while the Endeavour was at anchor in Botany Bay. Cook ordered him buried ashore “at the watering place”. On the 1st May 1770 Cook wrote in his log:

"Last night departed this life Forby Sutherland, seaman, who died of consumption, and in the A.M. his body was buried ashore at the watering place. The circumstance occasioned my calling the south point of this bay Sutherland's Point."

In 1835 the Surveyor General, Sir Thomas Mitchell published map of the County of Cumberland in which he identified and named the Parish of Sutherland.

Thomas Holt, an ardent admirer of James Cook and his exploits, and a fellow Yorkshireman, was undoubtedly well versed in the legend of Forby Sutherland. The mansion he built as his manorial castle rejoiced in the title “Sutherland House” and Holt regarded the whole of his 12,000 acres of land as his Sutherland Estate simply because it was situated in the Parish of Sutherland. Holt was very much aware of the area’s historical significance. He erected a monument to Cook at Kurnell in 1870 and changed the name of his estate from the South Botany Estate to the Holt-Sutherland Estate.

Robert Cooper Walker was Thomas Holt’s attorney, and managed Holt’s affairs while the latter was overseas from 1866 to 1868. Robert Walker’s Sutherland Estate report dated 14 April 1868 provides evidence that links the name Sutherland Shire and Sutherland Township to Forby Sutherland. Robert Walker stated clearly that Sutherland estate is named after Forby Sutherland. In January 1868 Robert Walker wrote:

When the holes were sunk for the posts of this yard some years back, part of the skull of a man was found; it is therefore supposed to be the burying place of Sutherland, one of Captain Cook’s men who died soon after he arrive here, and after whom the estate is named.

As further proof, an article published in a Sydney periodical, the ‘Colonial Monthly’, in November 1869 referred to the fact that Holt had recently bought a large tract of land ‘including in its area the grave’ (of Forby Sutherland).

Mitchell Library records show that in 1881, Thomas Holt subdivided and offered parcels of land for lease in what is now Sutherland CBD. Company correspondence and other documents, including a map, provide clear evidence that company directors instructed their surveyors to call the new subdivision “Sutherland”. The position designated by the company directors for the Township of Sutherland was a vacant site where the Illawarra Road crossed the proposed Illawarra railway line. The name “Sutherland Township” was used to advertise land sales by the company in February 1882.

The approximate location of Forby’s grave was identified to the Royal Australian Historical Society by John Connell Laycock in 1923 as 75 feet northwest by west from the Solander monument. This location was identified to Laycock by his father Elias based on the eyewitness report of an Aboriginal woman called Sally Methymong, herself 80 years old. The RAHS erected a monument on this site in 1927.

This occasion is now recognised with the hosting of the Meeting of Two Cultures by La Perouse local Aboriginal Land Council & Sutherland Shire Council.

The Meeting of Two Cultures is one of the most significant moments in Australian history the marking the anniversary of the first contact between Europeans and the First Nations peoples of Australia’s east coast. This year celebrating the 253rd anniversary of Lieutenant (later- Captain) James Cook’s Landing here on our shores.

Clan Sutherland is honoured to be invited annually and will continue to attend The Meeting of Two Cultures in the future.

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Commissioner Graeme Sutherland & Vice President Duncan Sutherland teaching school students about Forby Sutherland

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Commissioner Graeme Sutherland & Vice President Duncan Sutherland
President Philip F Sutherland & Secretary Michelle Williams.jpg
President Philip F Sutherland & Secretary Michelle Williams
Clan Sutherland Society in Australia Representatives at Forby Sutherland's Memorial.jpg
Secretary Michelle Williams, CSSA Co-Patron His Hon. Judge Robert Sutherland SC, President Philip F Sutherland, Vice President Duncan Sutherland & Dot Haynes OAM
Forby Sutherland's memorial, Kurnell, Sydney (Photo by Michelle Williams 2023)
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