Endeavour: The Ship and the Attitude that Changed the World.
Chatto & Windus.
This book, published almost on the 250th anniversary of the start of the Endeavour voyage, makes the case that Endeavour embodied, both in name and in deed, the spirit of the Enlightenment.
The book begins with the story of a British émigré journalist in the 1850s being shown a remnant of the ship in Newport, Rhode Island, USA. He was inspired to write a very long biographical poem, An Ocean Fragment, which was not entirely truthful. Moore contends that “the truth was much richer than he could ever have imagined”.
Moore then gives an erudite account of the meaning and nuances of the word “endeavour” as used by several authorities, Shakespeare and Hobbes amongst them, and theorises as to why the Admiralty conferred the name Endeavour on the Whitby collier Earl of Pembroke in 1768. An endeavour was a bold project, “undertaken with conviction, often for the benefit of the public and at high speed… Endeavour, then, was a fundamental component of the Enlightenment approach and it was in the years 1750-80 that the impulse was at its strongest”. The fact NASA too used the name does not go unmentioned.
There follows a brief description and biography of the ship before an acknowledgement that the ship Endeavour can evoke widely different reactions in people. As Moore implies, the last word has not been written on these various resonances.
The book is divided into four parts. In Part One, “Life”, there is just one chapter of 14 pages in which the author describes the origin of the ship’s timbers, from an acorn to a felled oak transported to the Whitby shipyard. Along the way there are references to Rachel Carson, Oliver Rackham, Charles II, John Evelyn and Greek mythology, early indications of the book’s scope.
Part Two, “Trade”, begins with a history of Whitby by way of St Hilda and Caedmon before the introduction of contemporaneous figures of importance in the town such as Lionel Charlton, schoolmaster and mathematician, Jarvis Coates, shipbuilder, and Thomas Fishburn, innovative shipbuilder and social climber. This chapter is entitled “Enigmas”, the term given to complex mathematical problems that were printed in The Ladies’ Diary, first published in 1704, and enjoyed by Whitby’s educated women. The social history elements here are very interesting, as are accounts of the building of the colliers themselves and the culture of the town. A prodigious amount of research has gone into this biography of Whitby, and, indeed, into the whole book.
The chapter “Cross Currents” is concerned with the national politics and economics of the time, but the life and times of the Whitby colliers and Earl of Pembroke are not forgotten. The strands are cleverly interwoven. Benjamin Franklin and John Wilkes feature on the national stage. Thomas Milner, a master mariner, features on the local stage, as he takes his new ship on sea trials. Milner was illiterate, which was often a crippling social embarrassment at that time, but not for him on account of his superb seamanship.
A further strand here is an account of Lord Hawke’s victory over the French fleet at the Battle of Quiberon Bay in 1759. Moore points out that this victory was possible because Hawke’s fleet was resupplied at sea—by a fleet of Whitby colliers.
“Mr Birds Ways” is the intriguing name of the next chapter, which sees the entry of The Royal Society and Alexander Dalrymple into the story. Moore explains the purposes of the voyage and the case for Dalrymple to command the expedition, and why he did not. The chapter’s title is the name of the London wharf where an Admiralty representative approached Thomas Milner about the purchase of his collier. The author often paints the wider picture before linking it with Endeavour.
The final chapter in Part Two, “Land of Liberty”, is about the political scene in England, with John Wilkes to the fore and Benjamin Franklin, amongst others. Rioting in Wilkes’s name reached Deptford and threatened Endeavour. In the vicinity was James Cook, “tall, purposeful, calm, deliberate”, obviously not the rioting type, and so the author leads into his account of Cook’s and Endeavour’s preparations set against the background of the current state of politics, of knowledge about the Pacific and the news from America. Eventually, Endeavour was crammed full with men and supplies yet “with just about room for its most curious and colourful cargo of all. This was a ‘suite’ or group of supernumaries belonging to the ‘remarkable’ botanist and intrepid man of science, Joseph Banks”.
