Reading is not enough, however. A novel must also be a lived experience. Thus I had a magical eight-day sail on the Endeavour replica from Melbourne to Sydney. I went as a full fare-paying supernumerary, unsure how much a 64-year-old landlubber would manage as part of the crew.
In fact I did most of what I wanted. I climbed 30 feet up the foremast to the futtock shrouds, stood my trick at the wheel, swabbed the deck, served my watch, slept one night in a hammock (which was quite enough), and was violently seasick for a day. That too, is part of it; and I had my reward when going on deck one dawn, Captain Mattson pointed to a grey smudge on the horizon.
"That’s Point Hicks", he said, and I had one of those brief moments of epiphany. For me and my family, I thought, this is where it all began, with Endeavour’s first landfall in New Holland.
With Australian CCS friends we spent time exploring the landing place at Botany Bay, and had an illuminating day on Port Hacking looking at remnants of Aboriginal Australia still to be found in metropolitan Sydney by those who know how to look. At Cooktown, where Endeavour men had a dispute over turtles with the Aborigines, the Guugu Yimithirr people explained the "sharing code" – as potent now as it was then.
I went to the important New Zealand landing places: Poverty Bay, and Queen Charlotte Sound – called "Cannibal Bay" by Endeavour men and appearing as such on the map in Sydney Parkinson’s Journal. There were five sensuous days in Tahiti, feeling the black sand of Matavai Bay between my toes, for the colours, smells, sounds and sensations of place influence every word a novelist writes.
So with England, breathing the atmosphere that still remains from Georgian London and Deptford; meeting one of Isaac’s descendants, Michael Manley; and staying at Braziers, the lovely house Isaac remodelled in the gothic style in Oxfordshire. For he prospered, and by living for a few days in the rooms Isaac inhabited the man’s presence became far more tangible. I could see how he ordered his life.
Even after I began writing and editing, more of Patrick O’Brian’s "jewels" of authenticity were discovered. Quite by chance I found a little-known portrait of Robert Molineux at Otago University, New Zealand, and had to reinvent his character. This was not the rather rough "tarpaulin" I’d imagined, but an intelligent young gentleman. "Thee" and "tha" became "you" and "your".
Cook’s Log arrived in April 2008 with another treasure - a letter from Isaac’s father to Mrs Cook in 1777, saying that his son "spoke with much acknowledgement of both yours & Cap. Cook’s kindness to him & desir’d to be remember’d to you both." It resolved a problem I’d discussed at the 2006 Marton meeting.
Isaac joined Resolution as a midshipman, but he was discharged on 8 April 1772 before it sailed and went to another ship. Had he parted with Cook on bad terms? CCS members thought not. Isaac would hardly have found another berth in peacetime had he fallen out with his Captain – and here was confirmation of his goodwill, in time to find a place.
Finally, one more gem for Isaac’s book. The National Library of Australia has a copy of Falconer’s Dictionary of the Marine from 1769, which was used on Discovery during Cook’s Third Voyage. It has twelve engraved plates of ships and their component parts. I found them on the Internet and was keen to use some of them. I have always loved books with pictures that take me back to another age, and the words that help guide me through.
It was a struggle to find the space. But in the end Captain Cook’s Apprentice has Falconer’s engravings to enrich the ideas it contains. And at the head of every chapter showing the way is the very compass rose from a book that the great navigator himself knew.
Jewels of authenticity, indeed.
Anthony Hill, Author
Captain Cook’s Apprentice was published in September 2008 by Penguin Books Australia.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 46, volume 31, number 4 (2008).