Take a Self-guided virtual tour of the HMB Endeavour

The purpose of Cook’s journey

In 1767, the Royal Society of London petitioned King George III for a ship to send to the South Seas. They wanted to view the transit of the planet Venus across the sun, due to take place on 3 June 1769. It was an important event and had international cooperation with over 150 observers taking part around the world. Astronomers hoped that they could compile all their results to calculate the distance of the earth from the sun.

Endeavour was fitted out for the voyage and astronomer Charles Green was chosen by the Royal Society to sail with them to the newly discovered island of Tahiti for the observation. Helped by Captain James Cook and some of the Endeavour's officers, Green successfully noted the times for the transit.

Learn about the search for the HMB Endeavour - read the blog from our 2017 Rhode Island fieldwork team.

Cook then followed his 'secret' orders from the Admiralty - to search for the supposed Great South Land. When Cook was 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 coast 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.

The new navigation

In the 15th century, Portuguese explorers developed the method of finding latitude (position north or south of the equator) by simple astronomical observations of the sun or a star. However, finding longitude (position east/west) was a matter of estimation based on the distance sailed and the course steered. Because longitude was difficult to find, ships were often hundreds of miles off course and many were then shipwrecked.

Longitude can be expressed as the difference in time between two places. 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). A clock was needed 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 on Resolution (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.

On board the original Endeavour

When Endeavour left England on 26 August 1768, 94 people were aboard, including her captain, Lieutenant James Cook.

As a young man, Cook learned his seamanship in Whitby colliers on the English coast. In 1755, he joined the Royal Navy as an able seaman, aged 27. 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 Endeavour 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, fresh fish and vegetables when possible. Although some on board Endeavour contracted scurvy, no-one died of the disease, which often killed a third of a ship's crew during a long sea voyage.

The Endeavour in New Zealand

When Endeavour arrived in New Zealand in October 1769, the people of Turanganui (Poverty Bay) thought it was a floating island or an ancestral bird from Hawaiki. When the crew landed, the marines led in their scarlet jackets. Their spokesman was a Tahitian high-priest navigator, Tupaia. 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, which was their custom. The Europeans, thinking they were under attack, retaliated by firing their muskets. By the end of the Endeavour's brief visit to Turanganui, 4 local warriors were killed and several others wounded. This was despite Cook's best efforts to establish peaceful relations with the Turanganui people 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. However, further north, in the Bay of Plenty and Mercury Bay, there were further challenges from sailing canoes packed with warriors.

In all 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 (canoe) from Tahiti.

Cook and the First Peoples of Australia

Before Cook arrived, two-thirds of the Australian coastline was already charted by European mariners and earlier meetings between Europeans were often violent encounters. Such news 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, Cook's first contact with the Aboriginal people at Kamay (Botany Bay) on 29 April 1770 was unfortunate. Initially ignored by the inhabitants of the bay, Cook and his men were resolutely opposed by 2 Indigenous men armed with spears when they tried to land. When attempts to communicate with the men failed to overcome their hostility, Cook fired on the men to clear them from the beach. It was an inauspicious beginning and for the eight days that the Endeavour lay at anchor, the Indigenous people of the area avoided further contact with the Europeans.

Later, at Endeavour River, where the ship was repaired over a period of seven weeks, Cook and his men engaged more closely with the people of the Guugu Yimithirr community. The experience had a profound effect on Cook who wrote in his journal: '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, 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 into modern times.

During his third voyage (1776-80), while searching 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 from Cape Foulweather into the Bering Sea and Alaska. It was not long before the crew was trading metal for furs with the natives. Cook was worried about the effect on his ships, writing '...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.

Building the Replica

The Australian-built replica of James Cook's HMB Endeavour deserves its reputation as one of the world's most accurate replica vessels. When you step aboard the beautifully crafted ship you experience a sailor's life on one of history's great maritime adventures, Cook's epic 1768-71 world voyage.

The museum acquired Endeavour in 2005, after it had completed 11 years of world voyaging under the HM Bark Endeavour Foundation. But her life began much earlier than this, when a passionate maritime enthusiast had one big idea.

The original idea

The proposal that led to this full-scale and accurate replica of Cook's Endeavour came from an early museum council member, Bruce Stannard, a writer with a passion for maritime history and some high-powered contacts.

The Bond Corporation, owned by prominent Western Australian businessman Alan Bond, pledged financial support to the project, offering it as a gift to Australia for the 1788-1988 Bicentenary. Bond is famous as head of the syndicate that became the first challenger in 132 years to win an 'unwinnable' yachting event, the America's Cup, from the New York Yacht Club in 1983.

Construction began in a specially designed shipyard in Fremantle, Western Australia in 1988.

In 1990, the Bond Corporation withdrew with financial difficulties. Enthusiastic volunteers kept the project going until the HM Bark Endeavour Foundation was formed with financial support from the Commonwealth Government, the West Australian Government and private benefactors. These included UK/Canadian businessman, Gary Weston (Weston Foods) and Sydney businessman, John Singleton. Both were impressed by the expertise, dedication and determination of the Fremantle team.

