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July - September 1768


The main items of business for James Cook as July 1768 began were preparing Endeavour for the intended voyage and assembling a crew.  The Dockyard at Deptford had been working for a couple of months preparing the vessel while various agencies, including the Victualling Office, had been working to stock the vessel with food, provisions, stores, tools, etc., for a projected expedition of two to three years.


By the beginning of July, the names of 79 men (plus one widow’s man1) had appeared on the Endeavour muster including Richard Orton, the replacement clerk, who joined on 30 June 1768.  14 of those men had already run, while three more had been discharged, meaning there were now 63 men from the muster on the ship.  Between then and late August, when the ship sailed from Plymouth, 15 more men signed on (plus another widow’s man).  However, four more men ran before the voyage began and two more were discharged.


To sum up, the muster had reached 96 people when Endeavour arrived at Plymouth (included the two widow’s men) and, given that 18 men had run and five had been discharged, this meant that 71 people were in the ship’s company. 


Cook had several friendly faces as a group of men signed on from Newfoundland days on the schooner/brig Grenville.  They were William Howson as Captain’s servant, Isaac Smith as Midshipman, Peter Flower as able seaman (AB), Timothy Reardon as AB, Thomas Hardman as Boatswain’s mate and Alexander Weir as Quartermaster; Weir had joined Grenville only that year, and had not actually sailed in her.  Also, John Charlton mysteriously appeared on the muster in May 1770 in Australia, replacing Howson as Captain’s servant, just as Howson had replaced him in equally strange circumstances in 1767 off Western Newfoundland.  Two more Grenville men joined but did not sail in Endeavour.  James Griffiths joined as Clerk but was discharged before sailing, and William Grimshaw, AB, ran before sailing. 


Zachery Hickes joined as Second Lieutenant in early June, and much of the day-to-day organisation and supervision would have fallen on his shoulders.  John Gore, the Third lieutenant did not join until 21 July, the day Endeavour left Deptford.  Robert Molyneux, who as Master was the other senior figure to supervise life on board, had joined in mid-June.


Several men brought experience of the Pacific having sailed in HMS Dolphin.  Six men had been with Samuel Wallis on his voyage, which had only returned to Britain in April 1768 with news of the island of Tahiti.  They were: Robert Molineux as Master; Thomas Jones as AB; Francis Wilkinson as Master’s mate; Richard Pickersgill as Master’s mate; John Gore as Third Lieutenant; and Samuel Evans as Quartermaster.  Charles Clerke, who signed on as a Master’s mate, had also sailed in Dolphin to the Pacific, but on the earlier voyage under John Byron.  Gore had also been on that voyage meaning his time in Endeavour would be his third visit to the Pacific.


To keep order, both on board and ashore, HMB Endeavour carried a small contingent of Marines comprising 11 men under John Edgcumbe, the Sergeant.  The troop comprised John Truslove, Corporal, and ten Privates or Drummers.  They joined at Plymouth just before sailing from various companies of the Plymouth Division.


Various supernumeraries were present at the departure on 26 August.  As one of the principal aims of the voyage for the Royal Society involved sighting the Transit of Venus in June 1769, Charles Green sailed as Astronomer (together with one servant).  The voyage was then made unique in that Joseph Banks, a rich landowner and keen naturalist from Lincolnshire persuaded the Admiralty to let him and his retinue join the expedition.  Nine more supernumeraries made up Banks’s party: Joseph Banks, Passenger and Naturalist, with two artists, Sydney Parkinson and Alexander Buchan, one secretary, Herman Diedrich Spöring, and four servants, plus his companion Passenger and Naturalist, Daniel Solander.


94 men were therefore on board Endeavour leaving Plymouth—officially according to the muster.  As mentioned above, John Charlton mysteriously appeared in May 1770, while Nicholas Young is suddenly there to be the first to sight New Zealand Aotearoa in October 1769.  These two young men must have been there from the start, and it prompts the question, were there any others?


Endeavour left Deptford on 21 July, 1768, sailing down that day to Gallion’s Reach.  After nine days the ship departed on 30 July, leaving the Thames and reaching The Downs, off Deal, in Kent on 3 August.  Cook joined Endeavour there on the 7th, and they left that day to sail down the English Channel, reaching Plymouth on 14 August.  Here, the Marines went on board on 16 August, and finally, just before sailing, Banks and Solander joined.


James Cook and Endeavour set off from Plymouth on what would prove to be his first Pacific voyage.  There was no huge send off and most of the population was unaware of the voyage.  Cook was largely unknown beyond a small number of influential persons in the Admiralty, who had been impressed with his surveying work in Newfoundland.  Such work, however, did not make the news sheets unlike victories in naval battles or the capturing of enemy ships.


Cook was primed with instructions from both the Admiralty and the Royal Society as to what he should do, how he should behave, mostly concerning the Transit of Venus, and how he should deal with the peoples of the Pacific.  Interestingly, he also had secret instructions on what he should do after the Transit.