Part Three of the book, “Exploration”, has 109 pages in which the author describes the Endeavour voyage—after a biography of Banks. Whilst the readers of this review will be well acquainted with the facts of the voyage, this account is very engaging, not only because of the author’s own interpretations of the circumstances, but also because of his prose, which evokes how things must have seemed to the ship’s company. The main events of the voyage are interspersed with appropriate quotes from the main protagonists. One example of Moore’s insertions is a quote from Edmund Burke “about the psychological process humans undergo when they encounter new objects”, which brings a fresh, interesting slant to the story. Moore quotes a depiction of Endeavour by the Badtjala people of Fraser Island, Australia, recently translated into English. It includes the phrase “that rainbow serpent place”, which Moore uses as a chapter heading, another instance of the author’s extensive research and interest in his subject.
Part Four, “War”, begins with the aftermath of the Endeavour voyage in a chapter called “360°”. Moore covers the scientific aspects, writing “it was, perhaps, difficult to pinpoint exactly what the Endeavour voyage had achieved. Nothing new had really been found”. He also considers the social aspects. There is a perceptive paragraph concerning Banks’s phrase “almost providential” relating to Endeavour’s near wrecking on the Barrier Reef and to religion. Dalrymple and Franklin re-enter the story, the former experiencing sour grapes, and the latter keen for hard knowledge about what had been experienced. Banks’s reaction to the Resolution debacle, when he was denied the Second Voyage, is well documented, and the author obviously admires Banks but does not let him off lightly about his behaviour. This chapter ends with Cook in Resolution “mending his friendship” with Banks.
Chapter 11, the second chapter in Part Four, is entitled “The Frozen Serpent of the South”, Burke’s name for the Falkland Islands. Its relevance is that Endeavour changed role from exploration to supplying the Falkland Islands’ garrison. At this point Moore describes Lord Sandwich’s altercation with John Wilkes, Sandwich and Endeavour still being connected. It was an unsentimental Lord Sandwich who ordered the stripping of Endeavour of scientific instruments and a diminishing of status. There is also a full description of life on the Falklands, and more on the activities of Franklin and America. Indeed, it was now 1775, and the first shots had been fired at Lexington and Concord. Endeavour was spared the scrapyard because the British had amassed a large fleet to move their army to America. One of the troopships was Lord Sandwich, formerly Endeavour.
Chapter 12, “The Collier Fleet”, is an account of relevant aspects of the American War of Independence. There is an evocative description of Lord Sandwich carrying 206 Hessian mercenaries across the Atlantic, a far cry from Endeavour’s role. Moore writes “When sailing in the Pacific as Endeavour, the ship had emitted a mystic air. Often her power came from her strangeness, her unknown capacities or from incomplete understandings of her technology. By contrast, in New York people were all too aware of the significance of these transports. As they watched the Hessians disembark with their equipment and munitions, everyone knew what was to come”.
Chapter 13, “Ghosts”, is a poignant one. Endeavour/Lord Sandwich became a prison ship and Moore writes, “The Lord Sandwich had become a perversion of everything Endeavour had represented”. He goes on to describe how the ship had always been a hub of purposeful activity until this point. From prison ship to blockade ship: in August 1778 Lord Sandwich was scuttled at the entrance to Newport, Rhode Island.
In an epilogue called “Endeavours” is one of many very interesting connections Moore makes across time, space and spheres—from James Cook to Ray Parkin, from Joseph Banks to Averil Lysaght, to name just two connections.
The author has written a fine book that should appeal strongly to members because of its depth of scholarship, the interpretation of aspects of Endeavour’s voyage, and the very interesting descriptions of the contemporaneous politics and events.
The book’s dust jacket is very eye-catching, the 1768 ship’s plans are reproduced in the endpapers, and the book has 32 colour illustrations. There is a bibliography and 25 pages of notes, a rich resource for further research. The final paragraph of the “Acknowledgements” has a most touching one.
Towards the end of the book Moore writes, “The span of Endeavour’s life, 1764-1778, forms a crucial mini epoch in the development of Western society. It opens just after the Treaty of Paris amid the first stir of problems in America. It ends with France’s entry to the war and the beginning of the process of reimaging empire: from British America to British Australia”.
With this most imaginatively constructed biography of Endeavour, Peter Moore has proved his thesis implicit in the title, and has provided a very entertaining guide to a complex historical period.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 56, volume 41, number 4 (2018).