Over the next two years, finances continued to cause problems. At one time the whole team, from the CEO to the cleaner, agreed to a cut in wages to avoid anyone being laid off.

The magnificent HMB Endeavour was launched in 1993.

How the replica was built

The original Endeavour was surveyed during its Royal Navy service. The documentation and plans (held by the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, England) were used to research and build the replica.

Timber

The replica is so faithful to the original that the main differences lie in the timbers and metals used in construction. Traditional timbers of the 18th century - elm, oak and spruce - are now difficult and expensive to buy. The replica is built of jarrah, a West Australian hardwood. The masts and spars are from old-growth oregon (Douglas fir), specially imported from the USA.

Iron

The ship's traditional iron fittings, including lanterns and the large iron firehearth, were handmade in a specially installed blacksmith shop.

Rigging

After computer-simulated testing, modern polyester was selected for the running rigging (which moves and works the yards and sails) and traditional manila for the standing rigging (which holds the masts in place). The manila rope was handmade on a 140-year-old ropewalk to the exact specifications of the original rope.

Sails

Endeavour's sails are made of Duradon, a synthetic canvas that looks and handles like the original flax canvas but lasts longer and resists rot.

Modern fitout

The necessary concessions to the 21st century - engines, generators, an electric galley, showers and safety equipment - are all hidden away in the cargo hold where Cook stored his ship's provisions.

The first journey

On launching day, 9 December 1993, Endeavour slipped safely into the water, curtseying as she went. The masts and rigging were installed, the ship was commissioned and sea trials began off the coast of Western Australia

On 2 October 1994, eight years after the keel was laid, Endeavour set out on her maiden voyage to Sydney. To celebrate the 225th anniversary of Cook charting the east coast, Endeavour followed in his wake to Cooktown and then crossed the Tasman to circumnavigate New Zealand. She returned to Fremantle to refit for her first world voyage.

Around the world in 4 years

On 16 October 1996, Endeavour sailed from Fremantle on the first leg of her world voyage. Visiting Mauritius, Reunion Island, Durban and Cape Town, she arrived in London on 25 March 1997. HRM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh came on board to meet the crew.

Her first visit to Whitby a few weeks later drew record crowds, as thousands lined the cliffs and headlands to welcome the Endeavour replica to the original ship's birthplace.

After a successful 15-port visit, Endeavour departed Plymouth on 14 January 1998 for North America. Stopping at Tenerife, the British Virgin Islands and Nassau, she arrived in West Palm Beach, Florida, on 5 March 1998. She then completed a 31-port tour of the east and west coasts of North America in 19 months.

On 12 October 1999, Endeavour sailed from Vancouver, Canada, for the Hawaiian islands, Fiji and New Zealand. Endeavour finally sailed through Sydney Heads on 3 June 2000.

She had been away four years.

Challenge around Cape Horn

Endeavour spent the next 2 years completing her circumnavigation of Australia and starring in BBC documentary The Ship. She arrived back in her building port of Fremantle in December 2001 for a new challenge - to double Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America and the graveyard of many sailing vessels.

Endeavour successfully rounded Cape Horn on 16 April 2002, in good weather and visibility, much as Cook had done in 1769: En route the ship visited the Falkland Islands, Rio de Janeiro and Azores, and arrived in Whitby, England, on 21 June 2002.

Using Whitby as her home port, the ship sailed British and European Atlantic coastlines from Spain to Norway, including Holland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, France, Portugal, Canary Islands and Madeira. She was often the centrepiece for re-enactments of maritime history.

On 8 November 2004, Endeavour set out from Whitehaven on her last voyage under the HM Bark Endeavour Foundation. On her way home she visited Funchal in Madeira, St John Antigua, Panama Canal, Galapagos Islands, Tahiti, New Zealand and arrived in Botany Bay on 10 April 2005.

Endeavour had safely sailed some 170,000 nautical miles, twice around the world. In over 200 voyages, around 8000 men and women experienced 18th-century seamanship. Hundreds of others joined day sails in harbours and rivers around the world. Hundreds of volunteers worked as guides and helped during refit. Endeavour visited 29 countries and many Pacific islands, and opened as a museum in 116 ports. Thousands of visitors came on board to see how Cook and his men lived.

Coming to the museum

In April 2005, the ship was transferred to the Australian government by the foundation which had operated it since launching in 1993. The replica was then gifted to the Australian National Maritime Museum.

With funds for its operation, and to develop the systems and personnel to operate the ship, this was a spectacular new challenge for the museum, both in its nature and scale.

Endeavour spent 2 months at Garden Island, Sydney, in late 2005, having a major refit and repairs. The ship was overhauled and refurbished from the top of the mast to the keel. The world-acclaimed replica emerged looking absolutely stunning, tarred, painted and varnished in meticulously researched, authentic finishes.

The Endeavour was then ready to sail again and was soon voyaging to Melbourne for the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Since the ship has sailed over 20,500 nautical miles around the coast including a circumnavigation of Australia in 2012.

