Built as a collier in Whitby, North Yorkshire, she was purchased by the Navy to permit the observation of the 1769 transit of Venus over the Pacific Ocean, and then to explore the seas for the postulated Terra Australis Incognita or "unknown southern land."
After an extensive refit at Deptford she departed Plymouth in August 1768 for a four-month voyage across the Atlantic to Cape Horn and then into the South Pacific, reaching Tahiti in April 1769. The transit observed in July of that year, the Endeavour headed south to explore the open seas.
In September 1769 she became the first European vessel to reach New Zealand since Abel Tasman's ship Heemskerck in 1642. For six months she sailed along the New Zealand coast to allow Cook to map the shoreline, then journeyed west to become the first ship to make landfall on the eastern coast of Australia. Returning northward along the Australian coast, she narrowly avoided shipwreck on the Great Barrier Reef, was struck by lightning in Batavia in the Dutch East Indies and lost a third of her crew to tropical disease before finally returning to England in 1771.
Renamed and sold into private hands in 1775, she briefly returned to naval service as a troop transport during the American Revolution. In 1778 she was deliberately scuttled in a blockade of Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island.
Her wreck has not been precisely located, but relics including six of her cannons and an anchor are displayed at maritime museums worldwide. A replica of the Endeavour was launched in 1994 and is berthed alongside the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney Harbour.
The Endeavour was originally a merchant collier named Earl of Pembroke, launched in June 1764 from the coal and whaling port of Whitby in North Yorkshire. She was ship-rigged and sturdily built with a broad, flat bow and a square stern. Her hull, internal floors and futtocks were built from white oak, her keel and stern post from elm and her masts from pine and fir.
A slow-moving vessel, her flat-bottomed hull was well-suited to sailing in shallow waters. As with other colliers of her day, she was designed to be beached for loading and unloading of cargo and to allow for basic repairs without requiring a dry dock. Her length was 106 ft (32.3m), and 97 ft 7 in. on her lower deck, with a beam of 29 ft 3 in (8.9 m). Her burthen was 368 71/94 tons.
Some doubt exists about the height of her masts, as surviving diagrams of the Endeavour depict the body of the vessel only, and not the mast plan. While her main and foremasts are accepted to be a standard 129 and 110 feet respectively, an annotation on one surviving ship plan records the mizzen as "16 yards 29 inches" (49 ft). If correct, this would produce an oddly truncated mast a full thirty feet shorter than the standards of the day. Modern research suggests the annotation may be a transcription error and should read "26 yards 29 inches" (79 ft), which would more closely conform with both the naval standards and the lengths of the other masts.
Royal approval was granted for the expedition, and the Admiralty elected to combine the scientific voyage with a confidential mission to search the south Pacific for signs of the postulated continent Terra Australis Incognita (or "unknown southern land").
The Royal Society suggested command be given to Scottish geographer Alexander Dalrymple, whose acceptance was conditional on a brevet commission as a Navy captain. However, First Lord of the Admiralty Edward Hawke refused, going so far as to say he would rather cut off his right hand than give command of a Navy vessel to someone not educated as a seaman. In refusing to Dalrymple's command, Hawke was influenced by previous insubordination aboard the sloop HMS Paramour in 1698, when naval officers had refused to take orders from civilian commander Dr Edmond Halley.
The impasse was broken when the Admiralty proposed James Cook, a Naval officer with a scientific background including expertise in mathematics and cartography. Acceptable to both parties, Cook was promoted to Lieutenant and named as commander of the expedition.
On 27 May 1768 Cook took command of the Lord Pembroke, newly purchased by the Navy for the sum of £2307 5s. 6d. and assigned for use in the Society's expedition. She was refitted at Deptford on the River Thames, with sheathing and caulking to protect against shipworms and a third deck to provide additional cabins and storerooms. On 21 July 1768 she was sailed to Galleon's Reach to take on cannons, and on 30 July to Plymouth for provisioning and to board a crew of 85 including 12 Royal Marines. Loosely classified by the Navy as a bark, she was registered as the "Bark Endeavour" to distinguish her from another Endeavour in the Royal Navy, a 14-gun sloop. She was not however a true 'bark', having instead a set of square rigged sails and a full stern.
