As the Space Shuttle Endeavour completes her final mission, her pioneering activities in Space, remind us of her valiant Namesake, His Majesty's Bark Endeavour, a smallish, bluff-bowed, flat bottomed Collier, built for the coal trade in Britain long ago.
As we are reminded whenever the Space Shuttle Endeavour has rocketed into space, over the last many years of her lifetime, she was named after an equally valiant and heroic little ship, which had been built to carry coal, in the middle of the 18th Century from the Whitby area of North east England, to wherever it was wanted, but often up the Thames to London.The little bluff bowed Collier was named "The Earl of Pembroke", and she was destined to become very black and very dirty whilst carrying out her necessary but labour intensive duties.
However, an event was on the horizon, which promised to change the course of her career and bring her into the limelight, as she was destined by the Admiralty to be bought into service of the Royal Navy, and fitted out for a voyage to the ends of the earth, around Cape Horn, and up into the great Pacific Ocean, towards Tahiti, which had only recently been discovered. There was an important astronomical event occurring in the next few years, and in 1768, the little Collier was reconditioned and renamed, and fit out for a record breaking voyage of discovery and scientific learning. She became "His Britannick Majesty's Bark Endeavour" (as her new captain, a Lieutenant James Cook called her). She is also known as HMS Endeavour.
James Cook had already done some yeoman's work for the British Royal Navy, not so long after he signed up, and learned how to survey coastlines and sounding the depths to establish accurate sailing charts which would make approaching such coastlines much safer. Cook became employed by the Royal Navy as a surveyor during that great war for Canada, the Seven Years War (or the "French and Indians War" if you are American). Cook surveyed the bottom of the St Lawrence and the coastline; he (and a crew including Samuel Holland),did an in depth survey of the entire river up to and including Quebec.
Their Survey of the St. Lawrence was so accurate that the British Navy, using Cook's charts, managed to sail almost to the gates of Quebec City. It would not be inaccurate to say that if not for Master Cook and company's surveys of the St. Lawrence River, Canada would not have been won so easily from the French. Of course it also took the genius of a British Army General to pull off the rest of the caper, right under the noses of the French and their Commander the Marquis de Montcalm. Major General James Wolfe was not apparently so impressive looking, but he is still remembered today as the General who commanded the British army that stormed up the cliffs by Quebec City, and defeated the French forces on the Plains of Abraham. In that fateful day the 13th of September 1759, the history of our country changed course. And the Royal Navy's surveying Master, James Cook had a big hand in making the whole campaign up the St. Lawrence possible.
Strange it is to say, then, that most Canadians remain unaware of that pivotal role that Master James Cook had played in the conquering of La Nouvelle France, by the British Army, (we should build a replica here in Canada, either HMB Endeavour, or HMS Resolution, or even HMS Discovery to remind us) with a resultant sigh of relief from the colonists that one thorn had been removed from their sides. Unfortunately that war had cost a lot of British treasure, and men, and the Kingdom wanted some of that money back in the form of newly levied taxes, which led to the American Revolution, and the eviction of British rule from the American colonies, leaving them British North America, or the land north of the former colonies.
It's hard to imagine how underestimated the good Captain, and his surveying skills, as well as his two main ships, how unremembered this giant of a navigator, and surveyor, whose skills led to such a vast increase in mankind's knowledge of earthly geography, geology, geometry, biology, including botany and zoology, oceanography, astronomy, navigation and whatever other sciences were represented by what Cook and his travelling companions carried out for their experiments, and observations, how utterly forgotten he and all his accomplishments, gained at such cost have become in these latter days of instant history, and yesterday's papers.
Captain James Cook never saw that war, because he was in the middle of explorations in the Pacific ocean, on his third voyage, and was murdered in Hawaii, by Native peoples who grew restive with having to feed his crew yet again, when they returned from an unsuccessful attempt at the Northwest Passage, after a previously well received lengthy visit. But that was a lot later, and in another ship, the Resolution.
''Resolution and Adventure with fishing craft in Matavai Bay'', painted by William Hodges in 1776, shows the two ships of Commander James Cook's second voyage of exploration in the Pacific at anchor in Tahiti.
However, in 1768, Lieutenant James Cook, newly commissioned was assigned the mission of voyaging with a group of scientists, including that great dilettante, and friend of King George III, Joseph Banks, already a renowned naturalist even though he was only in his twenties. He was also wealthy, and more than a little spoiled, and liked to have things organised his way.
