Endeavour: The Ship That Changed the World by Peter Moore

‘Endeavour still has a place in many people’s hearts today.’

HMB Endeavour was the ship in which Lieutenant James Cook undertook his first voyage of discovery between 1768 and 1771.  While the primary purpose of that mission was to observe the Transit of Venus from Tahiti, her secondary mission (to search for the elusive southern continent) led to the charting of New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia.

In this book, Mr Moore writes about the different lives and voyages of the Endeavour and her place in history.  She was built in Whitby, first named the Earl of Pembroke and was worked as a collier until purchased by the Royal Navy in 1768.

‘Once afloat in 1764, she lived three distinct lives, under three distinct names, in three theatres of history.’

The story of the Endeavour is also the story of 18th century exploration by Britain, of scientific advances as well as of exploitation and imperialism.

While I knew that the Endeavour was built in Whitby and had been a collier, I knew nothing about what happened to her after 1771.  I’ve been on the replica of the HMB Endeavour in Sydney and marvelled at how such a small vessel could have carried the men and supplies necessary for the voyage and then transport more than 30,000 botanical specimens back to England.


But the real story, Mr Moore writes, starts in Restoration England when the two hundred or so oak trees required to build the ship started growing.  I like the idea of a connection between the time when the Royal Society was created (in 1660) and the Endeavour sailing in what is known as ‘The Age of Enlightenment’.

I was interested to learn that the Endeavour (then called the Lord Sandwich) was one of about 350 ships assembled off Staten Island before the Battle of Brooklyn (during the American Revolution) in August 1776.  In 1778 she came to an end, sank by the British at Newport to try to obstruct the French fleet, which had arrived to help the revolutionaries.

I found this book fascinating.  The history of the Endeavour held my attention but what made the book even more interesting for me was the way in which Mr Moore wrote about the period in which she sailed.  I learned more about the building of ships at Whitby, about some of the great projects undertaken during the second half of the 18th century and about observations around the Transit of Venus.

‘History often conceals facts.  Sometimes, however, through a long lens, it is possible to discern things that were entirely hidden to those closest to the scene.’

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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