The history of Queensland encompasses both a long Aboriginal Australian presence as well as the more recent periods of European colonisation and as a state of Australia. Before being charted and claimed for the Kingdom of Great Britain by Lieutenant James Cook in 1770, the coast of north-eastern Australia was explored by Dutch and French navigators. Queenslandseparated from the Colony of New South Wales as a self-governingCrown colony in 1859. In 1901 it became one of the six founding states of Australia.
Established theories estimate that between 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, humans first arrived in Australia – although some theories suggest this figure to be much higher. They are thought to have arrived either by boat or by land bridge. The most likely route was from Southeast Asia across the Torres Strait. During the initial ten thousand years, these people and their descendants are thought to have traveled over much of the continent.
Around 25,000 years ago, an ice age began with a rapid drop in the temperature of the earth of eight degrees. Food was difficult to find and this led to the origin of seed-grinding technology. This climate change is estimated to have lasted for over 10,000 years. As the temperature rose, the land bridges from Southeast Asia and to Tasmania were reclaimed by the sea.
About 15,000 years ago, global temperatures warmed and rainfall increased along the eastern coast of Australia. The inland of Queensland, also receiving rainfall, again became habitable. Coastal lands decreased due to rising sea levels and tropical rain forests spread. The Kalkadoon people of the inland central gulf region, dug wells 10m deep to maintain their supply of freshwater.
From 10,000 years until European arrival, the favourable warmer climate allowed the development of permanent villages in the northern rainforests, the far western regions and around Moreton Bay. Along the Barron River, and on the islands of Moreton Bay, large huts (djimurru), capable of housing thirty to forty people were built.
The peak Indigenous population in Queensland prior to European arrival is uncertain. The number may have been between 200,000 and 500,000 people. Numbers may have decreased at times of epidemics like smallpox. Rough calculations of the population can be made from the knowledge that Queensland supported 34.2 per cent of the total number of tribes in Australia and from the knowledge that 35 to 39 per cent of Australian indigenous people lived in Queensland. Queensland was the most densely populated region of the continent with two of the six to seven hundred Indigenous nations and at least ninety language groups.
In 1606, the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon landed near the site of the modern-day town of Weipa on the western shore of Cape York. His arrival was the first recorded encounter between European and Australian Aboriginal people.
In 1768, the French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville sailed west from the New Hebrides islands, getting to within a hundred miles of the Queensland coast. He did not reach the coast because he did not find a passage through the coral reefs, and turned back.
Lieutenant James Cook wrote that he claimed the east coast for King George III of the Kingdom of Great Britain on 22 August 1770 when standing on Possession Island off the west coast of Cape York Peninsula, naming eastern Australia “New South Wales”. This included the present Queensland. Cook charted the Australian east coast in his ship HM Barque Endeavour, naming Stradbroke and Morton (now Moreton Island) islands, the Glass House Mountains, Double Island Point, Wide Bay, Hervey Bay and the Great Sandy Cape, now called Fraser Island. His second landfall in Australia was at Round Hill Head, 500 km (310 mi) north of Brisbane. Endeavour was grounded on a coral reef near Cape Tribulation, on 11 June 1770 where he was delayed for almost seven weeks while they repaired the ship. This occurred where Cooktown now lies, on the Endeavour River, both places named after the incident. On 22 August Endeavour reached the northern tip of Queensland, which Cook named the Cape York Peninsula after the Duke of York.
In 1799, in Norfolk, Matthew Flinders spent six weeks exploring the Queensland coast as far north as Hervey Bay. In 1802 he explored the coast again. On a later trip to England, his ship HMS Porpoise and the accompanying Cato ran aground on a coral reef off the Queensland coast. Flinders set off for Sydney in an open cutter, at a distance of 750 miles (1,210 km), where the Governor sent ships back to rescue the crew from Wreck Reef.