Endeavour: The Ship and the Attitude that Changed the World by Peter Moore is a most excellent treatise on a ship so famous that even today the name still reverberates around the world. This book is written so well, a history lesson that inspires the reader to think, and to realise how history is made, how discoveries are made, how meeting strange people from unknown territories change everything, and all this because of one ship. I cannot find any fault with the book at all.
It begins with the prologue that has a poet, in the mid 1800s, waxing lyrical about a remnant of a bygone age from the ship. An interesting facet of Endeavour’s history to be sure, then it opens out into explaining how oak, worthy of shipbuilding, is grown, harvested, and finally turned into working vessels. An advert from the year 1767 clearly states that there are 3.543 mature oak trees, all suitable for shipbuilding, and all within 17 miles of Whitby. Multiply this by the length and breadth of England, and we can see how we became almost deforested in comparison to the centuries before.
First named ‘The Earl of Pembroke’, and built at Whitby by Thomas Fishburn, she was originally designed and constructed, as a ’Bark’, a form of coastal collier, primarily to carry coal from Newcastle to London. One almost sails with the ship and crew, as it is written so eloquently, all manner of the peculiarity of shipboard word usage is explained in the narrative. It did not occur to me how a large sail ship moves up a river without an engine, whilst missing other boats and dipping the top gallants (sails) as you manoeuvre past naval ships as a sign of respect.
Then, as the years slipped by, there begins a truly fascinating account of how King George III got involved with the astronomy pertaining to the expected ‘Transit of Venus across the Sun’. A ship was needed in order to sail to a recently discovered island in the Pacific Ocean (Tahiti), then, when completed, the ship is to travel onward, to try and discover a great land to the South (Australia). So begins the second life of the renamed ‘bark’ or collier from Whitby. His Majesty’s Navy called her ‘Endeavour’. This is a voyage like no other, almost a blow-by-blow account, based on the journals of various eminent people that sailed with Captain Cook on this circumnavigation of the globe. I found all this part quite riveting reading, I was certainly surprised as to how much was discovered, people met, mishaps, deaths, strange creatures, and amazing danger each and every day, and night.
Endeavour’s latter years were spent shuttling troops and equipment to the Falkland Isles, or serving as a Prison Hulk on the Thames, or left to rot against the quayside, until the American War of Independence raised its head. Then another ship renaming, it became H.M.S. ‘Lord Sandwich’, after the notorious political bigwig within parliament. Yet another reincarnation then unfolded as a massive fleet of ships were formed, repairs rendered, and modified to transport more troops to America for the War of Independence.
The story is a vast one, although wooden ships did not necessarily last long, Endeavour had seen much, much more than usual, and sadly time took its toll on her. Then, a few years after her demise, the aforementioned poet found her sternpost, preserved in Newport, U.S.A.
I also found the Epilogue quite a decent recap, plus, fetching the name Endeavour right up to the present day. A part of the original ship has been to the Moon. The emotive dream of thinking how Captain Cook must have once looked up at the Moon, little knowing that a tiny bit of the ship beneath his feet will one day be there.
There is so much more in this book of course, some pictures and maps naturally are included, these help smooth the passage of learning. I heartily recommend people to read it if they are at all interested in Historical discovery. I was quite saddened when I reached the end; it is one of those decent books that call to be re-read soon
Reg Seward 5/1
Endeavour: The Ship and the Attitude that Changed the World by Peter Moore
Chatto & Windus 9781784740900 hbk Aug 2018