HMS Endeavour was launched in 1764 in Whitby, northern England, then as a coal carrier named Earl of Pembroke. She was later converted into the HMS Endeavour and used by English naval officer and cartographer James Cook on his 1768-1771 voyage of exploration to Australia and the South Pacific. This voyage earned the Endeavour its place as one of the most famous ships in history.
After heading west from England, rounding Cape Horn beneath South America and crossing the Pacific, Cook landed the Endeavour in Australia’s Botany Bay on 29 April 1770. To the British, Cook went down in history as the man who ‘discovered’ Australia – despite Aboriginal Australians having lived there for 50,000 years and the Dutch traversing its shores for centuries. Cook’s landing paved the way for the first European settlements in Australia and the establishment of Britain’s infamous penal colonies there.
To make it to Australia, Cook needed a strong, sturdy and reliable ship. Here are 6 facts about HMS Endeavour and her remarkable career.
1. When HMS Endeavour was built, she wasn’t HMS Endeavour
Launched in 1764 from Whitby, HMS Endeavour was originally Earl of Pembroke, a merchant collier (a cargo ship built to carry coal). She was built from Yorkshire oak which was known for producing tough and high-quality timber. To be able to carry coal, Earl of Pembroke needed substantial storage capacity and a flat bottom in order to be able to sail and beach in shallow waters without the need for a dock.
2. HMS Endeavour was purchased by the Royal Navy in 1768
In 1768, the Royal Navy started pulling together plans for an expedition to the South Seas. A young naval officer called James Cook was selected to lead the expedition due to his background in cartography and mathematics. An appropriate ship needed to be found. Earl of Pembroke was chosen due to her storage capacity and availability (war meant that many naval ships were needed to fight).
She was refitted and renamed Endeavour. It is believed that Edward Hawke, First Lord of the Admiralty, chose the appropriate name. At this point, however, she was known as HM Bark Endeavour, not HMS, as there was already a HMS Endeavour serving in the Royal Navy (this would change in 1771 when the other Endeavour was sold).
3. Endeavour left Plymouth on 26 August 1768 with 94 men and boys onboard
This included the usual complement of crew on a Royal Navy ship: commissioned naval officers, warrant officers, able seamen, marines, mates and servants. In Madeira, master’s mate Robert Weir was dragged overboard and drowned when he became trapped in the anchor cable. Cook pressed a sailor to replace Weir. The youngest member of the crew was the 11 year old Nicholas Young, the servant to the ship’s surgeon. In Tahiti, the crew was joined by Tupaia, a navigator, who acted as a local guide and translator.
Additionally, Cook was accompanied by natural historians, artists and cartographers. The adventurer and botanist Joseph Banks and his colleague Daniel Solander recorded 230 plant species during the expedition, 25 of which were new to the West. Astronomer Charles Green was also on board and documented the transit of Venus off the coast of Tahiti on 3 June 1769.
By the time the Endeavour was ready to return home, 90% of the crew fell ill with dysentery and malaria, likely caused by polluted drinking water. Over 30 succumbed to sickness including the ship’s surgeon.
4. Endeavour nearly didn’t make it back to Britain
Endeavour‘s circumnavigation is well documented. Leaving Portsmouth, she sailed to Funchal in the Madeira Islands and then travelled west, crossing the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro. After rounding Cape Horn and reaching Tahiti, she sailed through the Pacific with Cook claiming islands on behalf of Britain, before finally landing in Australia.
When Endeavour sailed around the coast of Australia, she became stuck in a reef, now known as Endeavour Reef and part of the Great Barrier Reef, on 11 June 1770. Cook ordered that all extra weight and unnecessary equipment be removed from the ship to help her float. The reef had created a hole in the hull which, if removed from the reef, would cause the ship the flood. After several attempts, Cook and his crew successfully freed Endeavour but she was in a dire condition.
It was decided that they would sail to Batavia, part of the Dutch East Indies, to properly repair her before the voyage home. To reach Batavia a quick repair was made using a method called fothering, covering a leak with oakum and wool.
5. Though Cook returned a hero, Endeavour was forgotten about
After returning to Britain in 1771, Cook was celebrated but the Endeavour was largely forgotten about. She was sent to Woolwich to be refitted to be used as a naval transport and store ship, frequently operating between Britain and the Falklands. In 1775 she was sold out of the navy to a shipping company Mather & Co for £645, likely to be broken down into scrap.
However, the American Revolutionary War meant that a large number of ships were needed and Endeavour was given a new life. She was refitted and renamed Lord Sandwich in 1775 and formed part of an invasion fleet. The link between Endeavour and Lord Sandwich was only realised after extensive research in the 1990s.
In 1776, Lord Sandwich was stationed in New York during the Battle of Long Island that led to the British capture of New York. She was then used as a prison ship in Newport where she was sunk by the British in August 1778 in an attempt to ruin the harbour before a French invasion. She now rests at the bottom of Newport Harbour.
6. Several replicas of the Endeavour have been made
In 1994, a replica of the Endeavour built in Freemantle, Australia, undertook her maiden voyage. She sailed from Sydney Harbour and then followed Cook’s path from Botany Bay to Cooktown. From 1996-2002, the replica Endeavour retraced Cook’s full voyage, eventually arriving in Whitby, northern England, where the original Endeavour was built. Footage from the voyage was used in the 2003 film Master and Commander. She is now on permanent display as a museum ship in Sydney’s Darling Harbour. Replicas can be found in Whitby, at the Russell Museum in New Zealand and in the Cleveland Centre, Middlesborough, England.
We might not need to rely on replicas to see how Endeavour looked. For over 20 years, experts have searched the wrecks in Newport Harbour and, as of 3 February 2022, believe they have found the wreck of Endeavour. Kevin Sumpton, Chief Executive of the Australian National Maritime Museum announced to the public –
“We can conclusively confirm that this is indeed the wreck of Cook’s Endeavour…This is an important moment. It is arguably one of the most important vessels in our maritime history”
However, the findings have been contested and will need to be peer reviewed before confirming absolutely that the wreck is Endeavour.