The Endeavour and the first voyage

This model of the Endeavour was built from the original ship's plans. It is an exact replica, even down to the details such as the cabins inside and the cannons cast in bronze.

The ship looked like a cargo carrier, and the Portuguese viceroy in Brazil was not impressed when His Britannic Majesty's bark Endeavour sailed into Rio de Janeiro harbour in 1768. For all the viceroy knew, the crew could have been a bunch of pirates dressed up as British sailors, raiding shipping on the South American coast. It took quite some persuading from the ship's commander, Lieutenant James Cook, that this was indeed a genuine ship of the British navy, taking a genuine scientific expedition to the Pacific Ocean. Now could they please stock up with supplies?

The Earl of Pembroke, as she was called previously, had been built to carry coal - a fuel deliverer, an 18th century equivalent of today's bulk carrier. She was no speedster. One of the expedition's scientists comments in his journal en route, 'ship going at the rate of 7 knotts, no very usual thing with Mrs Endeavour'. Her maximum speed was eight knots - about fifteen kilometres per hour.

For the Admiralty, however, a two-year voyage of exploration was being planned. The Endeavour was ideal for that purpose, travelling through oceans unknown, and the roughest of possible conditions. She was designed to take a large load, to be stable in heavy seas, and to stand up to their pounding. She had a broad bottom, good for beaching and repairing, and a shallow draught, good for navigating in coastal waters. And she was only four years old. The Endeavour lived up fully to their expectations.

The expedition was a joint project between the Admiralty and the Royal Society. The planet Venus was to cross the face of the sun in June 1769. This was a chance to measure accurately the distance between the Earth and the sun. Once that distance was known, there would be a unit of measurement to measure the universe itself. The Society had persuaded the King and his government of the importance of observing this phenomenon from a variety of places around the world, including the Pacific.

The lords of the Admiralty had other items on their agenda. They wanted a voyage of discovery - to find out whether the fabled great southern continent existed. The Royal Society provided an astronomer for the voyage. The Admiralty provided the ship. They chose James Cook, a highly competent ship's master, as her commander, gave him an officer's commission for the job, and provided the crew.

Then the Society asked the Admiralty to let a naturalist, a young gentleman with money, Joseph Banks, go on the voyage for 'the advancement of useful knowledge'. He would fund himself and his party - two artists, a secretary, four servants, and two dogs. Banks then asked for another botanist, Daniel Solander, to come along as well. And the Admiralty decided to throw in a security force of a dozen marines for good measure. Accommodation was getting somewhat squeezed.

So over 90 people, their baggage and provisions, an assortment of animals, including a milking goat that had just returned from another round-the- world voyage, anchors, cables, sails, guns large and small, trading goods, an arsenal of scientific instruments - all set out in the capacious Endeavour on 25 August 1768.

She arrived back in England almost three years later, on 12 July 1771. It was a triumphant homecoming. Remarkably, nobody had died from scurvy. The health of the company had been generally excellent until the latter part of the voyage, through the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), when nearly all had succumbed to malaria or dysentery, and some thirty had died. The transit of Venus had been duly observed, ocean islands large and small, including New Zealand, had been charted, as well as the whole eastern coast of the Australian continent. Unknown peoples had been encountered, and their places and ways of life had been described in words and pictures. The scientists had come back with their heads and their hands full of previously unrecorded wonders of nature.

Cook hoped that their lordships in the Admiralty would approve the results. Their lordships approved greatly, so did King George III with whom Cook had an hour's audience.

Joseph Banks, man of adventure, was the toast of London society. His party had brought back thousands of specimens and drawings of previously unknown plants and animals - enough for a lifetime of documenting and follow-up research. The expedition became a model for later scientific explorations, including the famous voyage of the Beagle on which Charles Darwin made the observations that led to his theory of evolution.

Because of the achievements of this voyage, previously unknown features of the world's face would become familiar to a whole new generation of people.

More information

Some of the following publications may be found on the Discovery Centre bookshelves, or in Te Aka Matua Library and Information Centre on Level 4. Photographs of Te Papa Collection items may be ordered from Images, on Level 4.

  • Beaglehole, J C. editor. (1955). The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery: the voyage of the Endeavour 1768-1771. vol 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press and the Hakluyt Society.
  • Beaglehole, J C. editor. (1961). The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery: the voyage of the Resolution and Adventure 1772-1775. vol 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press and the Hakluyt Society.
  • Beaglehole, J C. (1974). The Life of Captain James Cook. London: A & C Black.
  • Mackay, David. (1990). James Cook 1728-1779 in The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 1. Wellington: Department of Internal Affairs.
  • Maffey, N A. (1970). Captain Cook's Ship - H. M. bark Endeavour: some historical notes. New Zealand Marine News 21: 4.
Other marine artefacts associated with Captain Cook in Te Papa's collection


1:24 scale model of the Endeavour
made at the National Maritime Museum, London, in 1968
made of wood, metal, and fibre
Presented to the Government and People of New Zealand by the United Kingdom Government, 1969