The Endeavour in Tōtaranui/Queen Charlotte Sound

January 1770


Provided by John Hellstrom



On the 15th of January 1770, after having spent more than five weeks at sea since leaving the Bay of Islands, Lieutenant James Cook brought his ship – the bark Endeavour - around the treacherous reef that lies off the western entrance of the deep bay he was about to enter. 


Several miles up the bay, which he subsequently named Queen Charlotte’s Sound, in honour of his King’s consort; he found “a very snug cove” [1] where he anchored.  The place he had come to, Meretoto, he named Ship Cove.


The Endeavour had now been almost 18-months at sea since leaving Plymouth and although she had been careened in Tahiti in June, was badly in need of maintenance. 


Cook had been looking for a suitable place to careen her again and effect repairs on rigging and fittings – he had found the ideal spot.  The cove is sheltered from the NW and SE gales that frequent the area and, at that time had a gently sloping sandy bottom ideal for hauling the ship ashore and pulling her over to allow the hull to be scraped of marine growth and re-tarred – the process known as careening.  [NB the rocky delta of the stream in the centre of Ship Cove was not there in 1770 and in fact was still very small in 1913, debris from landslips over the last 100 years have been carried down and spread across the beach by the stream]


On that first day, the ship’s pinnace brought the officers and most of the gentleman on board to shore, where they found “a fine stream of excellent water” and much wood, as the land was covered by “an entire forest”.  They had also brought a seine net with them. [NB We do not know how big this net was but given it was carried in the pinnace along with a dozen or so men and it would have been made of heavy fibre such as hemp with large cork floats and lead or metal weights it is unlikely that is was more than 100 feet long and more than 10 feet deep and was probably smaller.]


They made ‘a few hauls’ in the cove on to the beach and caught over 300 lbs (150kgs) of fish.  This must have been very welcome after their long voyage from the north.  The fish as well as a number of shags that were shot, were shared amongst the whole crew.  Banks recorded that this was more fish “than all our people could possible destroy”. 


In the context of today’s knowledge of the scarcity of fish at that spot it is illuminating to read about what they caught in a few drags of a seine net.  Sydney Parkinson, the botanical and zoological artist who was there with Joseph Banks, recorded that they caught at least 12 species – large red bream [snapper] some as large as 12lbs, smaller grey bream [terakihi], squid, “flying gurnards”, barracuda, blue cod, horse mackerel, dogfish, flounders and soles, grey mullet, sea perch and elephant fish. 



The following day, January 16th, they careened the ship; “scrubbed and pay’d the larboard side”, [pay’d meant treating it with tar mixed with “brimstone” (sulphur) to discourage marine growth, larboard is the old nautical term for the port side].  The following day the crew repeated the treatment on the starboard side.  The process of careening involved dragging the ship close in shore at high tide, parallel to the beach and then pulling her on to her side with ropes and pulleys attached to the tops of the masts and anchored on the shore or tied to trees.  As the tide went down the crew had access to the upper half of the bottom of the ship.


No painting or drawing exists of this event though there is a sketch of the Endeavour being hauled over at Endeavour River in Queensland after she was damaged on the Great Barrier Reef. 



Cook describes at great length the process of bringing the ship into shallow water, removing ballast and heavy equipment and using anchors ashore to pull the Endeavour on to her side after to affect repairs. That sketch was probably used to create a stamp commemorating the event at Ship Cove that was issued in 1959 for the Marlborough provincial Centenary.  [NB The drawing is very inaccurate as the rise and fall of the tide at Ship Cove is only 4-7 feet and the Endeavour drew 13 feet unballasted, so even when pulled over most of the ship would have been in the water.]  Also the full moon was waning at the time so Cook would not have had the benefit of spring tides.


While the crew were careening the hull the armourers set up their forge, at the eastern end of the cove, to make ironwork to repair the tiller and transom.  Also the carpenters were busy re-caulking the hull.  The caulking was done with oakum and pay – oakum was hemp or jute fibre and pay was the tar it was mixed with.  This mixture was forced into the gaps between the planks in the ship’s hull to stop them leaking.  The term ‘paying the devil’ - originally meant caulking the devil, which was the longest seam in the hull and had to done while squatting in the bilges [3] – now the expression ‘the devil to pay’ means doing having a very serious or unpleasant from making a mistake.

