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What Do We Know About Cook's Ships?


I enjoyed reading the extracts from Robyn Gossett's book and newspaper article, edited by Ron Moore, and published in Cook's Log (see page 1377, vol. 20, no. 2 (1977)); together with the letter to Robyn by Mr Hulmes. Readers may be interested in further comments on this subject. They are largely based on five sources, which I list below in chronological order of publication:

A Cook's Endeavour and Other Ships, by P W Brock, published in the Mariner's Mirror, Vol 54, 1968, p194/5.
B Captain Cook's Ship, H.M. Bark Endeavour, by N A Maffey, published in the New Zealand Marine News, Vol. 21, No 4 (1970).
C Cook's Ships; What Happened to Them? By J.F Allan, published (under a sub-editor's heading James Cook's Ships Just Faded away Like Old Soldiers) in the Evening Post newspaper in Wellington, New Zealand on 10th April 1971.
D What Did Happen to Captain Cook's Endeavour? By Mike Connell, published in Australian Sea Heritage, No 49 (1997).
E What Do We Know About The Endeavour? By Ron Moore, published in Cook's Log, Vol 20, Nos. 1 and 2 (1997).

The appropriate letter indicates references to these five articles in my text, as above, within parentheses; references to other sources are indicated by an endnote. Sometimes, more than one reference is shown, where multiple sources quote the same information.


Maffey sums up the conclusion of all researchers (thus far) who have attempted to unravel these mysteries, when he remarks with reference to Endeavour's career after her sale by the Navy in 1775: "there is a great deal of controversy and very little that can be regarded as authentic" (B).

Maffey, in common with most recent commentators, ignores the Endeavour that became a wreck in Dusky Sound in 1795 (B). Back in 1909, McNab discounted Captain Fairchild's hypothesis that this wreck could have been Cook's old ship17. Fairchild (master of the NZ Government steamer)18, would not have known that Cook's Endeavour was renamed Lord Sandwich in 1776, and appears as such in Lloyd's register for 1778 and 1779 (B, C, E). There is no trace of her in subsequent registers. Had she reverted to her earlier name, there is very little doubt that the change would have been recorded, and made public.

However, it is of passing interest that the remains of this ship, the first recorded European wreck on the New Zealand coast, were still visible in 1963. The full story of her beaching, and the 1963 relocation, is well told in the book Dusky Bay.1

McNab came to the conclusion that: "After careful examination of the evidence . . . the long accepted Newport version is not established, and the balance of testimony is in favour of the contention that Cook's Endeavour ended her days on the Thames" (D, E).2 If McNab was still alive today, I think he would probably side with Mr Maffey, and agree that whilst Endeavour may have ended her days on the Thames, "her ultimate fate remains obscure" (B).

Resolution, Adventure, and Discovery

My own 1971 article drew on Maffey's Endeavour research, but was also concerned with all of Cook's ships. For ease of reference, it is worth restating the names of the ships, and their Voyages with Cook:

First 1768-71 Endeavour (originally Earl of Pembroke, and subsequently Lord Sandwich)
Second 1772-75 Resolution and Adventure
Third 1776-80 Resolution and Discovery

Adventure was broken up in 1783, whilst Resolution was captured by the French ship Sylphide in 1782, and thereafter was presumed lost on passage to Manila (A,C,D).3

Cook's Discovery lasted a little longer. "She was converted to a Navy Transport intended for carrying stores from one dockyard to another . . . She was present at the Nore in June 1797, when a major mutiny occurred in the fleet. And in August of that year she made her last passage to Chatham, and was taken to pieces there" (A,C).

P W Brock identifies his source as "Progress Books formerly used to record the material history of every ship in the Royal Navy, from her laying down or acquisition by capture or purchase to her final disposal or loss (E)." So there is good authority for the information that he provided.

Endeavour v Resolution

In drafting my 1971 article, I soon became aware of some of the controversies mentioned by Mr Maffey. First and foremost, there were the opposing camps as regards the final resting-place of Endeavour. Cook's biographer, Arthur Kitson, supported the claim of Newport, Rhode Island. But this claim has been described as "not much more than a record of a local legend."4

Brock inclined to view that Endeavour did end her days at Newport, R.I. (E). More recently, this theory gained strong support from no less an authority than Alan Villiers, who wrote: "There is no doubt that Endeavour did fetch up at Newport, R.I., strange as that may be".5

But there is also a sub-set of this debate. If (and it is a big IF) one accepts that one of Cook's ships did "fetch up at Newport, R.I." could it have been Resolution? There is no reason to doubt that she became a French prize. But there was never positive identification of her subsequent loss, and Sir John Barrow, later to become a Fellow of the Royal Society and a noted author on Cook, claimed that he had seen her at the Cape Verde Islands under French colours, and named La Liberté (E).6 Almost all other commentators, who consider the claim of Newport, R.I., refer to this vessel as the ex-Endeavour. (A, B, C, D,).

