“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”
These words, composed in the middle of the 19th century by the English Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson, capture the very essence of First Lieutenant James Cook’s Mission as the officer commanding His Majesty’s Bark Endeavour. The lines, from Tennyson’s epic poem, Ulysses, are emblazoned in bronze upon the grey freestone pedestal for the larger than life-size statue of Cook that overlooks the ancient Yorkshire port of Whitby, the place where the Endeavour story began and Cook learnt to sail.
The words “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” have also served as a personal credo for me. They have formed my own “secret, sealed orders” guiding me in my own endeavours over the long and winding course of my lifetime as a writer with a special interest in Australia’s maritime history.
I shall tell you something of my own Endeavour voyage, the journey that has, in some ways, come to shape the course of my own life and, indeed, the lives of so many others who have had the privilege of voyaging aboard the Endeavour replica, the little bark that is, I might add, “the world’s most authentic historic ship replica”. I am proud of the fact that I conceived the idea of building the Endeavour replica, and that I personally raised the many millions of dollars needed to construct her over the course of ten years in Fremantle.
It is very much a personal story, one in which it is therefore necessary for me to put my passions for Endeavour into some perspective. As a child I became a voracious reader of anything and everything to do with Cook and his three great voyages of Pacific discovery. I was inspired by his direct, personal example. The essence of that example was simply this: although one might start out on life’s great journey with no real prospects, one could, by diligence and determination, focus on lofty ideas and, through perseverance, bring them to fruition.
As a schoolboy I earned pocket-money selling newspapers after school in rough-house waterfront pubs. I used that meagre income to buy books on Captain Cook and his voyages, and, where I could not buy them, I borrowed them, or at least read them. I haunted the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney. There, in that sanctum sanctorum, the Mitchell Library, this small, freckled, eager boy, clutching his own rather pathetic white cotton gloves, was so frequent a visitor and so indulged by the librarians that I was given my own Reader’s Ticket, the key that gave me access to all of those rare books on Cook and the great Pacific voyagers.
It was about that time that the utterly naive idea of building a replica of Endeavour began to take shape in my mind. I knew that the original Endeavour had been deliberately sunk by the British in Newport, Rhode Island, during the American War of Independence, so there was no chance of a restoration. The next best thing was to build a replica, and I vowed that if I ever had an opportunity to create such a vessel, I would do so. Such is the stuff of boyhood dreams. Well, although most of our childhood fantasies fade and vanish with the passage of time, in a perverse way, mine grew sharper and more clearly defined.
Many years later, I was working in London when I read a newspaper report of a failed British attempt to build an Endeavour replica at Appledore, an ancient centre of traditional wooden shipbuilding in North Devon, UK. The distinguished Australian author and Master Mariner, Captain Alan Villiers, had hoped to raise the funds to replicate Endeavour, and to circumnavigate the world in the wake of her namesake. But he fell far short of raising the very considerable funds he needed to start the work, and so the project did not proceed.
And indeed, that is where my Endeavour replica story might have ended, had it not been for an opportunity that was given to me in the early 1980s when I returned to Sydney from the United States. There I had been a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, and was later involved in broadcasting and reporting the historic America’s Cup series off Newport, Rhode Island. That race was won by Alan Bond’s revolutionary winged-keel twelve metre Australia II.
The Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, invited me to serve as a member of the Interim Council, the governing body of the infant federal institution known as the Australian National Maritime Museum. I accepted, and in doing so I realised that a golden opportunity lay before me.
I set about finding historic vessels and objects to display within the museum and at its yet to be built wharves. I was successful in securing several vessels that are of the greatest significance to Australia’s maritime heritage. Among them: the famous 18-footer, Britannia; the Victorian fishing smack Thistle; Norway’s Bicentennial gift to the people of Australia, the Colin Archer ketch, Kathleen Gillett; and the New Zealand Bicentennial gift, the plank-on-edge cutter, Akarana, which had swept all before her when she crossed the ditch from Auckland to compete in Australia’s great Centenary Regattas of 1888.