Endeavour leaves England


Did Endeavour leave Plymouth on 25 or 26 August, 1768? 


Joseph Banks wrote in his journal, “this day at 3 O’Clock in the even weigd anchor, and set sail”, dating the entry 25 August.  James Cook wrote in his journal, “At 2 pm got under sail and put to sea” dating the entry 26 August.


If we’d been alive at the time, we would have agreed with Joseph Banks that it was 25 August.  We use civil time, meaning that each day begins at midnight.  So 10 am comes before 2 pm on the same day.  However, in the eighteenth century, naval officers used nautical or ship’s time rather than civil time.2  Ship’s time means that each day begins at noon.  So 2 pm comes before 10 am.  Hence, Cook’s journal entries begin with the events of the afternoon, followed by midnight, followed by those of the morning, and end with noon. 


During his voyage in Niger to Newfoundland in 1766, Banks had suffered from seasickness for many days.  He suffered again in Endeavour, for it was only on 30 August that he was able to record in his journal, “Wind still Foul, ship in violent motion, but towards Evening much more quiet: Now for the first time my Sea sickness left me, and I was sufficiently well to write”.  Solander was well prepared for conditions at sea, with his previous expeditions to Lapland, voyages from Piteå to Uppsala and Stockholm, and to London.


According to a letter written by the naturalist John Ellis to Carl Linnaeus, “No people ever went to sea better fitted out for the purpose of Natural History, nor more elegantly.  They have got a fine library of Natural History; they have all sorts of machines for catching and preserving insects; all kinds of nets, trawls, drags and hooks for coral fishing; they have even a curious contrivance of a telescope, by which, put into the water, you can see the bottom to a great depth, where it is clear.  They have many cases of bottles with ground stoppers, of several sizes, to preserve animals in spirits”.  


There is no list of the books taken in the ship.  Looking at the titles referred to in the journals, people have estimated there might have been 50-65 books in up to 130 volumes. 


Endeavour sailed south from Plymouth, which lies on the southern coast of Great Britain, across the English Channel and into the Bay of Biscay, off France’s west coast.  Then down the short west coast of Spain, past Cape Finisterre, and the long west coast of Portugal. 


Cook, 39 years old, writes in his journal about the weather, and sailing activities.  For example, on 30 August, “Fresh gales all these 24 hours.  At ½ past 1 pm spoke with his Majestys Ship Guadeloupe.  At 6am close reefed the Topsails and got down topgt Yards”.  The next day, “Fore and middle parts Moderate breezes and clear, latter fresh gales and clowdy.  At 6pm loosed the 2nd reef out of the Topsails and at 8 am took them in again. At Noon Tacked and stood to the NW, having stood before to the southward”.  And the next day, “Very hard gales with some heavy showers of rain the most part of these 24 hours which brought us under our two courses, broke one of our Main topmast Puttock plates.  Washed over board a small boat belonging to the Boatswain and drown’d between 3 and 4 Dozn of our Poultry which was worst of all”.


Banks, 25 years old, describes the natural history opportunities in his journal.  For example, on 28 August, “Little wind today; in some sea water, which was taken on board to season a cask, observed a very minute sea Insect, which Dr Solander describd by the name of Podura marina.  In the Evening very calm; with the small casting net took several specimens of Medusa Pelagica, whose different motions in swimming amus'd us very much”.  The next day, “Wind foul: morning employd in finishing the Drawings of the animals taken yesterday till the ship got so much motion that Mr Parkinson could not set to his Pencil; in the Evening wind still Fresher so much as to make the night very uncomfortable”. 


On 2 September, the weather was “tolerably fine, so that we could use the casting net, which brought up two kinds of Animals, different from any before taken”.  Over the next few days the casting net brought up many items until on 5th, Thomas Richmond, one of Banks’s servants, “employd in searching for what should appear on the surface of the water. A shoal of dagysa’s were observd and he Eagar [eager] to take some of them threw the cast-net fastned to nothing but his wrist, the string slippd from him and the net at once sunk… no nets but in the hold, stowd under so many things that it was impossible even to hope for their being got out today”.


A Birth at Home


On 5 September, 1768, Joseph Cook was born.  He died within the month.  James and Elizabeth Cook’s other three children were still alive: James, Nathaniel and Elizabeth. 


At Madeira


On 12 September, the islands of “Porto Santo and Madeira were in full view, they were seen at day break, indeed we had a little overshot them”.  According to Cook, the next morning “birthed the Ship [in Funchal Harbour] and Moor’d with Stream Anchr half a Cable [rope] on the best bower [anchor] and a Hawser [rope] on the Stream [anchor]”.  However, “the bend of the Hawsers of the stream Anchor slip’d, owing to the carelesness of the person who made it fast… hove up the Anchor in the Boat and carried it out to the Southward, in heaving the Anchor out of the Boat Mr Weir Masters mate was carried over board by the Buoy-rope and to the bottom with the anchor.  