However, Mr Connell describes Barrow as a "credible witness", and is inclined to accept his claim (E). Nor is there any doubt that Barrow is credible, but he was not always correct! By way of illustration, in his biography of Cook, Barrow followed closely the text of an earlier biographer, Dr Alexander Kippis, who has Cook appointed on three successive days, to three different ships.7 Barrow also has Cook in Jamaica in 1765, carrying despatches to the Governor of Yucatan and subsequently publishing an account of his adventures in 1769.8 (I am indebted to fellow CCSU member Alan Smith for this information; the subject arose out of an attempt to trace James Cook Jnr). Barrow also refers to James Cook as Cooke.9 These errors are largely attributable to there being several Lieutenants of the name of James Cook(e) in the Royal Navy. And whilst one can excuse lesser mortals for this type of slip, it seems that Barrow, no doubt with many other calls on his time, was not reliable when it came to matters of detail. It seems probable to me that in his identification of La Liberté as Resolution, either his memory was at fault, and hence he substituted the name of Resolution for Endeavour; or his source was inaccurate.

In any case, if one disbelieves the Newport, R.I. claim, this sub-set is irrelevant. But it does tend to illustrate the difficulties of interpreting unreliable data!

Endeavour v Cook's Discovery v Vancouver's Discovery

Robert W Jenks, of Providence Museum, earned himself a place in Cook literature, with his statement published in the Providence Journal (Rhode Island), December 17, 1834. (B, C, E)10 Jenks claims to have been first officer of a ship that was shipwrecked on passage from Boston to the Azores. He relates that the master of the ship that subsequently gave him passage to England (Captain Jones of the William and Amelia) told him that Cook's Endeavour was moored in the Thames.

Jenks visited Greenwich on the afternoon of his arrival in London. There he met an old sailor, who said that "he and about six others were all that now remained of the crew of the Endeavour, and that the greatest pleasure he now enjoyed was in his frequent visits to the 'old Hulk', as she now lies moored a short distance from Greenwich. Accordingly, after leaving this interesting spot, we proceeded up the river, . . . and made fast to the identical hull of the ship Endeavour, which conveyed Captain Cook on a voyage round the world. Here we lay, several hours, alongside the 'Pride of the Thames' and although a clump, heavy-timbered, black looking floating castle, with a high quarter deck and top-gallant forecastle, but without masts: yet every part of her was kept in the neatest order by the family residing on board, consisting of an old pensioner, his children and grandchildren, who all obtained a genteel livelihood by showing the different parts of the vessel to visitors from all parts of the world". Jenks identifies the date precisely, as Thursday, August 4th, 1825, and says that he heard "the clock of St Paul's strike three".11

When I wrote my article back in 1971, I leaned to the view that Jenks had been conned by the equivalent of our modern tourist industry which seldom allows the truth to diminish a steady income. Now, I begin to wonder if Jenks himself had an axe to grind.

There certainly was one ship, not too dissimilar to Endeavour that had been around the world, and was lying in the Thames in 1825. She was Vancouver's Discovery, and she was well illustrated by the artist E W Cooke (sic), whose sketch of her appeared in his book Shipping and Craft published in 1829; but the date of the sketch is given as 1825, the same year as Jenks's report.12 Cooke identified her as Cook's Discovery, which as we have already seen, was broken up in 1797. This error was corrected by George Godwin in his biography of Vancouver published in 1930.13

There is another published variation on this theme that is worth a mention, if only to try to avoid it multiplying! W Branch-Johnson, in his book The English Prison Hulks (1957) wrote: "Another interesting addition (to the list of prison hulks) was Discovery, the vessel that had accompanied Captain Cook on his last voyage ... for five years after 1791 the Discovery was employed under Commander George Vancouver ... About 1824 she appeared as a convict hulk at Deptford ..." 14

It would seem that the belief that this ship was Cook's Discovery was probably pretty general in 1825, and Alan Villiers concluded that Jenks must have visited it, and unwittingly transposed the name to Endeavour.15 But if so, why are there so many discrepancies between Jenks's detailed description, and Cooke's equally detailed sketch?

