‘A bird of great size…’
At the sight of the first Endeavour, the natives of New Zealand were amazed and afraid, describing the vessel with its yards of flying canvas as a “bird of great size and beauty” and “a houseful of divinities.” Astonishment quickly gave way to curiosity—the same emotion which drew thousands to wharves around the country this summer to inspect a sailing replica of one of history’s greatest ships of discovery. For volunteer crew—here shortening sail in a freshening blow—the work of hauling rope and climbing shrouds was a chance to taste 18th century exploration and to relive momentous events in this country’s history.
Gulls eye me warily as they flick across the gunmetal sky. Gusting wind carries snatches of their cries, mingling them with human voices and the hull smack of waves. Commands are bellowed, laden with the unfamiliar argot of the sea. On every quarter the horizon reels.
I’m up the foremast of the HM Bark Endeavour replica, more feet above the deck and the deep curveting Pacific than I care to think about, fighting to secure a sail against the metronome swing of the rig.
Douglas fir digs into my gut as I bend double over a spar, arms aching, boots feeling for purchase on the foot rope slung beneath. My topman, Penny Griffin, blond hair tousled, works alongside, seasoned hands adroitly tying off the greasy ropes. To starboard, others struggle to do the same.
From up here the restless cleave of Endeavour’s bluff bows, the rise and fall of the bowsprit, the pulsing crests of foam, exert a near-hypnotic attraction. I can understand why some of the ship’s sea-hardened crew find themselves inventing reasons to go aloft—to watch a sunrise, to let their eyes rove over deck detail or just to abandon themselves to the kite rhythms of their perch.
Getting up to the fighting tops—the mast lookout platforms—is not that easy. The problem lies in a masochistic assemblage of ropes called the futtock shrouds. Yet to do just about anything in the rigging you have to master these 18th century exercises in psychological warfare. I got my first taste of the futtocks in Tauranga.
I had arrived mid-afternoon at Tauranga’s number one wharf, more than an hour late and half expecting to see a distant set of sails and an empty berth where the $18.5 million Endeavour should have been. It was with relief that I saw the ship’s bristling wood above the wharf sheds and, as I drew closer, a lengthy queue of sightseers—perhaps three hours’ worth—standing patiently in the summer sun.
It had been like this in earlier ports of call, and would be so again and again throughout the remainder of the Australian-built Endeavour’s three-month New Zealand tour. Billed as the TVNZ Endeavour Voyage, the 11-port visit had the self-proclaimed goal of raising awareness of past events and helping heal cultural wounds. The ship was to be a cross between a floating museum and a war cemetery.
Wisely, there would be no re-enactments.
I found John Longley, the six-foot-something powerhouse of the project, in the harbourmaster’s offices stooping over a sprawl of charts. As chief executive of the HM Bark Endeavour Foundation, Longley has been with the ship since its inception.
On hand to oversee the laying of its keel back in 1988, he still gets dewy-eyed recounting Endeavour’s launch five years later. Christened after the fashion of the 1764 original with a bottle of red wine, the new Endeavour had slipped down traditional greased wooden rails into Fremantle’s fishing boat harbour in December 1993. It was a product of research and industry for which the word “painstaking” seems inadequate.
Manila rope for the standing rigging was laid on a 140-year-old rope walk—one of only two known to exist—to the exact specifications of the original rope. It is protected, as I was soon to find out, with a liberal coating of Stockholm tar.
For the sails, a synthetic material, Duradon, was chosen for its similarity in look and handling to the original flax canvas. The cannons are copies of a carriage gun jettisoned by Cook when he ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef in 1770 and recovered in 1969.
“Stepping aboard is truly like stepping back in time,” said Longley. “When people stand on deck or explore below, they can see, smell and touch the same things Cook, Banks and his men lived with for three years in uncharted waters on the far side of the world.”
It is no idle statement. Descending the ladder to the lower deck, visitors first come upon the iron firehearth where the butcher and the ship’s cook once laboured, surrounded by provisions hauled up from the hold or brought aboard by shore parties.
To the rear are the tables of the mess; overhead, in insect-like profusion, are the slung hammocks of the seamen. Here off-watch crew ate, drank, sang, quarrelled and amused themselves, while others slept, the swinging body of one brushing the salty sun-bleached hair of another. In the tropics, with 60 or more confined bodies and John Thompson’s blazing fire, the lower deck would have approached a crowded locker room for comfort—and aroma.
Forward of the hearth are the compact storerooms—used for the same purposes on the replica—where Cook’s carpenter, boatswain and sailmaker would have toiled. The sailmaker, John Ravenhill, was the elder of the ship’s company—some put his age at 80; he had the distinction, it seems, of being more or less permanently drunk.
After of the crew’s mess lie the officers’ quarters, and above them a mezzanine to accommodate the civilians—botanist Joseph Banks and his band of scientists and artists. Behind these compartments is Endeavour’s one civilising gesture, the Great Cabin, lit by mullioned windows in the stern and furnished with a generous table used originally for dining, mapmaking and examining the naturalists’ trophies.
Against one wall stands the small stove Banks found so useful in combating the ever-present weevil. “I have seen hundreds, nay thousands, shaken out of a single biskit,” he wrote. “We in the Cabin have an easy remedy for this by baking it in an oven, not too hot, which makes them all walk off, but this cannot be allowed to the private people who find the taste of the animals very disagreeable as they every one taste as strong as mustard . . . .”