You too can have the ‘voyage of a life time’ as voyage crew and experience sailing this magnificent ship. Voyage crew learn how to rig, climb aloft, steer, stand watch and sleep in hammocks like the original crew. See Sail the Endeavour

Endeavour is maintained using traditional practices and skills to ensure her seaworthiness and authenticity as an 18th century working vessel. Looking around the deck, you are likely to see crew members busy keeping the ship in shape.

Searching for the Original

Archaeologists are searching for the remains of HMB Endeavour in Newport Harbour, Rhode Island, USA. The search is led by American archaeologist, Dr Kathy Abbass, Director of the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP).

Dr Abbass' research shows that Endeavour was paid off by the British Royal Navy after returning to England. It was renamed Lord Sandwich and used by the British Board of Transport to carry troops to North America during the American War of Independence. In August 1778, the Lord Sandwich was scuttled with 12 other transports in Newport Harbour to blockade the port against an invading French fleet.

Although Dr Abbass and RIMAP are greatly interested in the Lord Sandwich, their main objective is to research, record, document, interpret and help protect all the vessels lost in Rhode Island waters during the American War of Independence.

Surveying the wreck site

In 1999, a combined RIMAP-ANMM team surveyed a promising wreck site. They analysed the construction techniques and timber scantlings, and identified sediment, stone and coal, ruling out the possibility that the wreck was the Lord Sandwich. However, their efforts showed that the team's methodology could identify the ex-Endeavour if it was found.

Wreck found

In 2000, the team conducted a remote sensing survey of Newport Harbour to identify potential wreck sites. A limited test excavation was done on one possible site, GAMMA, revealing a large transverse timber (possibly a frame) lying directly over what appeared to be the keelson of a ship.

Measurements indicated that the wreck was an 18th-century vessel, between 300 and 400 tons and of similar construction to some of the scuttled transports.

In 2001, the combined team excavated further at the GAMMA site. They found the remains of the keelson, stem post and additional floor timbers which can be compared to the original plans of the Endeavour drawn up by the Deptford Dockyard in 1768.

The team also uncovered additional timbers, including internal or ceiling planking, iron fastenings and treenails, floors and futtocks (the components that make up the frame of a ship) and, eventually, the keel itself.

The scantlings (timber measurements) of the excavated remains were compared to the four known sets of ship's plans of Endeavour, along with construction drawings of other known transports.

Of the transports known to have been scuttled in Newport Harbour, the results compared favourably with:

  • American-built ship Britannia of 374 tons
  • 2 English-built ships, the 320-ton Rachel and Mary
  • the 368-ton Lord Sandwich, formerly HMB Endeavour.

With the potential archaeological and historical significance of the site, further investigations were carried out in 2002, 2004 and 2007. Find out more at The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) website.

The archaeological work continues and Dr Abbass has asked the ANMM's continued involvement in the project. The museum’s director has been invited to join the board of the Foundation for the Preservation of Captain Cook's Ships, a USA organisation providing administrative and fundraising support for RIMAP's work. The museum is committed to further collaboration with RIMAP in this research, subject to obtaining the necessary funding support.

Books & Resources

The following print publications may be helpful when researching Captain James Cook and the Endeavour.

About Captain James Cook and his voyages

Beaglehole, John Cawte, 1934, The Exploration of the Pacific, A. & C. Black, London
Beaglehole, John Cawte, 1974, The Life of Captain James Cook, 4 vols, Adam & Charles Black, London
Beaglehole, John Cawte (ed.), 1955, The Voyage of the Endeavour 1768-1771, The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery [Series], vol. 1, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England
Beaglehole, John Cawte (ed.), 1961, The Voyage of the Resolution and Adventure 1772-1775, The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery [Series], vol. 2, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England
Beaglehole, John Cawte (ed.), 1967, The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery 1776-1780, The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery [Series], vol. 3, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England
Edwards, Philip (ed.), 1999, The Journals of Captain Cook, Penguin
Hough, Richard A, 1994, Captain James Cook: a biography, Hodder & Stoughton, England
Suthren, Victor, 1997, To Go Upon Discovery: James Cook in Canada, 1758 to 1779, Dundurn Press, Canada

About HMB Endeavour

Brunton, Paul (ed.), 1998, The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks: The Australian Journey, Angus & Robertson in Association with the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Frost, Alan, 1998, The Voyage of the Endeavour, Allen & Unwin, Australia,
Macarthur Antonia, 1997, HM Bark Endeavour, the story of the ship and her people, Harper Collins
Marquardt, Karl Heinz, 2003, Anatomy of the ship: Captain Cook's Endeavour, Conway Maritime Press
Parkin, Ray, 1997, HM Bark Endeavour, Miegunyah Press, Australia,
Polden, Richard, 1998, Endeavour; a photographic journey, Fremantle Centre Press, Australia,
Endeavour, a 32-page colour souvenir of the building of the Endeavour replica and the first voyage of James Cook 1768-1771, available from Museum Store, together with numerous other publications on James Cook and his voyages.