The Endeavour departed Plymouth on 26 August 1768, carrying 94 people including naturalists Joseph Banks, Herman Spöring and Daniel Solander, and astronomer Charles Green. Livestock on board included two greyhounds and a milking goat.
The voyage commenced with a landfall among the Madeira Islands, then continued along the west coast of Africa and across the Atlantic to South America arriving in Rio de Janeiro on 13 November, 1768. The next leg rounded Cape Horn into the South Pacific, reaching Tahiti on 10 April 1769, where she remained for the next three months while preparations were made for observing the transit of Venus.
The transit observed in July 1769, the Endeavour continued with her "unannounced" mission of charting the Southern Hemisphere. In September 1769 she reached the coastline of New Zealand, becoming the first European vessel to do so since Abel Tasman discovered the islands in 1642. The Endeavour spent the next six months sailing close to shore under some harassment from the Māori population, to allow Cook to map the coastline and determine that New Zealand was in fact two islands and not part of a larger continent. In March 1770 the Endeavour longboat carried Cook ashore to allow him to formally claim New Zealand for Great Britain. On his return the Endeavour resumed her voyage westward, sighting the coast of Australia on 19 April. On 29 April she became the first European vessel to make landfall on the east coast of Australia, when Cook landed one of the ships boats on the southern shore of what is now known as Botany Bay, New South Wales.
For the next four months Cook charted the coast of Australia, heading generally northward. Just before 11pm on the evening of 11 June 1770 the ship struck a reef, today called Endeavour Reef, within the Great Barrier Reef system. The sails were immediately taken down, a kedging anchor set and an unsuccessful attempt made to drag the ship back to open water. The reef Endeavour had struck stood so steeply from the seabed that although the ship was hard aground, Cook measured up to 70 feet of water less than one ship's length away.
Because it was already high tide the only other option was to lighten the ship to float her off, so iron and stone ballast, spoiled stores and all but four of the ships guns were thrown overboard and the ship's drinking water pumped out. Buoys were attached to the guns with the intention of retrieving them later, but this proved impractical. Every man on board took turns on the pumps including Cook, Banks and the other officers.
When by Cook's reckoning about 40 or 50 tons of equipment had been thrown overboard, on the high tide the next morning a further unsuccessful attempt was made to pull the ship free. In the afternoon of 12 June the longboat carried out two large bower anchors and block and tackle were rigged to the anchor chains to allow another attempt on the evening high tide. The ship started to take on water through the damage from the reef. Although the leak would certainly increase once off the reef, Cook decided to risk the attempt and at about 10:20pm the ship was floated on the tide and successfully drawn off. The anchors were retrieved, except for one which could not be freed from the seabed.
As expected, the leak increased with the ship off the reef and all three working pumps had to be continually manned. A mistake happened in sounding the depth of water in the hold when a new man measured from the outside plank where his predecessor had used the the top of the cross-beams of the hull. The mistake suggested the water depth had increased by about 18 inches between soundings, sending a wave of fear through the ship. As soon as the mistake was realised, redoubled efforts kept the pumps ahead of the leak.
The prospects if the ship sank were grim. The vessel was miles from shore and the three ship's boats could not carry the entire crew. Those who survived would also be left unarmed and without food in an unknown land. Despite this, the diaries of Joseph Banks noted the calm efficiency of the crew in the face of danger, contrary to stories he had heard of seamen turning to plunder and refusing command in such circumstances.
Midshipman Jonathon Munkhouse proposed fothering the ship, as he had been on a merchant ship which used the technique successfully. He was entrusted with supervising the task, sewing bits of oakum and wool into an old sail, which was then drawn under the ship (on the outside), the theory being that water pressure (from the sea) would push those materials into the hole in the hull, plugging it. This technique worked better than any had hoped and soon very little water was entering, allowing the pumps to be stopped.