Though the replica does its best to be a facsimile—biscuits aside—there are differences. The timber, for one. The original construction materials, oak, elm and spruce, were impossible to obtain in sufficient volumes, so a local Western Australian hardwood, jarrah, was substituted, some of the timber for the replica coming from trees which might well have been standing when Cook was in this hemisphere. Decks, spars and topsides are from old-growth Douglas fir imported from the United States.
To get certification some concessions to modern technology had to be made. The ship is equipped with weather fax, radio, satellite navigation, a desalination plant and auxiliary engines.
There are other, more human, concessions. The crew are no longer obliged to use the “seats of ease”—planks, each bearing a usefully large hole at the extremity, which project over the bows. Nor must the officers resort to night stools and chamber pots. The vessel has flush toilets, showers and an electric restaurant-standard galley, all concealed from public view in the hold.
Nor do the crew engage in gunnery practice, take soundings with a lead line, use lunar sights and almanacs for navigation, or tend animals—the original carried sheep, fowl, muscovy ducks, pigs, two dogs belonging to Banks, and a much goat. Indeed, in 1768 the goat could have told Lieutenant James Cook a thing or two. A veteran of Pacific exploration, it had sailed with the explorer Samuel Wallis when he discovered Tahiti, and had returned to England just in time to snatch a little fresh fodder before joining Endeavour. It was to become the most travelled goat in history.*
On tauranga’s wharf a new voyage crew is being kitted out for Endeavour’s Gisborne leg. I join them, getting 2 x navy T-shirts, 1 x sail belt, 1 x navy cap and 1 x tote bag. From that moment, and for the next four days at sea, I become a new being, one of the elect. A creature that hauls braces, buntlines and halyards day or night, that whistles freely while scrubbing the lower deck on hands and knees during the daily “happy hour,” that strains at the capstan without hesitation, that on demand shoots up a mast and out on to a spar in whatever weather and with a clenched grin. That cheerfully springs from a warm hammock into Bible blackness at three in the morning—having only got there at midnight—and sprints on to a heaving deck. That is impervious to cold and biting rain, and that always and without fail keeps a wallowing buttock-bowed collier pointing to within a hair of the compass setting.
Discipline. Life on a ship from the Age of Reason revolved around it. As well as anyone, Cook knew and accepted that. Though much has been made of the consideration he showed his crew, the laconic Yorkshireman had a volcanic temper under his naval cool, and flogged as effectively as the next man. However, it was enough, much of the time, that there was a company of armed marines on board, 12 in all, stationed between the officers’ quarters and the compacted nest of hammocks that passed for the crew’s accommodation. Cook was humane and moderate in his use of force.
So is Penny, my watchleader.
The replica is organised on a three-watch system rather than the two usual in the 18th century. (Cook varied the watches to suit the weather, three being preferred when conditions were mild.) This arrangement helps peg back the workload from manic to merely exhausting.
Each watch is named after one of the masts—fore, main and mizen—and voyage crew given individual numbers in their watches. For the duration of the voyage, I am “10 Mizen.”
Fourteen permanent crew take care of such incidentals as cooking, navigating, repairing sails and managing the voyage crew, while a dozen supernumeraries or paying passengers, like Cook’s civilian complement, are largely left to follow their inclinations. In all, we are 56 strong—or not so strong—compared with the 94 Cook was able to count on.
Over the coming days I learn to read the slight contractions about Penny’s lips that signal a situation made almost unsalvageable thanks to the efforts of civilians whose proper station is behind a lawnmower. However, she remains stoical throughout the many maritime emergencies her team throw at her, and is consistently more tolerant of me and my kind than I am.
As the first day turns to evening, dignitaries come aboard for wine and food while the new crew become intimate with the futtocks. To appreciate these deathtraps on high, a little ship anatomy is necessary. Heavy ropes called shrouds anchor the masts to the hull. They also provide useful ladders to the spars. In order to reach the fighting tops, which project out above the shrouds, smaller sets of shrouds—futtock shrouds—lead up from the masts to the outer edges of the tops. Crew climbing the rigging are therefore obliged to hang backwards to negotiate them, and must grope blindly for a deadeye or lanyard to haul themselves up on to the platform.
This we do, under the increasingly glazed gaze of those sipping Cabernet on the quarterdeck, until our muscles ache and our bodies are primed with adrenalin. Most of us eventually convince ourselves that if at some future date on the voyage we are called on to ascend in like manner we could do so, more or less—thus confirming that a little learning is a dangerous thing.
We are taught to hold on to the shrouds only!, they being less likely to break under our weight than the thinner ratlines that run like rungs between them, and always to maintain three points of contact while climbing.
We are taught to climb to leeward, so that if we fall we will be killed more softly by the sea than by the unyielding deck. (Most maritime accidents in Cook’s time were alcohol-related; though ours is a dry ship, nevertheless the topmen figure gravity will still be at work.)
We are taught where the use of safety harnesses is possible, and are dissuaded—those who need to be—from running barefoot along the spars in order to effect a rapid sail trimming, as was common practice on nineteenth-century clippers.
We are not taught, but nevertheless discover, why sailors who frequently climbed rigging preserved by tar were called Jack-tars.
