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Endeavour: The Ship and Attitude that Changed the World by Peter Moore


It all started with an acorn.


As the old adage goes, all great journeys and events commence with a single step, something ostensibly infinitesimal. This acorn grew into a great oak tree, whose timbers would build a ship that would garner profits, traverse the seas, break through barriers, efface doubt, and fulfil many a destiny. As coal carrier, research vessel, floating abode, and enduring symbol, it would steer its way towards the most portentous events of what Daniel Defoe termed, “the Age of Projects.”


Endeavour, by British author and lecturer Peter Moore, is a biography and a poetic history of a fascinating human enterprise. The Endeavour breathed its first in the yard of the English shipwright Thomas Fishburn in the 1760s. From 1764 to 1768, it was first called the Earl of Pembroke. Acquired by the British Royal Navy, it received its famous name, Endeavour. It was in 1769 when Captain James Cook landed on Gisborne, New Zealand, during a hydrographical exploration of the Pacific.


The book divides into four sections that chart the existence and impact of the Endeavour: Life, Trade, Exploration, and War. In these chapters, Moore skilfully demonstrates how the Endeavour traversed water and time, reflecting first on the etymological history of the word “endeavour.” From Samuel Johnson to the Oxford English Dictionary, this verb and noun define the human impulse to break through, to investigate, and to transcend the known limits of capability and certainty.


Indeed, the eighteenth century was a time of revolution, discovery, and conflict between tradition and innovation. The Endeavour witnessed history made in the engines of the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution, and the American War of Independence. Apart from coal and other provisions, the Endeavour carried Hessian soldiers, Polynesian priests, leaders, believers, and doers. It sighted the Wilkes Riots in London in 1768 and the Battle of Long Island in New York in 1776, during the American Revolutionary War.


The high-definition colour photos in the middle of the book comprise portraits of noted figures who were involved in the British political scene during the eighteenth century, especially the writer Catharine Macaulay, the politician John Wilkes, the botanist Joseph Banks, and the statesman and polymath Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Several men involved with the Endeavour also make an appearance: the “complex” captain James Cook, the surgeon William Brougham Monkhouse, the sailing master Robert Molyneux, and the third lieutenant John Gore. Featured also are the Scottish illustrator Sydney Parkinson’s prominent sketches of the Maori people, some of which are the earliest artistic depictions of the indigenous people of Aotearoa. By including Parkinson’s paintings of flora and fauna, such as the Tahitian uru (breadfruit) and the Australian kanguru, Moore delicately weaves in the details of the lives of peoples in the Pacific. Furthermore, the book serves as a platform into considerations of colonial histories in the Pacific region and their sociopolitical implications.


Endeavour is a highly informative and inspirational read that I wholeheartedly recommend to all, especially high schoolers, history students, and individuals interested in New Zealand and world history. Boasting textual fluidity, attention to detail, relevant illustrations, and utile select bibliography, Endeavour is an intellectually engaging read and an accessible academic resource. It is a literary endeavour in itself: a product of a lengthy research process that, like its eponymous vessel, saw the shores of the glorious Antipodes once again.


Reviewer: Azariah Alfante

Penguin Random House, RRP $38.00

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