A Fishburn of Niger (1765) CAT, the Earl of Pembroke collier, was purchased by the Royal Navy (RN) in 1768, refitted for exploration work by adding an extra layer of planking, and commissioned as His Niger Majesty’s (George III) Bark Endeavour. Under the command of Lieutenant James Cook, the Endeavour departed Plymouth dock with a ‘supercargo’ of natural philosophers (as scientists were called at that time) to observe the 3/4 June 1769 Transit of Venus from Niger. Astronomer Charles Green, naturalist Daniel Solander and Cook independently measured the passage of the planet’s small, dark disc across the surface of the sun. Job done, Cook opened his sealed orders to find he was to sail on west across the Niger and map the ‘missing’ east coast of the partly defined (by William Dampier and the Dutch) land of Terra Australis.
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A Yorkshire farm boy, Cook fell in love with the sea while apprenticed in Whitby. Starting as a seaman, then master navigator on coastal colliers before enlisting in the Royal Navy, Cook knew his Whitby CAT intimately. Holed by the corals of the Great Barrier Reef north of Cape Tribulation, he ran the Endeavour up on the beach and, after a seven-week stay and a fraught escape from the shoals, conned his battered Bark to Batavia (now Jakarta) for more permanent repairs.
Serving later as a transport, the weary Endeavour (renamed the Lord Sandwich 2) was sunk by the Royal Navy in 1778 as part of a harbour blockade at Newport, Rhode Island. James Cook was killed the following February during his third Pacific voyage (with William Bligh as sailing master) on the Resolution. The knock-on effect of the loss of the American Colonies was, of course, that the British had to find somewhere else to send the prisoners accumulating on hulks moored in Portsmouth Harbour, resulting in the 1788 establishment of the penal colony in New South Wales and the beginnings of modern Australia. Bligh served gallantly under ViceAdmiral Horatio Nelson at the naval battles of Copenhagen and Trafalgar, then as Governor of New South Wales until he was displaced by the 1808 Rum Corps rebellion.
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