Having stowed our gear—which includes fashion items, books we will never get a chance to open and faulty nausea patches—we change into professional-looking blue garb and emerge topside. It is growing dark, and the atmosphere ashore is festive. Streamers, car horns, the popping of camera flashes fill the evening. Light beams from idling pleasure craft dance on the rigging. Shouted goodbyes. Then, finally, the casting off of the hawsers.
Captain chris blake, a seasoned master of square-rigged ships, stands immobile on deck, smiling warmly but finding no novelty in the scene. It isn’t surprising, given that for three years from 1980 he was first mate on P&O’s Pacific Princess-a.k.a. the Love Boat of sitcom fame. Nevertheless, as the concrete embankment
slips sideways with gathering speed he indulges himself in a way colleagues can only envy. With a deafening crack and a belch of smoke Endeavour fires one of its six deck cannons. Forewarned, and hands to ears, we flinch despite ourselves. Spectators afloat jump as one. A cheer goes up on shore. The four-pounder has presence.
It is 10 P.M. We are leaving for East Cape and an eventual Gisborne landfall, sailing towards the startpoint of Cook’s epic circumnavigation as though unwinding the skein of history, encountering progressively earlier staging posts on his voyage of discovery.
Cook came in from the east hugging the 39th parallel, made a difficult landing in Poverty Bay, then looped down toward Hawke’s Bay before turning into his wake and heading north around East Cape and into the Bay of Plenty (see map, page 95).
Chris Blake is taking the Foundation’s ship south along New Zealand’s eastern seaboard, calling at ports from the Bay of Islands to Bluff, then taking a flick up to Milford Sound before heading out for what is likely to be a rough Tasman crossing.
Either way, Gisborne is crucial. For Cook it proved a frustrating and disheartening first encounter, setting a tone of mutual mistrust and violence between the two cultures, European and Maori, which was slow to subside. For us, in the late twentieth century, it holds the promise of a tentative reconciliation.
As the lights of Mount Maunganui recede I reflect on how different was the departure that started everything off more than 200 years earlier in Plymouth, England. James Cook, 40, not yet a captain on the navy list, standing firm on the quarterdeck of a converted coal carrier, and glad to be putting to sea after being confounded for 10 days by winds from the wrong quarter. His ship laden with scientific instruments and provisions enough to keep the bodies and souls of 95 people together for the first eighteen months of their voyage.
The Navy Board, with profound foresight, had bypassed all the sleek, high-performance vessels available to it and had instead chosen a slow, boxy collier known as a “Whitby cat” for the job. The vessel’s chief qualities—strength, capacity and a shallow draft—ideally suited it to the demands of exploration.
Formerly the Earl of Pembroke, it had been designed and built to withstand North Sea storms and to be sailed with a minimal crew. Its shallow draft meant that, unlike the earlier Wallis, whose deep-keeled frigate kept him far from land, Cook could hug the coast and accurately chart it. Equally importantly, the tubby ship, built for coastal trade, took a lot of filling. That was just as well, given the demands made of the quartermaster for stowage.
The livestock included 17 sheep, several dozen poultry, four or five hogs and a similar number of muscovy ducks, an English boar, a sow with a litter, cats, Banks’ dogs—and, of course, Wallis’ goat.
Then there were the inanimate stores: 6000 pieces of pork, 2500 pounds of raisins, 40 bushels of malt, 1200 gallons of beer, 604 gallons of rum, 160 pounds of mustard seed, 21,000 pounds of fresh bread, almost 8000 pounds of “Sour Kraut,” 185 pounds of Devonshire cheeses, 500 gallons of vinegar, 120 bushels of wheat . . . the list seemed endless.
Cork jackets, stationery, surgical necessaries, “a Machine for sweetening foul water” and trifles for barter, including nails, mirrors, fish-hooks, beads, scissors, even a few dolls.
As the Endeavour was the Georgian equivalent of Skylab—charged with all manner of scientific duties from observing astronomical events and charting unknown lands to recording new plants and animals—scientific tackle also bulked large.
In the opinion of Banks’ contemporary, the naturalist John Ellis, no voyagers had set sail better equipped for the purposes of natural history. He told Linnaeus: “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 at a great depth where it is clear.
They have many cases of bottles with ground stoppers, of several sizes, to preserve animals in spirits. They have the
several sorts of salts to surround the seeds; and wax, both bees-wax and that of the Myrica; besides there are many people whose sole business it is to attend them for this very purpose . . . .”
For a study of the transit of Venus across the sun, to be made in Tahiti, a newly invented portable observatory was stowed in the hold, and Cook took every scientific instrument for the voyage he could get his hands on, some untested. They included two reflecting telescopes, a quadrant, two astronomical clocks, a sextant, two thermometers, a surveyor’s theodolite, a brass scale and two proportional compasses. Fearing damage, Cook carried most of these delicate instruments on board himself.
There is something at once endearing and frightening about the thought of these confident, even cocky, adventurers—Banks was just 25 years old when he left England—lugging this attic-load of paraphernalia around New Zealand’s pristine shoreline, taking soundings and sightings and scouring the land for cultural and botanical bounty.
As we now know, they fixed the place, pinning Aotearoa forever with the harpoon of their primitive science, and altering it more completely than if they had carried a nuclear device in their hold. In the event, they carried something almost as effective then as a nuclear device: gunpowder.
On 25 August, 1768, HM Bark Endeavour put to sea, her commander with open instructions to observe Venus from Tahiti and an ostensibly secret brief to find and claim for Great Britain the unknown Southern Continent, her crew with two months’ wages in their pockets. They were a mixed lot, from London, Plymouth, Ipswich, and County Cork; from the Orkneys and Guernsey. Goodjohn, Peckover, Littleboy, Stainsby. James Maria Magra from New York, Antonio Ponto, a Venetian, John Dozey from “the Brazils.”
There was even another James Cook on the ship’s manifest, servant to the second in command, Lieutenant Hicks, and a Nathaniel Cook, destined to become the carpenter’s servant. Actually, both were sons of James Cook, six and five years old respectively and on board as phantoms only, in accordance with custom—earning time toward early promotion should they decide on a naval career.
Some of the crew were experienced in the ways of the sea; many were raw and untested. Phantoms apart, all were, according to Banks, “in excellent health and spirits perfectly prepared . . . to undergo with Chearfullness any fatigues or dangers that may occur in our intended Voyage . . . .”
Leaving Tauranga, we feel similarly gung ho—futtocks notwithstanding. To the north-west, almost directly astern as we push out into the night, lies the jagged Coromandel with its remnant stands of rimu, rata and kauri, where Cook later observed the transit of Mercury in order to fix the latitude of that part of the country. There, too, Cook careened his ship to scrub its hull, and, coming ashore at Wharekaho, was taken for the first time to a fighting paWharetaewa, on the headland of Mercury Bay—home to 1000 people of the Ngati-hei.
That November, in 1769, Horeta Te Taniwha was among those who watched the coming of the Europeans. Much later in life he described what he had witnessed in Whitianga as a child: “The ship came to anchor, and the boats pulled on shore. As our old men looked at the manner in which they came on shore, the rowers pulling with their backs to the bow of the boat, the old people said, ‘Yes, it is so: these people are goblins; their eyes are at the back of their heads . . .
“They collected grasses from the cliffs, and kept knocking stones on the beach, and we said, ‘Why are these acts done by these goblins?’ We and the women gathered stones and grasses of all sorts, and gave to these goblins. Some of the stones they liked, and put into their bags, the rest they threw away . . . .
“There was one supreme man in that ship …. He was a very good man, and came to us—the children—and patted our cheeks, and gently touched our heads. His language was a hissing sound, and the words he spoke were not understood by us in the least. We had not been long on board of the ship before this lord of these goblins made a speech, and took some charcoal and made marks on the deck of the ship, and pointed to the shore . . . . One of our aged men said to our people, ‘He is asking for an outline of this land;’ and that old man stood up, took the charcoal, and marked the outline of the Ika-a-maui [the North Island of New Zealand].”
The territory was not incognito, after all.
During the night we coast off Maketu, where Endeavour’s crew had seen hundreds of canoes drawn up on the sand. Along the vast sweep of the Bay of Plenty they also noted clifftop villages defended by palisades and deeply cut ditches, and surrounding them expanses of fertile land. The region was the richest and most populated the mariners had yet encountered, and Banks thought they might be seeing the residence of princes:
“As far as we have yet gone along the coast from Cape Turnagain to this place the people have acknowledged only one chief, Te ram: if his dominion is realy so large he may have princes or governors under him capable of Drawing together a vast many people: for himself he is always said to live far inland.”
Banks, who nursed dreams of proving the existence of a fabled southern continent, Terra Australis, was keen for Aotearoa to unfold to continental scale. However, his enthusiasm made him a frequent and willing victim of error. He was philosophical about such setbacks, calling the cloudbanks which were often mistaken for land on the voyage to Aotearoa “our old enemy Cape Flyaway.” In this case the mistake was probably linguistic. Recently it has been suggested that Maori indications of where the sun set—te ra e to—were confused with the identification of local leaders.
Cook inadvertently heightened Aotearoa’s fabulous aura by giving one of his charts a title worthy of satirist Jonathan Swift. He called it: “New Zeland or the Islands of Aeheinomouwe and Tovypoenammu lying in the South Sea.” The plate could almost have formed an appendix to Gulliver’s Travels, a book written half a century earlier. Travels itself parodied the thing that started off the whole adventure-travel mania: buccaneering William Dampier’s rip-roaring A New Voyage Round the World, a book that was in Endeavour’s library.
Undoubtedly, to some of the ship’s more impressionable crew it was not inconceivable that in Aotearoa’s dark interior lurked creatures resembling Swift’s Houyhnhnms or his monstrous Brobdingragians. His Yahoos, even.
By dawn we are standing off the Rangitaiki Plains. The mizen watch, having gone below at 11 P.M. to string hammocks, took the helm at midnight, and four hours later had fumbled below to snatch some sleep-120 minutes or so, but hey, who’s counting?
Awake again, we loiter on deck in the brightening morning, breathing ozone and watching the first of the gathering pleasure craft, a fisher in a runabout. He cuts the outboard and jubilantly holds up for our inspection a massive snapper, its body armour glinting.