The crew proceeded north looking for a safe harbour in which to make repairs and on the afternoon of 13 June came to a watercourse that Cook named the Endeavour River. The settlement of Cooktown would later be established at the mouth of the river. Strong winds and rain prevented the ship getting across the bar until the afternoon of 17 June. There she was beached and careened her to make repairs to the hull. A piece of coral the size of a man's fist had sliced clean through the planks of the hull and broken off. Surrounded by pieces of oakum, the coral fragment had helped plug the hole in the hull and preserved the ship from sinking on the reef.
The Endeavours good luck continued when it avoided damage after being struck by lightning while in port, thanks to rudimentary "electric chain" or lightning rod that Cook had ordered rigged to her mast.
The Endeavour then turned for home, arriving after several landfalls on July 11, 1771. Approximately one month after his return Cook was promoted to the rank of Commander and by November 1771 was in receipt of Admiralty Orders for a new expedition to the southern hemisphere. He was killed in an altercation with native Hawaiians at Kealakekua Bay on February 14, 1779.
While Cook was feted for his successful voyage, the Endeavour itself was not. With her exploration mission at an end she was refitted as a stores ship and made four tedious return voyages to the Falkland Islands before being sold to shipping magnate J. Mather for £645 in 1775. The increasingly decrepit vessel was surveyed for voyages to Archangel in Russia, and was renamed the Lord Sandwich in February 1776.
In late 1776 Mather was asked by the Admiralty to provide one of his ships to transport Hessian mercenaries to Newport, Rhode Island for service against the Colonial Americans. Mather offered to return the ageing Lord Sandwich to military service, but her condition was so poor that she was declared unseaworthy and underwent extensive repairs to meet the Navy's survey standards.
After delivering her mercenary cargo, the Lord Sandwich was retained at anchor and intermittently used as a prison ship under the British flag.
In 1834 a letter appeared in the Providence Journal of Rhode Island drawing attention to the possible presence of the former Endeavour on the seabed of the bay. This was swiftly disputed by the British consul in Rhode Island, who wrote claiming the Endeavour had been bought from Mather by the French in 1790 and renamed La Liberte. The consul later admitted he had heard this not from the Admiralty, but as hearsay from the former owners of the French ship. It was later suggested the Liberty which sank off Newport in 1793 was in fact another of Cook's ships, the former HMS Resolution, or another Endeavour, a naval schooner sold out of service in 1782.
Despite the apparent lack of evidence for the consul's claims, his letter sparked a lively debate about whether the Endeavour was indeed sunk off Newport, or had met a different and less inglorious end. A further letter to the Providence Journal stated that a retired English sailor was conducting guided tours of a hulk on the River Thames as late as 1825, claiming that the ship was Cook's Endeavour.
No particular conclusion was reached regarding these theories, until in 1991 the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project began research into the identity of the ten transports sunk as part of the blockade, including whether the Lord Sandwich recorded as having been sunk was originally Cook's Endeavour.
Files held at the Public Record Office in London provided a body of evidence that the Lord Sandwich sunk at Newport had the same dimensions and characteristics as the HM Bark Endeavour. The records included references to the Lord Sandwich, accepted into transport service to Rhode Island on 4 February 1776 with a "Burthen according to Measurem[en]t" of 368 71/94 tons and Above 7 ft 6 in Height, between Decks Midships 7 ft 9, in Abaft 7 ft 11 in.", entering pay (the date of crewing) on 7 February. A ledger called "Entry of Transport Charter Party's 1774 - 1794" also records the Lord Sandwich under contract as of 2 January 1776, entering into pay on 7 February and with tonnage of 368 71/94 tons. The dates and measurements match those of the Bark Endeavour at the time of its sale by the Admiralty in 1775.
A letter was also found from Captain Brisbane to Admiral Howe in New York, indicating that the Lord Sandwich was one of the transports sunk in the blockade:
As to the time the Garrison may be able to sustain the Attempts of the Enemy, Is the General says, very uncertain and depends upon the Numbers they throw in—With respect to the nature of their hostile operations, There are two Ships of the Line up the Naraganset [sic] Passage; Two Frigates a large Brig and two Sloops in the Seconnet; The rest consisting of Ten Sail of the Line and one Frigate are still at Anchor without any form, between Churche's [sic] Point, (which forms the West Side of Easton's Beach) and Brenton's Reef, the Southmost about 5 miles Distance from the Island, the other Frigate is supposed to be Cruizing off Montock Point". The blockade ships sunk during August 1778 included HM Frigates Juno 32; Lark 32; Orpheus 32; Cerberus 28; a number of HM Galley ships Spitfire; Alarm; Pigot; sloop Flora 12 pdr (later raised); and the Sloops Falcon (later raised); and Kingfisher, and ten transports including Lord Sandwich.
