His top-secret orders from the British Admiralty commanded him to search for “a Continent or Land of great extent” and that when he found it to take possession of that country “in the Name of the King of Great Britain.” That was the mission undertaken by Captain James Cook in 1768 as a part of three voyages to the South Seas. The intent of his voyages was to find a mysterious southern land known by ancient Greeks and Romans as Terra Australis Incognita. The press was told that the mission of Cook’s expedition was to establish an observatory at Tahiti in order to record the transit of Venus to take place on June 3, 1769 during which time the planet Venus passed between the earth and the sun. The published
aim was to also record natural history under the supervision of 25-year old Joseph Banks.
Captain James Cook began his first Pacific voyage (1768-1771) as skipper of the Endeavour on June 3, 1769.
Endeavour was built by Thomas Fishburn at Whitby, North Yorkshire England and launched in June of 1764. She was a bark type ship, 97 ft 8 inches in length, 29ft 2 inches beam with a depth of 11ft 4 inches. The sturdy vessel was a full rigged ship with 3,321 square yards of sail. Unlike the sleek and majestic ships in the Royal Navy, Endeavour was built to be a collier. When launched, she was christened Earl of Pembroke. Colliers were built for strength to withstand the massive loads of coal they were used to transport.
In February 1768, the British Royal Society petitioned King George III to finance a scientific expedition to the Pacific for the purpose of studying and observing the 1769 transit of the planet Venus across the sun, The King approved and the Admiralty decided to combine the scientific voyage with a top secret mission to search the South Pacific for signs of Terra Austrailis Incongnit, otherwise described as the “unknown southern land”. The Royal Society suggested that a Scottish geographer named Alexander Dlrymple be given a brevet commission as a captain in the Royal Navy for the exploration. The first Lord of the Admiralty refused vehemently. Saying he would rather cut off his right hand than give command of a navy vessel to someone not educated as a seaman. The dilemma was resolved by the appointment of James Cook who was then promoted to Lieutenant and assigned as commander of the expedition.
The Royal Navy purchased the ship and renamed it Endeavour in 1768. The intent was for Endeavour to carry a scientific mission to explore the seas for the unknown southern land.
Her captain had started his early career at sea in colliers. James Cook apprenticed under John Walker, a Quaker coal shipper from Whitby. That experience made him an ideal captain for the vessel because of his experience in sailing the blunt nosed collier, mathematical ability and his cartographic skills.
The crew was sworn to secrecy about their mission. While in fact Joseph Banks collected samples and carried on scientific pursuits. On good days Banks could be seen in a small boat being towed behind HMB Endeavour. He gathered and cataloged any manner of marine life and vegetation he could find. However, the real purpose of the voyage was for Captain James Cook and his staff to chart and claim for England what would eventually become Australia. Cook first sailed from Plymouth with a crew of ninety-four souls. On August 26th, 1768 they arrived at Tahiti on April 13th, 1769. Then sailed to New Zealand charting as they went. And, after circumnavigating the island they claimed the island for England.
From there they sailed west until they reached the east coast of New Holland. By April of 1770, HMB Endeavour was the first ship to arrive on the east coast of Australia. Cook went ashore at what is now known as Botany Bay. From there the Cook surveyed the Australian coast to the North. Endeavour ran around on the Great Barrier Reef. To float her off, Cook had to lighten her load by having his crew throw her guns overboard. Cook then beached his ship so that carpenters could remove the large chunk of coral that had wedged into the hole and perhaps saved her from sinking. The sturdy construction of the collier probably contributed to the survival of the ship. After being beached for seven weeks for rudimentary repairs, Cook was able to reach port in Batavia, Dutch East Indies (Jakarta) on October 10th, 1770.
Repaired and ready for sea, Endeavour sailed westward and rounded the Cape of Good Hope on March 13, 1771. She sailed into the English port of Dover on July 12th, 1771 completing a voyage that had her at sea for nearly three years. After her incredible voyage of discovery Endeavour was humbled and spent the next three years sailing back and forth to the Falkland Islands.
Endeavour was sold in 1775 to a private owner and spent the first half of the Revolutionary War as a contracted troop transport and prison ship under the name of Lord Sandwich.
In 1778 she was deliberately scuttled along with a dozen other ships in an effort block the entrance to Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island in 1778 to prevent French ships from entering. Archaeologists from the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project believe they have found the wreck of the once famous explorer ship. Divers have been comparing records to the wreck and are hopeful the HMB Endeavor has been found.
Charles Darwin wrote of Cooks exploration, “Endeavour added an entire hemisphere to the civilized world when it carried Captain James Cook on his first major voyage, newly charting the existence of New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia.” In his book; Endeavour: The ship That changed the World, (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York) Peter Moore tells the epic story of the ships many lives which included transporting Newcastle coal, exploration and charting of New Zealand and Australia,
Transporting Hessian troops to fight for England in the American Revolution, a stint as a prison ship and finally scuttling to keep the French from entering Newport harbor.
Fortunately an authentic replica of the HMB Endeavour has been built and is alive and well and sailing at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney, Australia. www.sea.museum/whats-on/vessels/hmb-endeavour .
The replica ship HMB Endeavour will circumnavigate Australia from March 2020 to May 2021, to mark 250 years since Captain James Cook reached the east coast of Australia. Led by the Australian National Maritime Museum, the circumnavigation will provide an opportunity to reflect on the significance of the voyage in Australia’s history, including the impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.