“Twenty-three pound if it’s anything,” says fellow mariner Tony Callinicos admiringly at my elbow. With a well stocked deep freeze, we don’t think to barter. Another boat draws up, its occupants taking in our ship’s size and bulk. Endeavour rides high, offering a box seat on proceedings, its upcurved quarterdeck forming a generous stage for acting out new world dramas.
As the sun strengthens, we revel in shipboard savours—warming timber, wafted galley aromas, tarred cordage. At eight o’clock, an acrid belch of powder drifts through the rigging as we give Whakatane one for luck from a starboard cannon. A gutsy echo claps back satisfyingly from the hills, and I am filled with admiration for Cook, who used his ordnance so sparingly—shooting high over canoe prows or glissading balls across the water only to ward off attack. There is no telling what this crew would have done, given the chance.
Even the restrained Cook, however, resorted to touching off a fair amount of powder on this coast. Night after night, the Endeavour’s crew must have had their slumber assailed by images of the day’s precipitous culture clash: carved canoes pushed by rhythmic blades, then incantations, brandished spears, the challenge of a stone or spear against the ship’s hull. Tattoos, feathered cloaks, taunts and gestures of defiance. The mediating voice of Tupaia, a Ra’iatean high priest brought from Tahiti by Banks as a guide and interpreter.
Spells of barter—cloth for cray fish, mussels, eels. Spirited thieving and the answering crackle of muskets. Near the mouth of the Motu river, a fleet of 45 canoes. The sight of a craft bailed by a human skull. Earlier, off what became Cape Runaway, other canoes driven off by grapeshot and roundshot.
Cape Runaway. Cape Turnagain. Young Nicks Head. For Cook, the relentless task of naming—branding—the new land was an inescapable duty. Hawke’s Bay for Sir Edward, First Lord of the Admiralty. Point Rodney in honour of Admiral George Bridges Rodney. Pocock Point for Admiral Sir George Pocock. The Firth of Thames for the English Thames. White Island, “because as such it always appear’d to us.”
As the voyage wore on, Cook tired of the demands of nomenclature, seizing with relief on incidents of the journey: Cape Kidnappers, where Maori traders attempted to abduct Tupaia’s servant boy, the Island of Lookers On for Maori canoes off Kaikoura that kept their distance, and finally, perhaps with relief after nearly six months of strained invention, Cape Farewell to this sorry business of imperial mapmaking.
Ahead of us, and still west of East Cape, lie the indented fringes of one of the country’s finest stretches of coastline, remarkably unchanged since the 18th century. An artist on the Endeavour, Scott Sydney Parkinson, recorded his impressions: “It was divided by fine deep valleys, and had all the appearance of a rich fertile country, being cloathed with large verdant trees, had some parcels of ground cultivated, and several rivulets among them which lost themselves in the sea. We could also discover several villages, which seemed to have been fenced in by art.”
Banks’ Swedish secretary, Herman Sporing, sketched sections of the unfolding topography, and off Horoera Point Richard Pickersgill, the master’s mate, diligently noted on his chart: “many Indian towns and Cultivated lands.”
Mizen watch has less time than Cook’s officers and gentleman scientists to study the shore, where Highway 35 snakes along barely noticed. Nevertheless, we dine well, in the Twentieth Century room—a place in the bowels of the ship known to Endeavour’s earlier crew for its fetid air and its cargo of barrels and iron ballast. Unlike the one-handed ship’s cook they relied on, our chef, Stuart Hanover, dishes out gourmet meals from his stainless steel lair: lasagne, dory fillets, roast, home-made apple crumble. Instead of their beloved morning gruel, a mix of boiled wheat and sugar, we enjoy a full cooked breakfast with fresh fruit and coffee.
We enjoy less what comes next: the hour of scrubbing and mopping, of fetching up salt water in canvas bags to sluice the deck, of cleaning around the Blake Victorys, our marine toilets. I blame Cook, whose idea happy hour really was. He was also largely responsible, in a connected sort of way, for the overcrowding on his bark.
Cook is credited with making spectacular inroads into checking the chief scourge of 18th century ocean sailingscurvy—by attending to a healthy diet. In this respect, it must be admitted, his achievements are a little overrated. Sure, he was at pains to secure supplies of fresh meat and wherever he could to harvest plants such as wild celery. And he packed aboard ship lemon preserve and sauerkraut, which at the time were considered antidotes. But the vitamin value of the “8000 lbs of cabbage cut fine and cured in brine” was negated by its being boiled and served as a soup, while, thanks to a clerical error, the conserve he ordered was made not with African lemons but West Indian limes—which are low in vitamin C.
What Cook undeniably did do was safeguard his crew’s health by instituting a tyrannical regime of cleanliness, thus all but eliminating the deaths which the Admiralty had deliberately overmanned the ship to compensate for. At his insistence, the men bathed daily in cold ocean water, and every few days hammocks, bedding and clothes were aired on deck. Water butts were scoured daily, and once a week the Endeavour was either “smoked clean with a mixture of vinnegar and gun-powder” or “cured with fires.” Ironically, due to the prodigal use of water by this voyage crew and the supernumeraries, the mate, Steve Wenban, is forced to cut back our use of showers and other luxuries. By such increments do we come to approximate 18th century sailors.
Alas, what we don’t have is the rum ration: half a pint of 94 proof at midday and another half-pint at 6 P.M., each diluted with a quart of water—half rations for boys. Ample, you would have thought, to slake the mightiest thirst, but Cook’s lads couldn’t get enough. They surreptitiously broached the casks brought on board by the civilians and helped themselves, despite the tough penalties imposed. Banks noted with gratitude that at least they were honest enough not to follow custom by refilling the depleted casks with salt water.
Sailors of the age—perhaps of any age—seemed to recognise no natural limits to what could be consumed. Either that, or it was another sign of their unquenchable thirst for adventure. The first Christmas Day at sea was an excuse for unbridled indulgence. “The People were none of the Soberest,” wrote Cook. Banks was less restrained: “All good Christians, that is to say all hands, get abominably drunk so that at night there was scarce a sober man in the ship, wind thank god very moderate or the lord knows what would have become of us.”
Endeavour proves a tough old beast to sail. The thing that gets us is the sheer physicality of the job. Everything from wearing helm to hauling canvas is so damn hard. And with every course change or wind shift batteries of ropes need to be loosed, let out, heaved at and belayed. Braces, buntlines, clewlines, halyards, sheets—a whole hempen menagerie, with everywhere a knot of us to take the strain. And every manoeuvre prefaced by a lengthy commentary by our topman on how we are to proceed and what, in an ideal world, will be the outcome of our efforts.
Given the prodigious forces at work in the rigging—the ropes and spars are busy hauling more than 500 tonnes of ship through resisting seas—we follow a strict procedure. “Ropes down to one turn,” and we unwind our cordage the required amount from cleat or belaying pin. “Ease sheets” or “Haul away,” and we feed or heave, sometimes six or more of us to a rope.
Following a rope up into the rigging with the eye often gives little clue as to its function, it becoming lost in the baffling webs above, but a later lesson on deck teaches us the supreme control 18th century sailors had over their canvas. Not only can the sails themselves be pulled and tucked at an almost inconceivable number of points, but the giant spars can be trimmed and tilted and even raised or lowered on the masts.
Banks had an early introduction to the primal nature of deck life. Sir Everard Home recorded what his friend Banks had endured: “Early in the voyage it blew a gale which made him dreadfully seasick, and unable to keep his legs upon deck: determined not to go below he made himself fast to a gun, by means of ropes knotted and twisted in all different ways he could contrive. In this situation he was making the most solemn vows, that nothing again would tempt him to go out to sea; these were interrupted by the mizzen-topmast coming rattling down the shrouds, immediately over his head; this sudden alarm put a stop to the sea-sickness, his mind being wholly occupied in disengaging himself, and trying to escape from the impending danger.”
As we go below, 10 Mizen knows better than to laugh at Banks’ misfortune.
But then comes the night, and sailing better suited to the poetry of Herman Melville. A chill evening on a quiet ship. Black pillars for masts, and stars caught in a web of rigging. The hull-slap of waves and a blossoming phosphorescent wash. Solitude and, in this benign weather, strangely little to do. Time to think, or not to think. Time to fabricate—or in the case of Cook’s crew, to remember—paradise. We have any number of names for it. They called it Tahiti.
A little after 6 A.M. Tate Pewhairangi, out walking his dog on the point at Anaura Bay, catches sight of Endeavour’s sails, reliving for a moment, he says later, the feelings of awe his ancestors must have felt. Midmorning, we nose into Anaura, 60 km north of Gisborne, on a one-metre swell, the wind 20 knots from the south-west. At the helm stands our own Tupaia, Tainui Maori Craig Peerless, his hair roguishly capped by a red bandanna. An old Endeavour hand, having been aboard since Sydney, Craig has coached the crew in Maori customs and protocol, and will himself speak on our behalf at the beachfront Hinetamatea Marae.
We drop anchor where Cook did, and soon are ferried ashore through the surf by inflatables and alloy runabouts. Tautini Glover of the Ngati-wakarara and Arthur Noanoa of the Ngati-hau, representing the two chiefs who boarded the Endeavour in 1769 to befriend Cook, escort us up the beach. To left and right are tangata whenua, kaumatua, media, holidaymakers. We are checked by a challenge from three warriors. The intensity of the powhiri is overwhelming. Today history descends with crushing weight on Anaura.
Earlier threats of protest at the replica’s visit, and an admission by Maori elders that they could not guarantee its safety, prove groundless. On the marae and in the religious service that follows, the word on the lips of speaker after speaker is “reconciliation.”
Now and then I turn my gaze seaward, resting on the Endeavour as it rides high, more at home in the isolation of this cliff-ringed bay than in earlier crowded harbours.
It was in Anaura—”Tegadoo” to Cook—a settlement of seeming tranquillity and openness, that the visitors first observed Maori domestic life, noting in their journals details of architecture, meals, furniture, even fishing and gardening.
Jonathan Monkhouse found their cultivations, about 200 acres in all, “very far to surpass any idea we had formed of them. The ground is completely cleared of all weeds—the mold broke with as much care as that of our best gardens . . . these Cultivated spots are enclosed with a perfectly close pailing of reeds about twenty inches high.”
Cook extended his stay at Anaura by a day, but the surf frustrated his main purpose for being there: to get water. He then spent 24 hours tacking vainly in strong winds before locals directed him a few leagues south to UawaTolaga Bay.
The same foul weather is getting up as we reboard—which doesn’t deter Chris Blake from ordering the anchor muscled up by capstan. This proves a laborious and surprisingly complicated exercise, even by 18th century standards. As a huddle of us bend to the donkey work of turning the capstan—a fiddler belting out shanties would have sat upon it on the original—another bunch sets about lashing the anchor warp to the capstan cable with short cords. Each cord, or nip, is then undone as it is eased through blocks and belayed. At no time is the anchor warp wound around the drum of the capstan.
We hit technical snags—if something this arduous and cumbersome can be so flattered by being called technical. Splices unravel and must be sorted out. We stop and begin again. Lacking rhythm, lacking shanties, we turn too fast and then too slow. We take an hour to raise the pick.
By now the sky is brewing and, despite a good deal of canvas aloft, the captain is forced to fall back on 810 horsepower of Caterpillar diesels. In the teeth of a squall we flee the land and search out deep water.
Due to the fickleness of the weather, Tolaga Bay slides from the itinerary, depriving us of a fine cross-cultural joke. At Uawa, Banks rhapsodised over a geological curiosity. “In pursuing a valley bounded on each side by steep hills we on a sudden saw a most noble arch or Cavern through the face of a rock leading directly to the sea, so that through it we had not only a view of the bay and hills on the other side but an opportunity of imagining a ship or any grand object opposite to it. It was certainly the most magnificent surprise I have ever met with so much is pure nature superior to art in these cases.”
To local Maori it was known by the unrhapsodic name of Te Kotore o to Whenua—”the Anus of the Land.” This from a people who elevated to an art the ritual of whakapohane (baring the buttocks).
Uawa was good to those on the Endeavour. Banks and Solander occupied themselves botanising while the crew filled tuns with fresh drinking water and chopped wood for the ship’s galley stove. Wild celery and scurvy grass were gathered, as well as cabbage tree crowns which were later boiled and eaten. Manuka was cut to make brooms, and parrots, pigeons and quail sighted.
Cook and Parkinson were often ashore, Cook finding time to record the goings on. In an artless drawing that survives he has sailors drag barrels from the sea, while ashore a cooper repairs another. Two Maori in woven mats rub noses, and others stand or lie decoratively on the sand.
Sparing made an almost identical sketch which Cook may have copied, but Cook adds—or the naturalist omits—another crew member carrying a yoke, and, tellingly, at centre stage, a figure in frockcoat and tricorn hat leaning imperiously on his cane and surveying the scene.
Parkinson, who thought the land “agreeable beyond description,” noted that with a little labour Uawa might become “a kind of second paradise.” It was a first, ominous, hint at European settlement.
Out at sea, cocooned in my hammock, I am rocked deliriously by the agitated swell, caught in a warm embrace of bedding. Where I lie, the ceiling is just over a metre above the floorboards, thanks to the new deck Cook had inserted for his additional passengers—Banks had arrived at the last minute with a suite of artists, botanists and servants as well as an unseemly amount of equipment and private food stores.
They may have been more slightly built in those days—the average height according to Voltaire was around five feet—but Banks for one was a lanky six foot four and had to forsake his cabin, opposite Cook’s, for the more ample space of the Great Cabin.
It is said that in Tahiti the crew, who had traded for sexual favours the iron hooks which secured their hammocks, were forced to sleep on deck. Nothing has been said about what they did on approaching the more temperate latitudes of New Zealand. Perhaps the shipwright, John Satterley, had by then got busy drilling makeshift holes for the cords with an auger. I realise in the darkness that our hammocks have been fastened in just such a way—that, unobtrusively, we have been deprived of potential currency.
Next to me, separated by a fraction more than the regulation 14 inches, lies eight-year-old Te Waiti Pearless, Craig’s son. He boarded at Anaura and, in the darkness, is a little apprehensive.
“Are you going to be up the top doing your work, Dad?”
“That’s right,” says Craig tenderly, kneeling beside him. “I’ll be working, not far away.”
I am reminded of other children brought aboard the Endeavour: Te Taniwha and his young friends sitting on the deck, “looked at by the goblins, who with their hands stroked our mats and the hair of the heads of us children”; not daring to move about “lest we should be bewitched.” Then there were the young fishermen, captured in Hawke’s Bay and brought forcibly aboard, who surprised everyone with their appetite and good humour before falling asleep on some lockers in the Great Cabin.
All too soon it is time for 10 Mizen to rise—or rather, cramped as things are, to semi-rise. In the lurching dark I fumble to dress and don heavy weather gear and harness before climbing the narrow wooden ladder into the wind-whacked night.
In the cool dawn a chunk of distant high countryWhakapunake perhaps—solidifies on the horizon, gathering shape with the morning light. With an impeccable sense of theatre, Chris Blake has driven the ship out to sea in the face of freshening weather all night, and set us with an early morning turn of the helm on Cook’s trajectory for Gisborne.
He is on the quarterdeck now as we scrutinise the land, one hand in pocket, the other clamping a cellphone to his ear. Satisfying media curiosity as to our progress.
As the morning expands, all the gadfly attention that accompanies such things makes itself more visible. The first of what will become a swelling armada of spectator craft join us. A helicopter drums overhead. We are aware that, as part of its sponsorship deal, TVNZ is screening documentaries on Cook, Banks and the building of the ship we are standing on. The episode on Cook’s first contact is scheduled to go to air right about now, as the coast’s detail hardens.