In his journal Parkinson wrote, “While the ship lay in this harbour, we had the misfortune of losing Mr. Ware, the chief-mate, who was a very honest worthy man, and one of our best seamen.  His death was occasioned by an unlucky accident which happened to him while he stood in the boat to see one of the anchors slipped.  The buoy-rope happening to entangle one of his legs, he was drawn overboard and drowned before we could lend him any assistance”. 


Charles Green noted that Cook, “Impress’d into his Majesty’s service Jno Thurman Seaman… from a Sloop belonging to New York”.  Cook doesn’t record this event, contenting himself with the men’s activities, “The Boats imploy’d carrying the casks ashore for Wine and the caulkers caulking the Ships sides”.  The next day, “Rec’d on board fresh Beef and Greens for the Ships Compney and sent on shore all our Casks for wine and Water having a shore boat employ’d for that purpose”.  And on Friday, 16, “Punished Henry Stephens Seaman and Thos Dunister Marine with 12 lashes each for refusing to take their allowance of fresh Beef”.  The same day John Ramsay “fell down the After-Hold and was dangerously bruis’d”.  


According to James Mario Magra, as Endeavour approached Funchal “the wind and tide being unfavourable, drove us farther distant, and soon after we received two shots from the Loo Fort, the commandant imagining it was our intention to depart from the island without making the usual reports; and by this transaction he forfeited the compliment of a salute, usually paid by foreign ships of war to all fortifications.  At length however we anchored again in fifteen fathom water; and the British consul soon after waited on the governor to complain of the indignity we had received, for which an apology was made, and the consul was assured that the officer who had misbehaved should ask pardon of Captain Cooke if he required it, but this was declined”.


Banks noted that Funchal is “calld so from the Fennel which grows in plenty upon the rocks in its neighbourhood and which is calld Funcho in the Portugese Language.  Here we immediately went to the house of the English Consul Mr Cheap, one of the first merchants in the place, where we were receivd with uncommon marks of civility; he insisted upon our taking possession of his house and living intirely with him during our stay which we did and were by him furnishd with every accomodation that we could wish.  Leave was procured by him for us to search the Island for whatever natural productions we might find worth taking notice of, people were also employd to procure for us fish and shells which we could not have spard time to have collected ourselves, horses and Guides were also got for Dr Solander and myself to carry us to any part of the Island which we might chuse to visit.  But our very short stay which was only five Days inclusive made it impossible to go any distance, so we contented ourselves with collecting as much as we could in the neighbourhood of the town, never going above three miles from it during our whole stay”.


Banks went on, “While at this place we were much indebted to Dr Heberden, the cheif Physitian of the Island, and brother to the Physitian of that name at London; he had for many years been an inhabitant of the Canaries and this Island, and had made several observations cheifly philosophical, some however were Botanical, describing the trees of the Island: of these he immediately gave us a copy, together with such specimens as he had in his possession, and indeed spard no pains to get for us such living specimens of such as could be procurd in flower”.  Dr Thomas Heberden was the principal physician at Madeira.  He had sent a number of papers to the Royal Society about the botany at Madeira.  His brother Dr William Heberden later treated Solander in London in 1782.  At Madeira, Solander found himself familiar with some of the flora, having catalogued such items in Hans Sloane’s collection at the British Museum, London.


Parkinson described Madeira in his journal as “very mountainous, yet it is cultivated to the very tops of the mountains; and, being covered with vines, citrons, oranges, and many other fine fruit-trees, it appears like one wide, extended , beautiful, garden”.  During their stay in Madeira, Banks and Solander collected 399 specimens, of which Parkinson made 21 drawings, 16 of which he finished as watercolours.  Eleven of Parkinson’s paintings resulted in engravings that were published as part of Banks’s Florilegium.  Banks noted, “The five days which we remained upon the Island were spent in so exactly in the same manner, that it is by no means necessary to divide them, I shall therefore only say, that in general we got up in the Morn, went out on our researches, retur[ne]d to dine, and went out again in the Evening”.


On 18 September, Cook “Ricieved on board 270 pounds of fresh Beef and a Live Bullock… Completead our wine and Water having recd of the former 3032 Gallns of the latter 10 Tuns”.


Endeavour Continues South


Endeavour sailed on 18 September.  Two days later Cook “Put the Ships Compney to three watches”.  On the 24th, they passed the island of Tenerife.  Magra became its consul in 1772.  On the 30th, they saw Boa Vista, one of the Cape Verde Islands. 


John Robson and Ian Boreham



1.Widow’s men were an early form of life insurance for seamen.  They were fictitious people, but the pay they accrued would be distributed to the families of seamen who died during the voyage. 

2.See Cook’s Log, page 574, vol. 11, no. 1 (1988) for a discussion of the difficulty in dates and times in the eighteenth century around the world. 

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 47, volume 41, number 3 (2018).

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