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Captain James Cook

Greatest explorer of his age
Cook's early life and career
Cook and the Pacific voyages
HM Bark 'Endeavour'
Science and natural history on Cook's voyages
Navigation
The aftermath
Cook's later years
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HM Bark Endeavour

Ideal explorer

Model of the Endeavour
View full size imageModel of HMS Endeavour.
HM Bark Endeavour was a Whitby-built collier originally called the Earl of Pembroke. The ship was less than 30 metres (100 feet) long and about 9 metres (29 feet) wide.

When being used in the coal trade, colliers were little more than floating coal stores and it was the capacity of their large holds that made them ideal for exploration.

The ship was expected to be away from Britain for up to three years and needed to be self-sufficient for most of that time.

Round bottom advantage

Repairing of Captain Cook's ship in Endeavour River (Cook's first voyage).
View full size imageRepairing the Endeavour.
Another advantage that east-coast colliers had was that they were 'round-bottomed'. This meant that if they grounded on a sandbank, or beach, which was often necessary to unload their cargos they would stay relatively upright. This could be a great advantage on a voyage of exploration where a ship's bottom would often need to be 'careened' (cleaned) or repaired in isolated spots.

Cook did not actually choose the Endeavour, but he would have been very familiar with the type as it was identical to the vessels he had sailed on when delivering coal from the north of England to London.

Coal ship conversion

A Geometrical Plan, & North East Elevation Of His Majesty's Dock-Yard at Deptford, with Part of the Town, &c
View full size imagePlan of Deptford Dockyard.

The Earl of Pembroke was bought by the Royal Navy for £2800. It was renamed Endeavour and taken to Royal Dockyard at Deptford in south-east London to be altered for the voyage.

The Endeavour's alterations received were given a high priority at the yard, and the work of fitting the new deck, masts, yards and sails cost a further £2500 (the cost of buying the ship and refitting it was around £1 million in today's values).

Larger crew

Admiralty Sheer Draughts of the Endeavour, 1768
View full size imageAdmiralty Sheer Draughts of the Endeavour, 1768. © NMM
Colliers normally had a crew of about 12 men. For Cook's voyage to the Pacific, nearly 100 men were to be carried.

A new deck was built by Deptford Dockyard. It ran the length of the ship, splitting the vast coal hold in two and creating the extra space needed to house the larger crew. The only problem was that the accommodation it created forward and aft (at the front and back of the ship) was little over 1 metre (3 feet 3 inches) high, so the men living in these spaces would have to bend double to move around.

Travellers' quarters

Admiralty Deck Plan of the Endeavour, 1768
View full size imageAdmiralty Deck Plan of the Endeavour, 1768
This deck plan shows the living quarters designed to house the travellers on Captain Cook's first voyage. These were:

  • the naturalist Joseph Banks and his two dogs
  • Banks's assistants Daniel Solander and Herman Sporing
  • artists Sydney Parkinson and Alexander Buchan
  • the astonomer, Charles Green. 

The Great Cabin (the large cabin at the stern) would normally have been the captain's. On this voyage the space was shared by Cook, the scientists and the artists and used as a workroom. It was the best-lit and aired cabin in the ship and so the best place for book work.

The sleeping cabins were often less than two metres square. Although Joseph Banks had his own cabin, he was a tall man and tended to sling his hammock in the Great Cabin.


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Glossary
Collier

Find out more
Fact fileCaptain James Cook
Surveyor of Australia and the Pacific
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Fact fileHM Bark ‘Endeavour’
Captain Cook's ship for sailing to the South Seas
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GalleriesFamous Thames ships
The great and the good
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GalleriesDeptford Royal Dockyard collection
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StoriesDeptford and Woolwich: London's Royal Dockyards
The rise and decline of Henry VIII's Dockyards
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GalleriesThe transit of Venus
See the first photographs of a transit of Venus, taken by astronomers of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, in 1874
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National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory GreenwichNew Opportunities Fund 
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