Web Gallery of Art
Joseph Banks, by Benjamin West, in 1773 after his world famous voyage, naturalising with Captain James Cook.
The company were assigned the newly fit out HMB Endeavour to carry them around the world, and in a flurry of activity, they completed the fitting out, and stowed all their gear, in preparation for a voyage that would take some years of their lives. Some of the crew would never make it back home to England again. The Endeavour was chosen for this job because of her design, her toughness, her flat bottom, her bluff bows, and her sturdy reliability under tough circumstances. After all she had been designed for a tough job, carrying coal on a coastal trade route, that might mean putting her up on shore to unload her cargo, or to give her repairs. She was ideal for exploration because of the same reasons she was so suited to the coastal coal trade, her flexibility in choosing places to land, her sturdiness in the face of rough weather, and her weathertight design which suited her to a worldwide voyage, even though she had been designed originally for the local trade.
Thus that name, Endeavour is haunted with memories of the past, of distant lands, and far distant skies, of brave and sturdy Englishmen who explored much of the world in such wooden ships, and that name lives on, as a Space Shuttle, in our 21st century, named in loving memory of the greatest Explorer and Navigator of his day, Captain James Cook, who took HMB Endeavour around the world in 1769, making history, and bringing home maps of foreign climes, and specimens galore, under the handy eye of that great Naturalist, Joseph Banks, who had purchased himself a place on the Endeavour, when She was setting out for the Great South Seas, on the other side of the world.
Captain Cook's HMB Endeavour lives on in history, and in the hearts of ship lovers everywhere, not because of her beauty, or her lines, (although she is very beautiful to those who love her), but because she was tough, and well built for carrying Coal in the British Coal trade. She is remembered because she took the now famous Captain Cook around the entire world, despite the worst that Mother Nature could throw at her. She was a stout, little bluff bowed coastal coal carrier, out of Whitby in Northeast England, and she fully deserved the honour and the heart break of carrying England's premier Explorer of the Enlightenment along with her premier Naturalist, (and friend to the King) to the ends of the earth, where they would discover new worlds, new peoples, new customs, new plants and animals, and I suspect new diseases and illnesses, one of which would have been homesickness for good old England.
However, Tahiti was such a paradise to visit, and the explorers were made so welcome there, that I doubt not that many of the crew would have preferred to stay in that enchanted land for the rest of their lives. Captain Cook's disciplined approach however resulted eventually in a peaceful farewell to those shores and they continued their explorations, looking for the "Great Southern Continent".
Another Captain, William Bligh, and another ship, HMS Bounty, were not so "lucky" when it came to leaving the paradise that was Tahiti. Bounty's crew were unhappy with their captain in large enough numbers that they staged a Mutiny not so long after lifting anchor from Tahiti, and the rebellious crew put the Captain, Bligh, and any loyal crew members in a ship's boat, open and overcrowded, with a sail and oars, and some stores of food and water. The mutineers hoped that Captain Bligh and his loyalists would perish in the vast reaches of the Southern Ocean, but Bligh, who had trained under Captain Cook and was an excellent navigator, and really a very good captain as well, brought his little band in the open ship's boat all the way to Timor, where they found refuge and healing. Bligh had been one of Cook's up and coming young Lieutenants on his famous voyages of discovery, and continued his career in the Royal Navy, despite the mutineers best efforts to discredit him in their Courts Martial for Mutiny. He later retired as an Admiral, and far outlived his beloved mentor, Captain Cook.
HMS Bounty under way as painted by Yasmina
Captain James Cook's HMB Endeavour leaving Whitby on her way to immortality as painted by Thomas Luny 1768
HMB Endeavour was built for lowly coastal drudge work, but there came a day, when her destiny changed in the drop of a hat, (plus an overhaul and a refit), from drudgery in the coal trade, to worldwide explorations under the sure and loving hand of a genius of a navigator, and a wonderful officer of the Royal Navy, Lieutenant James Cook, who knew her quirks well, having been the sailing master of such colliers as she, before he joined the Royal Navy.... HMB Endeavour took the explorers and scientists all the way to Tahiti, including a storied voyage around the dreaded Cape Horn in the southernmost reaches of South America, with the express purpose of measuring the transit of Venus across the face of the Solar Disk. There were at least two other places of observation on Earth for this transit). Scientists of the day thought that if this transit were viewed by all three of the observers in the different places on Earth, then a more accurate longitude could be known for each site locally, as well as they might through the use of parallax be able to establish the distance between earth and sun. That was Lieutenant Cook's overt mission, but once he was at sea, he was ordered to open a secret set of orders, from the Admiralty, which directed him, after his observation of the Transit of Venus in Tahiti, to further explore the Great Southern Ocean for a legendary continent, that many of the foremost minds of the day beleived must be there, with the purpose of claiming it for the British Crown.
The story of Captain Cook's sojourn in Tahiti makes for very interesting reading, what with their construction of a palisaded little village for the purposes of making the observation, and with the necessity of constantly keeping a surveillance on the natives when they were around Endeavour or her goods, and equipment, because they had extremely light fingers, and things made of metal could vanish in a flash of inattention, as many did, despite Captain Cook's rigourous attempts to ensure and maintain order and to keep possession of the Endeavour's goods and equipment,
Fort Venus in Tahiti, built by Captain Cook's men for safety whilst observing the 1769 Transit of Venus across the Sun
After voyaging around, looking for Southern Continents, Cook took Endeavour to Australia and New Zealand, which he also surveyed extensively, although having quite a few negative interactions with the local native peoples. As well, Cook and his party came to near fatal grief on the Great Barrier reef one morning when Endeavour grounded herself on a reef, and ripped a largish hole in her bottom. After frantically throwing various heavy items, including cannons overboard, and when the high tide returned they managed to get her off the reef before she was wrecked entirely.
To temporarily repair her, they ran a sail stuffed with oakum underneath her keel, (known as "fothering") to cover over the hole, and after a number of failures, managed to get the leak down to a manageable level, with the ship's pumps as they were.
They then limped for shore, and repaired her bottom, before travelling further.
After grounding on the Great Barrier reef and nearly sinking, a wreck, HMB Endeavour was lifted off the reef and limped to the Endeavour River in Australia for repairs.
Eventually they came to the Dutch capital of the Dutch East Indies, Batavia, and despite its feverish reputation had to put in for repairs and refitting, as well as replenishing supplies. After Captain Cook had lost not a man to scurvy or any other infectious illness through out the entire voyage up until they reached Batavia, due to the Captain's diligent care of his crew, using sauerkraut, and whatever fresh vegetables, as well as lime and lemon juice, and his insisting on a tight ship and a very clean ship, he was astounded and horrified to find his men dropping like flies in the tropical miasma that was Batavia in those days. Surrounded by canals, the mosquitoes were death on the wing.
Finally after losing many men, including very valuable members of the crew and the scientific and artistic parties, Captain Cook managed to get his ship repaired, refitted, and outfitted for the long voyage home, and he headed off for England with a much reduced crew, landing some months later to universal approbation and sudden fame.
HMB Endeavour was never again used in such a way as she had been when asked to participate in the worldwide voyages of her now famous Captain, but her name lives on in honour and fond memory by all who remember the great Captain Cook, and his dauntless little collier, turned world explorer, the HMB ENDEAVOUR.
In our minds, we offer her and her great Captain a rolling broadside, a 21 gun salute, repeated 21 times, in memory of their great accomplishment in the days before there were GPS satellites, and people weren't even sure if their clocks were accurate enough to measure the longitude they were travelling across. We offer too, our thanks to that great clockmaker, John Harrison, whose time piece's accuracy finally allowed mariners to accurately calculate where they were, and to avoid some of the rocks they would otherwise have found themselves upon, a copy of whose clock was made for Captain Cook on his second voyage, in the HMS Resolution.
HMB Endeavour Replica in Cooktown
HMB Endeavour may be gone, broken up on the rocks of history, but her memories live on in the journals of Captain Cook, and Joseph Banks, and in the HMB Endeavour replica, which was built in Australia to commemorate Captain Cook's great voyages. Fans of the movie "Master and Commander" will have seen scenes filmed by crew ON the HMB Endeavour replica, as she rounded Cape Horn in a gale, with mountainous seas, and horrifying currents. This was the kind of experience faced daily by Captain Cook and his sturdy band of sailors, explorers, scientists and artists. Their courage and their indomitability left us a lively and interesting history. Their like shall not be seen again.
We, who live in Canada, in New Zealand, and in Australia are forever indebted to Captain Cook and his navigational skills, his surveying skills and his administrative skills as a Captain in the Royal Navy of the middle 18th century, skills which meant mostly peaceful relationships with the Native Peoples where he explored, skills which meant that his crews performed well, and were happy to serve under his command, skills and charisma such that the men who accompanied Captain Cook followed him literally to the ends of the earth and back again. We should always remember them.
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