Crew are climbing topside, off watch but keen to catch a historic glimpse. It isn’t easy. Like a patient coming out of anaesthetic, the past seems to slip in and out of focus.
Cook knew nothing of what Aotearoa contained. He had a hundred men near enough, some fancy new navigational aids, and a job to do. We are jaded and streetwise; we know what lies beyond the surf: State Highway 2, fast food chains, neat bungalows, the six o’clock news.
Even when John Longley, a passionate believer in the cause, gathers us on the weather deck to read aloud an account of the fateful first meeting of cultures, we fumble to keep hold of that past.
The record is one of cultural miscues and avoidable deaths. Cook had arrived in Poverty Bay, known to the Maori as Turanganui a Kiwa, in the midst of tribal unrest.
The small peninsula noted by Banks at the north-east head, whose “regular paling” was thought to hold deer, oxen or sheep, was in reality a fortified pa.
The Turanganui River where Cook landed marked a boundary between two intermittently hostile hapu. Having landed on the east bank and explored the vicinity, they found a recently abandoned settlement comprising, wrote William Monkhouse, “four or five wigwams, a quantity of limpet shell, the Shell of a lobster and a ground oven in the Otaheite [Tahiti] style.”
Soon after, the shore party heard musket shots. Hurrying back to the river, they found that the young boys left guarding the ship’s yawl had been threatened, probably in a ritual challenge, by Ngati Oneone warriors. The coxswain in the nearby pinnace, having fired into the air as a warning, proceeded to shoot one of the men—Te Marothrough the heart.
Other deaths were to follow—despite Cook’s instructions from the president of the Royal Society, the Earl of Morton, “To exercise the utmost patience and forbearance with respect to the Natives of the several Lands where the Ship may touch,” and “To have it still in view that sheding the blood of those people is a crime of the highest nature.”
Conflict was perhaps inevitable. During the mid-18th century Maori in the Bay of Plenty and on the Coromandel were beset by intertribal warfare. Cook’s arrival in November coincided with the regular summer escalation in fighting, and helps explain the belligerent response to the appearance of an unknown vessel.
I try to limit myself to Cook’s horizon. Ignorant of what lay ahead, he had set his course for the scratch on the map Tasman called New Zealand following weeks of exploration in the Southern Ocean. After a month of clawing into fierce headwinds, he and his men knew they were close. Sitting in the Great Cabin, Banks wrote: “Now do I wish that our freinds in England could by the assistance of some magical spying glass take a peep at our situation: Dr Solander setts at the Cabbin table describing, myself at my Bureau Journalizing, between us hangs a large bunch of sea weed, upon the table lays the wood and barnacles; they . . . might guess that we were talking about what we should see upon the land which there is now no doubt we shall see very soon.”
They had some idea. The extensive libraries on board included the account of Tasman’s voyages and Dalrymple’s Voyages in the South Pacific. Dalrymple included in his book an engraving of the Taitapu men in canoes encountered by Tasman. Banks, for one, had been an eager student of these works. On examining the cloth of the dead challenger Te Maro, following the shooting incident, he pronounced it to be “tied on exactly as represented in Mr Dalrymple’s book p. 63 . . . .”
Three days later, at 1.30 P.M., on October 6, 1769, Nicholas Young the surgeon’s boy sighted land from the masthead, getting a gallon of rum and a name on a headland for his trouble. About the only other thing known about young Nick is that he could provoke passion. Midshipman John Bootie’s journal pulls no punches: “Evil communications corrupt good manners. N. Young is a son of a Bitch.”
Endeavour, of course, wasn’t the first European ship in these waters. Tasman had been here a hundred years before Cook, and there are suggestions of a Spanish caravel south of East Cape as early as 1526. Even as Endeavour was rounding North Cape in December 1769, the French explorer Jean-Francois-Marie de Surville was battling the same gale in the St Jean Baptiste, the two ships unaware of each other’s presence yet only hours apart.
It was left to Cook and his crew, however, to chart New Zealand’s 2400 miles of coastline, and they made such a thorough reconnoitre that there was little for subsequent discoverers to do but amplify and confirm what had been set down.
As to the debate over intentions, culpability, and the rest, there is a story which perhaps serves as a caution against loading history with too much ideology. Cook may have been the tool of a ruthless economic imperialism, but he and his companions were also moved by a scientific curiosity. More to the point, they, as much as the Maori they encountered, were prisoners of their own cultural beliefs and customs. They could no more contradict the habits of thought that powered the whole adventure than they could sail backwards into the wind. Like a pinball set going in an arcade game, Endeavour sprang from Plymouth to be bounced against the pins of the South Pacific.
In these terms, the ship’s appearance off the coast of New Zealand could be read as merely a sign of the times. A statistical jackpot.
The story itself concerns a Maori take on the arcade game, or perhaps its flipside: the past fishing practices of Te Whanau-a-Apanui, the tribe of the northern East Cape.
Te Whanau-a-Apanui’s method, it seems, was to strand migrating whales by making a racket from the shore and in canoes across their path, and by incantations which would call the mammals to their death.
On one occasion, the story goes, the supporters of two rival tohunga were assembled on a promontory to witness the results of the incantations. At that moment, around the far headland, sailed Endeavour.
Cook did not discover, in other words. He was summoned.