A further link between the two vessels was provided in a letter by Endeavour's purchaser James Mather, requesting a valuation certificate from the Deptford Naval Yard for compensation for the loss of the Lord Sandwich:
Honble Sirs. The Masters of the Transports Destroy’d at Rhode Island are arriv[e]d and passing their Accounts at the Victualling Office, I beg the favour you will be pleased to order the Deptford Officers to Send up the Value of Eache [sic].
A Royal Navy valuation certificate was then issued for the vessel lost, including the "Lord Sandwich of 368 71/94 tons"
After examining the evidence, the head of the Rhode Island Marine Archeology Project, Dr Kathryn Abbass concluded:
Based on the Public Records Office documents, there can be no doubt that this is the same Lord Sandwich that had been HMB Endeavour, and that she was one of the transports sunk in Newport's outer harbour in 1778. If Connell and Liddy ("Cook's Bark Endeavour: Did this Vessel end her days in Newport, Rhode Island?", Great Circle Vol. 19, No 1 1997) are correct that La Liberte was Cook's Resolution, abandoned at a dock in Newport's inner harbour in 1793, then Newport was the final port of call for two of the four vessels that went around the world with Captain James Cook.
Confirmation that Cook's former ship was indeed in Narragansett Bay sparked considerable media and public interest in locating the actual wreck. However, while researchers identified six potential sites and photographed relics including a cannon, an anchor and part of an eighteenth century ceramic teapot, too little evidence exists to identify precisely which one may once have been the Endeavour. In 2006 the Director of the Archaeology Project announced the wrecks would not be raised, and the former Endeavour would remain in its resting place on the seabed.
In 1886 the Working Men's Progress Association of Cooktown sought to recover the six cannons thrown overboard when the Endeavour grounded on the Great Barrier Reef. A £300 reward was offered for anyone who could locate and recover the guns, but searches that year and the next were fruitless and the money went unclaimed.
In 1937 a small part of the Endeavour's keel was gifted to the Australian Government by the philanthropist Charles Wakefield in his capacity as President of the Admiral Arthur Phillip Memorial. Australian Prime Minister Joseph Lyons described the section of keel "intimately associated with the discovery and foundation of Australia."
Searches also resumed for the lost cannons, but expeditions in 1966, 1967 and 1968 were unsuccessful. The cannons were finally recovered in 1969 by a research team from the American Academy of Natural Sciences. Kaufman employed a sophisticated magnetometer to locate the cannons, iron ballast and the abandoned bower anchor. Conservation work on the cannons was undertaken by the Australian National Maritime Museum, which displays two of the cannons at its headquarters in Sydney's Darling Harbour. A third cannon and the bower anchor are displayed at the James Cook Museum in Cooktown and the remaining three cannons at maritime museums in London,Philadelphia and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington. All six cannons remain the property of the Australian Maritime Museum on indefinite loan to other institutions.
In January 1988, to commemorate the Australian Bicentenary of European settlement in Australia, work began in Fremantle, Western Australia on a replica of Endeavour. Financial difficulties delayed completion until April 1994, and the replica vessel commenced her maiden voyage in October of that year by tracing Cook's passage from Botany Bay northward to Cooktown. From 1996 to 2002 the replica retraced Cook's ports of call aroundthe world, ariving in the original Endeavour's home port of Whitby in June 2002.
In late 2002 the ship was used as a prop in the 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and visited various Mediterannean ports before undertaking her final ocean voyage from Plymouth to Sydney Harbour on 8 November 2004. On arrival in Sydney the replica had travelled , a distance equivalent to twice around the world.
Ownership of the vessel was transferred to the Australian Government in 2005 and it is now permanently moored beside the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney.