On Tuesday, 25th March the Endeavour replica was due to arrive in London. I decided that I wanted to see her sail in. A phone call (actually, several) to the offices of the HM Bark Endeavour Foundation (temporarily set up at Greenwich) told me that she would be passing Greenwich at 12.30 p.m., passing under the raised Tower Bridge at 1.45 p.m., doing a Uee (apparently an Australian term for a U-turn), then passing under Tower Bridge at 2.30 p.m. before mooring at the Tower buoy.
Right, so I needed an excuse to be in my London office that day, which is handily sighted near the Tower of London. A meeting for 3 o’clock was duly arranged, which gave me return train tickets from Ipswich to London and time to see the ship beforehand. Just before I left home, I set up my video-recorder to record every news programme scheduled that day, in the hope that some of them would feature the ship’s arrival. One did just before I left, and I was able to see a live report from the ship moored overnight down river at Gravesend. A fine start to the day.
The train brought me in to Liverpool St. Station, from where I walked to my office, calling in at a post office to buy some of the Captain Cook aerogrammes on sale for the first time that day. I asked for 30, but was told that the post office had only 25! So I bought 20, and asked to have the piece of paper wrapped around them, as it said “Captain Cook” on it. It’s amazing the things that I collect. I then walked to another post office where I bought another 10, and took the wrapper from there as well.
Leaving my bag at the office, I caught a train on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to Island Gardens, the last station on the line. A few yards took me to a small park at the river’s edge, directly opposite Greenwich. There I met Chris North, who had travelled down that morning from his home to see the ship as well, having arrived about half-past nine. We waited longer than we expected, as the ship did not arrive until nearly one o’clock. The crowd in the park was growing, so I walked up and down talking to many of them to seek out those interested enough in Captain Cook to want to take one of my leaflets about the Captain Cook Study Unit. I found a few takers. Amongst the waiting people were an Australian, a New Zealander and the official photographer from the National Maritime Museum.
We could tell the ship was about to arrive when two large boats full of photographers (presumably of the press variety) turned up and positioned themselves right in front of us. Our fine view of Greenwich Hospital, as seen in Canaletto’s marvellous painting of 1752, was blocked!
Then she was here, speeding through the water. A glorious sight. Feverish activity as I tried to take sensible pictures with two cameras (one with a wide-angle and one with a telephoto lens) and a camcorder. And she was gone. A helicopter flew overhead. The press were gone in their two boats. And so was I, up to Tower Bridge before she got there. Chris North dashed through the foot tunnel to be picked up by a friend waiting in a car for his journey to the bridge. I ran to the station and caught the next train to the Tower. Just before the train departed I could see the masts of the ship over the top of some houses in the distance!
At journey’s end I dashed down the stairs and over the road to Tower Bridge, where hoards of people were queuing to go in the lift to the Bridge’s exhibition and then up to the walkway which runs from the tower on the north bank to the one on the south bank. A friend at work had arranged for me to receive a complimentary ticket from a friend of hers who works on the bridge. This would enable me to film the ship from above as she sailed below the raised bridge, and the fixed walkway. I had plenty of time, so joined the queue. Just as I reached the cash till, a cry went up, “The Ship’s coming; the bridge is going up”. I decided that I wouldn’t have time to get up in the lift and position myself in time, so dashed outside to take some shots of her going through. All I got were some photos of her masts (with some of the crew in the shrouds) passing by. I re-joined the queue for the lift, knowing that it would be over half an hour before she returned. Just as a got to the cash till, a cry went up, “The Ship’s coming; the bridge is going up”! I dithered, not sure whether to believe that she was coming back through so quickly. Should I continue and go up in the lift, risking missing her? No. I reluctantly went back outside and photographed her coming, slowly, back through the bridge, a tiny shape against HMS Belfast, the World War II ship permanently moored opposite the Tower of London.
Eventually, I made my way to my office, collected my bag and made my way to the meeting. It was not as enjoyable as watching the Endeavour. On my way home I obtained a copy of London’s evening paper, and found a photo of the ship in the Thames - but not at Greenwich.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1400, volume 20, number 3 (1997).