HMB Endeavour replica - Cook and Endeavour

Why was Endeavour sent to the South Seas?

In 1767 the Royal Society of London petitioned King George III for a ship to send to the South Seas. Here they wished to view the transit of the planet Venus across the Sun, due to take place on 3 June 1769. This important event had international co-operation with over 150 observers taking part around the world. Astronomers hoped that by compiling all their results the distance of the earth from the Sun could be calculated.

Endeavour was fitted out for the voyage, and astronomer Charles Green was chosen to sail with them to the newly discovered island of Tahiti, where the observation would take place. Assisted by Captain James Cook and a number of the Endeavour's officers, Green successfully noted the times for the transit.

Cook then followed his 'secret' orders from the Admiralty - to search for the supposed Great South Land. Unable to find this land he continued to New Zealand, charted both islands, and took notes on the people and their way of life. He sailed to the east coast of New Holland (Australia) and turning Endeavour north, sailed up the east coast. Charting this unknown land for the first time, the Endeavour was nearly lost when it struck a reef south of modern day Cooktown Before leaving, Cook took possession of the eastern portion of Australia in the name of King George III.

Endeavour's people

Ninety-four people were aboard Endeavour when she left England on 26 August 1768, including her captain, Lieutenant James Cook. As a young man Cook learned his seamanship in Whitby colliers on the English coast. Aged 27, he joined the Royal Navy in June 1755 as able seaman, however his experiences quickly earned him promotion.

As a Master on the 64-gun ship of the line HMS Pembroke, Cook went to war against France in Admiral Boscawen's squadron. He was at the capture of Louisbourg and the siege of Quebec. Cook remained in North America charting and surveying. On his return to England, he was promoted to Lieutenant in 1768 and given command of HMB Endeavour.

Life on board was rough and sometimes dangerous, with little or no privacy. However, compared to his counterpart on land, a seaman ate a hot meal every day with meat four times a week, a pound of bread and a gallon of beer a day. This was supplemented with dried fish, pease pudding, oatmeal, butter or oil, cheese and fresh fish, meat and vegetables, when possible. Although there were cases of scurvy on board, no one died of the disease, which often killed a third of a ship's crew during a long sea voyage.

The new navigation

In the 15th century Portuguese explorers had developed the method of finding latitude (distance north or south of the equator) by simple astronomical observations of the Sun or a star. However, finding longitude (distance east/west) had always been a matter of estimation based on the distance sailed and the course steered. The difficulty in finding longitude often resulted in ships being hundreds of miles off course, and ships were often wrecked.

Longitude can be expressed as the difference in time between two places. In order to find how far east or west he had sailed, a navigator had to know the time on board his ship (easily found by sighting the Sun or a star) and the time at his place of departure (not so easily known). What was needed was a clock that would keep perfect time at sea.

Aboard Endeavour on his first voyage 1768 - 1771, Cook had the latest scientific and technological equipment available, but no clock. The Admiralty supplied copies of the new lunar prediction tables, the Nautical Almanac, as well as sextants to calculate position at sea by the lunar distance method.

By the time of Cook's second voyage 1772 - 1775, an accurate ship's clock had been developed by John Harrison and tested by the Admiralty. A copy of Harrison's clock made by Larcum Kendall (known as K1) was carried aboard the Resolution. Cook wrote that this watch '...has exceeded the expectations of its most zealous advocate and by being now and then corrected by lunar observations has been our faithful guide through all the vicissitudes of climates.'

On his third voyage 1776-80, Cook had three clocks, including his faithful K1. The new navigation had arrived.

Tupaia's waka (canoe)

When the Endeavour arrived in New Zealand in October 1769, the people of Turanganui (Poverty Bay) thought that this might be a floating island, or an ancestral bird from Hawaiki. When its crew landed they were led by the marines in their scarlet jackets and Tupaia, a Tahitian high-priest navigator, acted as their spokesman. Red was an ancestral sign of power and when Tupaia spoke, the local people understood him. He told them that the Endeavour had sailed there from Tahiti.

On shore, the local people sent out challengers, according to their custom. The Europeans thought that they were being attacked and retaliated with their muskets. By the end of the Endeavour's brief visit to Turanganui, four local warriors had been killed and several others wounded. This was despite Cook's best efforts to establish peaceful relations with people in the bay, so that supplies of fresh food, wood and water could be collected.

When the Endeavour sailed north and visited Anaura Bay and Uawa (Tolaga Bay) the local people were friendly. They had heard about the shootings in Turanganui and made their visitors welcome. Tupaia met with local priests and told them about his god 'Oro' and about Tahiti. Further north though, in the Bay of Plenty and Mercury Bay, there were further challenges from sailing canoes packed with warriors.

In all of these places, Tupaia made a great impression on Maori and during Cook's next voyage to New Zealand, local people asked about Tupaia and wept when they heard that he had died in Batavia. For Maori the Endeavour was remembered above all as Tupaia's waka from Tahiti.

Cook and the Australian Aborigines

It is generally agreed by the descendants of those Aboriginal people who first sighted HMB Endeavour off their coast at Point Hicks in 1770, that their ancestors greeted the spectacle with dismay.

They remind us that before Cook arrived, two thirds of the entire Australian coast line were already charted by European mariners, and that earlier meetings between Europeans and their own people were, almost without exception, bloody encounters. Such news, they say, would certainly have travelled the well worn tracks of communication their people had established right across their vast country.

With no understanding of each other's culture or language and the situation already charged with false expectations on both sides, the first meeting at Botany Bay on 29 April was a disaster. Cook was violently opposed by two men when he attempted to land. But needing to replenish water and gather fodder for livestock, he ordered small shot be fired to warn them away. Relations between the two parties never recovered from this.

Later at Endeavour River where the ship lay for repairs after her encounter with the Great Barrier Reef, a short friendship developed between the Europeans and the Guugu Yimidharr. 'They may appear to some to be the most wretched people on Earth, but in reality they are far happier than we Europeans. They live in tranquility which is not disturbed by the inequality of condition. The Earth and Sea of their own accord furnish them with all things necessary for life.' Cook wrote in his journal.

However, when a dispute arose over turtle caught by Cook's crew, the Guugu Yimidharr. set fire to Endeavour's settlement ashore, and again the crack of a musket was heard. The friendship was over. The Endeavour's stay had become a prologue to the tragic drama which has continued for over 200 years.  

Captain James Cook, North America and Hawaii

Before his famous Endeavour voyage James Cook spent four years in North America from 1763 to 1767. In preparation for the British assault on Quebec, he charted the St Lawrence River. After the fall of Quebec, Cook spent his summers charting the southern and western sides of Newfoundland, Massachusetts Bay and the islands of the Gulf of St Lawrence. His charts were so accurate that they remained in Admiralty use for many years.

During his third voyage 1776-80, while in search for the north west passage thought to exist in the Arctic, Cook sailed his two ships Resolution and Discovery along the coast of North America form Cape Foulweather into the Bering Sea and Alaska. It was not long before the crew were trading metal for furs with the natives, and Cook, clearly worried about the effect on his ships wrote '...Whole suits of cloaths were striped of every button, Bureaus etc. of their furniture and copper kettles, tin canesters, candle sticks etc. all went to wreck...'

During this voyage Cook confirmed the general line of the American coast from Cape Blanco north to Nootka Sound. Here he repaired his ships before continuing to Cook inlet. He also plotted the general line of the Alaska Peninsula, the American side of the Bering Sea from Bristol Bay to about latitude 60˚ and from Norton Sound to Cape Prince of Wales, and the Arctic coast to the entrance of Kotzebue Sound.

Leaving North American waters at the beginning of the winter of 1778, Cook returned to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), which he had previously discovered, and it was here that he was killed at Kealakekua Beach on 14 February 1779.



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