About JCU History

History of JCU

Born of the traditional model of excellence in teaching and research, James Cook University has become a modern and dynamic university of truly global standing.

Our graduates hold top-level positions around Australia and the world, and our research has earned us a world class reputation.

JCU is Queensland’s second oldest university. We offered our first courses in Townsville in 1961 as an annex of the University of Queensland. Since then we have become a dynamic, multi-campus university with a total of 17,500 students. Our main campuses are located in Townsville and Cairns, and we have international campuses in Singapore and Brisbane.

After a decade under the stewardship of the University of Queensland, JCU became a university in its own right on 20 April 1970. The proclamation was signed by Queen Elizabeth II at a special ceremony in Townsville, which took place 200 years, to the day, after the University’s namesake, explorer Captain James Cook, first sighted Australia. Read a brief history of JCU spanning 1957 to 2008.

James Cook (1728-1779)

"I had the ambition to not only go farther than man had gone before, but to go as far as it was possible to go."

James Cook was a remarkable navigator and explorer, whose legacy is still with us. His three voyages across the Pacific had profound influence on many areas of human endeavour: astronomy, marine surveying, cartography, geography, natural history and anthropology.

Cook was the first to map the coastline of eastern Australia, New Zealand and many islands of the Pacific. He sailed further south than any explorer before him. Amongst Cook’s great achievements was his ability to navigate with a chronometer to calculate longitude. This transformed mapping. He was also a remarkably humane commander, concerned for the health of his crews and the prospects of the indigenous peoples he encountered.

Born in Marton in Yorkshire, the son of a farmer, James Cook was apprenticed as a teenager to a seafaring family, before volunteering for the Royal Navy. In a time when sons of the working class were rarely considered for promotion, Cook’s talents spoke for themselves and he rose through the ranks to command three great voyages; become an accomplished astronomer, navigator and surveyor; and the world’s foremost explorer of his age.

Connection with our region

On his first Pacific voyage and under royal orders, the then Lieutenant James Cook, aboard HM Bark Endeavour, observed and recorded the transit of Venus at Tahiti then sailed on and charted the coast of New Zealand, the east coast of Australia and part of the southern coast of New Guinea.

During this voyage the young officer set foot on Australian shores only twice; the first at a landing point he would name Botany Bay; the second two months later when the Endeavour grounded on a reef off the north east coast of the country. The ship was successfully beached in sheltered waters on a river mouth while it underwent repairs. This location was 260 kilometres north of Cairns, and the settlement there became Cooktown. Many coastal features in our region were named by Cook, including Green Island, Cape Tribulation, Dunk Island and Magnetic Island, to name just a few.

Continuing in his footsteps, James Cook University aims to encourage and support world-class research and exploration to provide the knowledge and understanding needed to meet the challenges facing northern Australia and the tropics worldwide.

James Cook University is about people and place. As we enter our fourth decade we continue to offer our students a comprehensive range of courses and opportunities. We will adopt new methods, new approaches and new technologies to help our students develop the skills, abilities, knowledge and intellectual curiosity they need to succeed and make a difference, just as Captain James Cook did 200 years ago.