  • It would have been difficult for any floating vessel to lie alongside Vancouver's Discovery, as illustrated. She is not moored in the stream, but high and dry alongside a wharf at Deptford. Perhaps a small boat might have managed to sneak alongside at high tide, but Jenks describes the vessel he was in as a 'brig', which lay alongside 'for several hours', and was 'warped up' against a falling tide. (Which implies that the tide was less than full, when they came alongside).
  • With convict laundry hanging out to dry, the title "Pride of the Thames" is clearly inappropriate!
  • There is neither a high quarterdeck nor top-gallant forecastle, nor would Jenks have seen these features if he had visited the Endeavour (B).
  • There is a mast, complete with ensign.
  • The convicts on board are clearly seen, lining the rail. This would have been no place for a genteel pensioner and his family.

There is also the question, that had Endeavour been on view as a tourist attraction, the many visitors who Jenks claims visited her would surely have recorded her presence informally, not to mention artists such as Cooke. The uncorroborated evidence we have depends entirely on Jenks's sources; the master of the ship that conveyed him to London and one unnamed old sailor.

I am left to ponder whether Jenks himself decided to bend the evidence to suit his own purposes. He may well have been convinced that Newport's claims were ill founded, but were perhaps helping business at their museum, whereas that of the neighbouring town of Providence (from which he wrote his report) was suffering. If he could get his report into the local newspapers, it would obviously take time for any correction from London to reach Rhode Island, and that would be quite sufficient for a never ending debate to get itself started, with some benefit to Providence Museum.

Beyond that, as his report came nine years after his visit to London, it would be very difficult (and perhaps impossible) to re-locate his witnesses, and there was a good chance that the transposition of Endeavour for Discovery would remain unnoticed. (It is very unlikely that he would have known of the 1829 publication of Cooke's sketch).

Then again, Jenks may simply have been man with a sense of humour. His closing comment leaves me with the distinct feeling that he intended to lampoon not only the Newport Museum, but also the British Government. He wrote: 'I believe that the Americans would as soon sell "Old Ironsides" for a mud scow as the Government of Great Britain peddle their Endeavour for a French Whaler.'

This could well be intended as sarcastic taunt, if Jenks believed that the only one of Cook's ships still in existence in 1825 (although in fact it was Vancouver's Discovery) was preserved, for the time being, as a rotting prison hulk.

In the matter of Cook's ships, as Mr Maffey has so truly written "there is a great deal of controversy and very little that can be regarded as authentic" (B).

Or, to put it another way:
   Things are seldom what they seem,
   Skim milk masquerades as cream.16


  1. Dusky Bay by A. Charles Begg and Neil C. Begg, 1966; p 78-84.
  2. Murihuku by Robert McNab, 1909; p 30.
  3. Mariner's Mirror, Vol 17, 1931, p 84. Note by F S.
  4. Mariner's Mirror., Vol 2, 1911, p22. Note by W S.
  5. Mariner's Mirror., Vol 53, 1957, p 184. Comment by Alan Villiers.
  6. A Voyage to Cochin China in the Years 1792 and 1793, (1806) by John Barrow. Quoted in the Mariner's Mirror, Vol 17 (1931), p 84. Note by F S.
  7. Captain Cook by R T Gould, 1978 edn, p20/21,
  8. Captain Cook's Voyages of Discovery by John Barrow, (Ed); Everyman's edition, 1948, p6. (This reference is not carried in all editions.)
  9. Cochin China; Op. Cit.
  10. Mariner's Mirror, Vol 53 (1967), p 183. Note by J A Speer.
  11. Mariner's Mirror.
  12. Mariner's Mirror, Vol 33 (1947), p 125. Note by F V Longstaff.
  13. Mariner's Mirror, Vol 53 (1967), p 370. Note by J E Roberts.
  14. Mariner's Mirror, Vol 53 (1967), p 184. Comment by Alan Villiers.
  15. Mariner's Mirror, Vol 53 (1967), p 183. Note by J A Speer.
  16. HMS Pinafore, (1878) by W S Gilbert.
  17. Murihuku by Robert McNab, 1909; p 123.
  18. Ibid.

John Allan

An amended version of an article originally published in Cook's Log, page 1473, volume 21, number 1 (1998).
The changes are for clarification, improved grammar, etc. This article has not been updated with information learnt after publication. For that, see later articles on this web site.

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