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12 June 2008

Endeavour


Moored here at the Australian National Maritime Museum the Endeavour appears a small vessel. This belies the enormous part it's played in Australia's maritime history.
No figures loom larger than the figure of Captain James Cook.

I'm standing on the deck of HMB Endeavour, a fantastic replica of Captain Cook's vessel. The vessel he sailed across the Pacific in and came and mapped the east coast of Australia. We're here in Darling Harbour outside the magnificent Australian National Maritime Museum. This must surely be one of the most important vessels for Australian history. Cook of course has a very large part in the history of Australia. Cook came out to the Pacific in 1769 to view the transit of Venus at Tahiti and after doing that he carried on to New Zealand and finally came to the east coast of Australia. And in April he came and anchored in Botany Bay. Having spent six days in Botany Bay he then continued north up along the Australian coast, surveying and mapping the coast and creating the first chart of the east coast of Australia and filling the blanks in what was the east coast of the great Australian mainland. Cook carried on with the Endeavour across the Indian Ocean to Cape Town at the bottom of South Africa where he had his records copied and sent before him in a merchant ship so that when he finally made it to England he entered the Downs
the word had got out already that the Endeavour was almost home and had successfully circumnavigated the world, had observed the transit of Venus and most importantly for Australian history had surveyed and mapped the east coast of Australia.

Today schoolchildren throughout Australia study the history of Cook and we study it very effectively here now with this wonderful replica. A replica which was conceived in 1988 as part of the Bicentennial celebrations of Australia, a vessel which was constructed in Fremantle in Western Australia and finally launched in 1993, commissioned in 1994 and then finally set out on its great world voyages. The vessel has circumnavigated the world twice on one occasion by Cape Horn - a much feared route for all seafarers and has been very much an ambassador for Australia throughout the world, and now that it's come back to Australia it's home port is now in Sydney we very much want to continue that tradition and the vessel will continue to voyage.

This is an incredible opportunity for people to understand the workings of an 18th century vessel, nothing on this vessel is easy, everything is done as it was in the original Endeavour it all requires teamwork and I guess the reward is really to be part of a team, seeing this vessel function, once it gets the wind in to its sails it's just as though you were transported to 1770 and you're sailing with Cook on that wonderful expedition up the east coast of Australia.

Sailing on Endeavour is not just a sailing experience, it's also becoming part of a life of Sir Joseph Banks and the various artists who were on board. We can see in the great cabin, various specimens, botanical specimens laid out on the table, we find charts as they would have been on the day when Cook was working, plotting the various parts of the east coast of Australia. This is a replica as close as could possibly be made to the original dimensions of Cook's ship. Cook's ship was just over 360 odd tons and this vessel is also around about that size. On the deck it's over 90 feet, at sea this vessel requires a permanent crew of sixteen plus a captain and officers, but it also has a crew of about 40 volunteer crew, people who can pay to become part of this wonderful adventure, this incredible experience, this living museum, stepping back into the 18th century and journeying with Captain Cook and Sir Joseph Banks.

The replica Endeavour has come to the National Maritime Museum here in Darling Harbour and that is fitting. For many years now the museum has been involved in the investigation to try and find out what happened to the original Endeavour. Historic research has shown that the original Endeavour ended its days in Newport in Rhode Island on the east coast of America. As part of the American War of Independence in 1778 the Endeavour, now a prison ship in Newport Harbour, was one of thirteen vessels scuttled in an action to try and protect the main batteries, the defences of Newport against a French squadron. So since 1999 the museum has been involved in diving operations in Newport, searching and finding those scuttled vessels and attempting to identify which one of those vessels is Endeavour. As yet that has still not been done, but we're hopeful in the very near future we'll be able to identify absolutely beyond doubt that we have the Endeavour in Newport, so to have the Endeavour replica here is just one more piece in that fantastic story.

The Endeavour replica is indeed an incredible piece of Australian history, here to be enjoyed by all Australians by all people interested in maritime history.