And so, with a blend of optimism bordering on impudence, the youngest member of the Museum’s Council felt emboldened to put forward his Big Idea.
What the museum needed, I said, was a beacon, an attractor, a showpiece vessel; one that would galvanise national and international interest in Australia’s maritime heritage. No vessel, I argued, was better suited to that role than Australia’s Flagship, His Majesty’s Bark Endeavour, the humble little Whitby collier in which Lieutenant James Cook had charted the entire eastern coast of New Holland.
After all, I said, the very word Endeavour speaks directly to all Australians for, in essence, it conveys a concept that has long been central to our national identity as a young, immigrant country: Have A Go! It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you’ve come from, Have A Go, Mate! Endeavour! That was the idea at the very heart of the entire Endeavour Project.
The triumph of Cook’s own life, coming from the humblest of beginnings as the son of a refugee to become, by diligence and sheer perseverance, the greatest navigator the world has ever known, was the perfect illustration of that all-important point. Endeavour was not some great, gilded ship of the line. She started her life as a humble little Whitby collier, hauling coal from the mines of Yorkshire down to the teeming city of London. And yet, she became one of the greatest ships of discovery that the world has ever known.
I’m afraid my Big Idea went down like the proverbial lead balloon. I well remember the scowling looks of condescension and incredulity on the faces of many of my much older fellow Councillors. The museum, I was told, had a strictly limited budget, not one dollar of which was earmarked for ship-building. I was fobbed-off with the notion that, in the unlikely event that I succeeded in raising the money, the Council might then consider getting behind me. But of course, very few of the Councillors in their wildest dreams ever imagined that such an ambitious and enormously costly undertaking would ever get underway.
I was, however, greatly encouraged by two Councillors, both of whom had enjoyed long and distinguished professional sea careers: Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair, who would go on to serve as Governor of New South Wales, and my shipmate and friend, the late Captain John Evans. With the wisdom borne of their many years at sea, they reminded me that “a low ebb always brings a high tide”.
I was, at this stage of my career, a senior staff writer at The Bulletin and later the Editor of Australian Business Monthly. Therefore, I had a considerable number of contacts with Australia’s leading businessmen. I had no difficulty in gaining access to chairmen and Chief Executive Officers (CEOs). They listened carefully to my pleas for funding to kick-start an Endeavour replica Project, but they invariably decided that their corporate dollars could be better spent elsewhere. After many, many corporate doors had been figuratively slammed in my face, I began to feel as if I was embarked upon Mission Impossible. And yet every time I felt despondent, every time I felt like quitting, I somehow contrived to remain afloat on a sea of optimism, buoyed by the certainty that one day someone would not laugh at my proposal but listen and act decisively to help me make it a reality.
I had to wait a very long time, but eventually in 1987, that is exactly what happened.
I was in Fremantle, where I had just concluded a television interview with the entrepreneur Alan Bond, then one of Australia’s most successful businessmen and, of course, the man who had against overwhelming odds, made sporting history by winning the America’s Cup. He was the first challenger in 132 years to win the coveted silver ewer, the symbol of international yachting supremacy. Alan Bond, therefore, knew something about enterprise and initiative, and the value of perseverance in a great endeavour. My Endeavour pitch was by then pretty sharply honed and, as I conveyed it, with all the passionate conviction of a zealot, Alan Bond reacted in a way that no one else had ever done. He was completely and utterly engaged with, and enthralled by, my Big Idea. As I spoke, he leant forward until he sat on the very edge of his chair. And he was excited. When I finished, he nodded enthusiastically, smiled and exclaimed: “That is a great idea! That will be my Bicentennial gift to the people of Australia”.
And then, in a rare, reflective moment, he sat back and said in a quiet voice: “You know, when I came out here from London as a boy of 13, I had the arse out of my pants. We were poor. I worked hard. I made money. But everything I have today is the result of the opportunities that Australia gave me. I think it’s about time that I expressed my gratitude by giving something back to the nation”.
