In early January, the Australian government announced a grant of $6.7 million for a 39-stop circumnavigation of Australia in 2020 by a replica of James Cook’s Endeavour, in ‘celebration’ of the 250th anniversary of this colonial murder hobo whose main accomplishment is to get stabbed in the chest with a spear because the king of Hawaii refused to LARP along with Cook’s notion that he was a god.
This is something of a sore point, because celebrating any achievement of Captain Cook’s life is done by recognising that Captain Cook had a life, and that involves talking about Captain Cook and mentioning the much more miserable stuff he did like, you know, the invasion and initiating all the genocides and the colonialism and whatnot.
I said some stuff at the time, some of which turns out to have been incorrect, but mainly also this gave me an excuse to talk about boats which is subject near and dear to my dad’s heart, which is pretty weird, now I say that aloud, because I don’t actually care that much about it.
Nonetheless, this is a chance to correct myself a little and phwooar. Look at that… skimmtren. Ain’t that impressive.
(I have no idea what I’m doing)
First things first: The Endeavour replica this story is about is an absolute marvel of engineering. There are some modern components of it, mainly an engine that’s kept in the old Hold where you stored rotting bad food full of worms and also any people you wanted to ha ha, transport (probably never happened don’t worry about it) but those things are there to basically make this boat something other than a coin-flip death trap when taken out to the open seas. When you set that engine and its requirements aside, though, the boat, is made period-appropriate, down even to its eyelets in its sails, using woven cord, rather than metal eyelets.
The Endeavour was being developd in honour of the bicentennial in 1988, and finished in 1993, 26 years ago. It is an incredibly impressive, technically amazing achievement. I’ve been on it, for a school trip. It’s really, genuinely amazing, not a word of a joke, that it exists.
The journey itself is a bit of a swizz. Cook didn’t circumnavigate Australia (he did circumnavigate New Zealand, which both Australians and New Zealanders will firmly explain is not the same thing), that task was done by by Matthew Flinders in the Investigator or possibly by Chinese Junk traders. They were traders in Junks, a type of boat. Not that they came here to sell the Indigenous peoples their miscellaneous crap.
The circumnavigation of Australia is, let us not kid ourselves, about getting it to Perth, then back to Sydney, and filling the time in between with a bunch of school trips and the nebulously-hoped-for tourist dollars? it will? bring??
That 6 million dollar sum is important because if you don’t remember this boat exists that headline makes it sound like it’s 6 million to get a replica of the Endeavour and go on a tour for a few months, which is almost reasonable. But it’s not.
That’s the ship’s travelling upkeep cost.
The Endeavour is a period appropriate boat. Just travelling around the country costs about 6 million dollars. It is expensive to move because it is a period boat and it’s meant to be kept in pristine condition because it’s a historical replica piece. Now, you might not pay attention to historical replica boats from a period of history you don’t care about in a country you don’t care about, but I fortunately am cursed with actually remembering my abusive school environment, so I do remember this boat.
Back when I first wrote about this, I mentioned that the boat had been ‘sold’ multiple times, or rather that they’d tried to sell it multiple times and it turns out, with deeper research, that wasn’t the case. It’s not that they’ve tried to sell the Endeavour. It’s that they’ve tried to sell an Endeavour.
In England, there’s a second Endeavour – and that doesn’t have the same largesse ours does. The Australian Endeavour has been financed by government grants and private donations from various businesses, and the thing is, by all observation, a money pit. Simply put, the Endeavour exists by people paying money to keep it existing, and people pay it because the alternative is letting the Endeavour go around unfinanced. I can’t tell you who donates to it (beyond the Bond corporation, who paid for it to get made then donated it to the country).
Still, the thing is…
Nobody cares about this boat.
It’s going to travel around, conspicuously land the most times in the most racist state, be the subject of a lot of school trips, some well-meaning positive historians are going to try their best to wed the event to actual discussions of Cook, and that’s pretty much it. It’s too expensive to keep and it’s too important to junk and it’s too worthless to sell.
And yet if they scuttle it, I would be genuinely sad and I don’t have a good reason why.
I mean it’s not the boat’s fucking fault Cook was a monster.