The other significance of this event is the terrible consequence it caused; New Zealand’s second man-made biosecurity disaster (the first was the arrival of the Polynesian rat, Rattus exulans about 1000 years ago).  There was apparently a British naval tradition to use the opportunity afforded by having heavy ropes stretching between the ship and shore during careening to chase rats off ships – so it seems certain that the Norway rats that had such a devastating impact on our native birds first arrived that very day, just as Joseph Banks was writing about the “wild melodious music” of those very birds [4].


The Botanists

The voyage of the Endeavour was one of scientific exploration.  Joseph Banks had brought a band of skilled naturalists and artists with him to identify and record their new discoveries.  One of these was the Swede Daniel Solander, a pupil and disciple of the great Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus.  Solander was particularly skilled in the rigour of the Linnaean classification system and by the time the Endeavour returned to England he had identified and named over 1300 plants that had never before known to exist by European scientists, as well as 222 new marine species.  It was by far the greatest single contribution ever to the knowledge of global botanical biodiversity both in its breadth and significance[ 5]


Unfortunately, Solander died just a few years after his return to England and his life work was not published for nearly 200 years; but nor was it lost.  Many other botanists including the Forsters, who came to New Zealand on Cook’s second voyage, built on Solander’s work without acknowledging him, often publishing his Linnaean descriptions as their own. 


Solander described and classified the 1300 plant species within existing and new genera.  He described 100 new genera and his descriptions were so accurate that almost 50 of them are still recognised today, though most are not attributed to him because of the plagiarism of his unpublished work that occurred.  He did however, retain credit for scientifically describing some of our most beloved plants, kowhai, pohutukawa and harekeke [flax] and his true contribution was finally recognised 180 years later by H. H. Allan, who dedicated his life work, The Flora of New Zealand, which is our definitive published taxonomic description of vascular plants, to “Daniel Carl Solander F. R. S.”  [Fellow of the Royal Society]


Many of the actual plants that Banks and Solander collected are held in the herbarium at Te Papa [6].  It is wonderful to think of those collected between 15th of January and the 5th of February 1770, in the vicinity of Ship Cove, being pressed each evening, being discussed by the three Botanists Banks, Solander and Sporing and sketched by Sporing and Parkinson.   The Tahitian polymath Tupaia also spent a lot of time with this company in the great cabin – he learnt how to sketch and paint from Parkinson and spent time discussing navigation and the geography of the Pacific with Cook [7].   Fortunately Parkinson’s beautiful botanical drawings survived his death in Batavia later that year and were converted into brass engraving plates for publication though Bank’s sponsorship.  Those plates, some from Ship Cove drawings, sat in the British Museum for over two hundred years until finally printed; they comprise a stunning collection[8].


A final poignant note – The botanists needed high quality absorbent paper to press and preserve their plants.  Banks and Solander acquired a large amount of suitable paper from a London publishing house they were printer’s proofs from an edition of John Milton’s famous work Paradise Lost [ 9].




John Hellstrom is from Sweden but has spent almost all his life as a kiwi.  He and his wife Judy have holidayed in and near Endeavour Inlet for over sixty years and lived there, full time, since 1997.  He has had an interest in the exploits of James Cook since collecting the Ship Cove stamp in 1959. He is particularly interested in the parallels between his ancestors, the Vikings and the Polynesian voyagers, the Tipuna of the Iwi of Aotearoa, who could traverse their respective oceans guided by only oral maps, and their profound understanding of their natural environment.  His ancestral homeland is close to Uppsala where Linnaeus lived and worked and taught Solander, his greatest disciple.


[1] These notes are largely based on the online version of the Wharton edition of James Cook’s Journal of his first voyage – direct quotes from the Journal are in quotation marks.

[2] My comments and interpretations are in square brackets JH.


[4] J C Beaglehole’s Edition of The Journals of Joseph Banks

[5] Nature's Argonaut, Daniel Solander 1733-1782. By Edward Duyker. Published by The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne: 1998



[7] Tupaia: the remarkable story of Captain Cook's Polynesian navigator. By Joan Druett. Random House, 2011.





In 2019, New Zealand will mark 250 years since the first meetings between Māori and Pākehā during James Cook and the Endeavour’s 1769 voyage to Aotearoa New Zealand. Tuia – Encounters 250 will acknowledge this pivotal moment in our nation’s history as well as the extraordinary feats of Pacific voyagers who reached and settled in Aotearoa many years earlier.

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