And, without missing a beat, he asked: “Have you got plans for this boat”? I had to stifle a nervous, almost hysterical laugh. “Yes”, I said, “I do have plans”, and from a long cardboard tube I produced the several large sheets of drawings of Endeavour Bark, her lines and her sail plan, that I had purchased many years earlier at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. These were copies of the lines drawn on linen by draftsmen in the Royal Dockyard at Deptford early in 1768, when the four-year-old Earl of Pembroke, a cat-built Whitby collier, was purchased in the Thames. She was taken into the Royal Navy, renamed His Majesty’s Bark Endeavour, and made ready for her historic voyage to the far side of the world “to observe the transit of the planet Venus across the Disc of the Sun”. I showed the drawings to Mr Bond. “Right”, he said, glancing at his watch as if there was not a moment to lose. “Go to three Australian shipyards, and get competitive quotes to construct the ship. Then, come back to me and we will decide how best to proceed”.
I have never won the lottery, and nor do I expect to do so. However, if I ever do, I’m sure it will feel a lot like that moment of soaring exultation in Fremantle; a Eureka Moment in which incredulity and doubt were at last swept aside in a flood tide of emotion. I did exactly as I was told. In due course, I obtained detailed quotations from shipyards in Brisbane, Newcastle and Sydney, and I took them back to Mr Bond. In typical fashion, he didn’t bother poring over the details, but went straight to the bottom line. Building an Endeavour replica would cost in the order of $13 million. “Bugger that”! he said bluntly. “I’ll build it here, in my own backyard in Fremantle. That way I’ll have the daily pleasure of seeing the ship take shape”. Thus it came to pass that over the course of the next ten years, Bond Corporation poured $10 million into the building of the Endeavour replica.
She took shape under the expert guidance of Master Shipwright William McDonald Leonard, a Scot who happens to be one of the world’s leading authorities on wooden boat building. He and a team of very, very talented men and women came together in Fremantle, and little by little, Endeavour grew and grew and took on a life of her own.
But that was not the end of the Endeavour saga. As generous as Bond Corporation’s funding was, it was not sufficient to finish the ship. Bond Corporation ran into financial difficulties, and ceased its funding for Endeavour. The ship needed several million dollars more. I recall taking a somewhat desperate telephone call one day from John Longley, the Endeavour replica Project’s general manager. “You got us into this mess, Stannard”, he told me bluntly, “and now you will have to get us out of it”.
I had been reappointed to the Australian National Maritime Museum’s Council, but the museum remained adamant that no federal funding would be made available from its scarce resources. I would have to go back to banging on corporate doors all over again. But, by that time, the corporate collapse of the Bond empire meant that the big end of town was even less interested than it had been in becoming involved with an enterprise so closely identified with Alan Bond. The man they had all been so willing to embrace when he won the America’s Cup was now well and truly persona non grata.
It was at that low ebb that David Phippard, a member of the board of the Sydney Maritime Museum, suggested that I introduce myself to Arthur Weller, Chairman of the Sirius Marine Insurance Group, and the chief instigator of Britain’s Bicentennial Gift to Australia, the brigantine Young Endeavour. Arthur, later Sir Arthur Weller, was a quietly-spoken Scot, a former Master Mariner, who was of course intimately familiar with the story of Cook and Endeavour. As a highly successful international businessman, he knew at once the proper course that had to be followed on what had become a rescue mission. Arthur often used the auld Scottish expression “I hae ma doots” when he was uncertain about something, but, when we met at his home at Vaucluse, he had no doubts. He went first to the kitchen fridge, took out a nicely chilled bottle of Moët & Chandon champagne, and with considerable panache, popped the cork and poured the bubbly. In a calm and measured voice he explained the business strategy that was to be adopted. We would form the HM Bark Endeavour Foundation, an independent charitable trust that would take possession of the unfinished ship, without paying a penny, but with the all-important promise to finance her completion. The Foundation would have a distinguished board of highly reputable businessmen, lawyers and accountants, who would all be unpaid volunteers. But, once again, the onus would fall upon me to raise the necessary funds. Arthur Weller proposed a toast: “To the Endeavour Bark”! to which I responded with a toast of my own: “Trust And Go Forward”!
One day, out of the blue, I received a most extraordinary invitation, asking me to have breakfast with a gentleman who wished to help my Endeavour fund-raising efforts. Mr Garfield Weston was that rarity, one of the world’s wealthiest individuals who also happened to have a life-long passion for Captain Cook. A Canadian who lived in London, he had built up a wonderful library of Cook-related material. He and his brother, Gaylord, owned Weston Milling, one of the world’s biggest flour milling and baking enterprises. He was a busy man, but, during a flying visit to inspect his Australian operations, I met him for breakfast in his office in Christie Street, St Leonards, NSW.
Mr Weston turned out to be a grey-haired, reserved and quietly-spoken gentleman in his eighties. I was ushered into his office and, while he sat behind a wonderful leather-topped antique desk, his personal assistant poured us English Breakfast tea, and proffered plates of croissants with lashings of butter and raspberry jam. Mr Weston tucked in and listened intently while I launched in to what was by this time, my well-rehearsed Endeavour plea. After 15 minutes he had finished his breakfast, but I had not touched mine. I sipped my stone-cold tea, and waited with no great expectations. But then, he smiled, and almost clapped his hands in glee. “Sir”, he said, “You have brought the Endeavour to life again without any ghastly corporate intrusions upon her integrity. If you give me your solemn word of honour that you will not burden the ship with commercial signage of any sort, if you agree to retain her historic purity, I should like to make a handsome contribution”.
I shook his hand warmly, and heard a disembodied voice (my own) giving him my personal undertaking, without reference to the board, that we would not put Suzuki on the sails nor Mitsubishi on the hull. Garfield Weston reached into his desk drawer, took out a very large Bank of Scotland cheque book, and wrote a cheque for £500,000 Stg, a figure that was then worth A$1.16 million. I took the cheque, but being a superstitious sailor, I did not dare to fold it much less put it away. We shook hands again. I had been given all that money on the strength of my personal assurance and one trembling handshake.
Needless to say, the Endeavour Foundation’s Board was pleased to have that cheque. However, it was still not enough to complete the ship, and have her launched, rigged and made ready to sail. For that I had to raise yet another million dollars. How easily that number rolls off the tongue! And yet, how hard it proved to raise that final million. Over the next few months I went cap-in-hand to some of Australia’s most prominent entrepreneurs, none of whom wished to have anything whatsoever to do with Alan Bond.
John Singleton, one of Australia’s most successful advertising men, listened intently before politely declining. His close friends in business had warned him off. I went away from his office feeling at a very low ebb indeed. I had worked my way through a Who’s Who of Australian businessmen, and they had, without exception, turned me down. But then, about two weeks later, Mr Singleton telephoned me from the United States. “Listen”, he said, “I’ve just flown over the Pacific. I was looking down at all that water, thinking about Captain Cook and the Endeavour. Now, how much money did you say you needed to finish the ship”? I told him, $1 million. “One million dollars”, he repeated, “and not a penny more, right”? “Right”, I said. “Well, I’ll give you the last million, provided you don’t mind getting the money in four separate tranches”. No, I said, I didn’t mind that at all.
When I put the phone down, I was trembling, not with excitement but with the kind of quaking, emotional exhaustion to which long distance athletes so often succumb at the end of a marathon run. John Singleton’s exceptional generosity not only allowed us to finish building the Endeavour replica but to launch her, to rig her and to conduct her sea trials. I sailed from Albany to Adelaide on Endeavour’s maiden voyage, which was for me the unforgettable Voyage of a Lifetime. As for the Museum, well, eventually, after Endeavour circumnavigated the world, and proved herself as an international drawcard, the councillors relented and took her into the museum’s collection. There she remains: not tied up to the wharves, but voyaging, just as I always intended, taking the inspiring story of Captain James Cook and Endeavour to the world.
Far from being some inanimate object, the Endeavour replica is a living symbol of what can be achieved by the single-minded pursuit of an ideal: “To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield. To follow knowledge, like a sinking star, beyond the utmost bound of human thought”.
Bruce Stannard, AM
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 31, volume 44, number 3 (2021).
your email address will not be published