A case of mistaken identity

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Shipwreck Artefact, Endeavour Collection of the Southland Museum and Art Gallery Niho o te Taniwha.

ONE thing you quickly learn when working with a museum collection is things are not always as they seem.

Take this wall case, which contains a letter and three fragments of timber.

Written by R W Bates, of Cornwall, on January 14, 1925, the letter reads:

“This fragment of wood is a piece from Captain Cook’s ship Endeavour, wrecked in one of the Southern bays of New Zealand given to me by one of the officials of the Government near on 40 years ago.”

The HMS Endeavour is best known as the vessel James Cook commanded on his first voyage of discovery from 1768 to 1771.

It later joined the fleet which crossed the Atlantic as part of the British response to the American War of Independence (under the name Lord Sandwich II) and, following the Crown’s defeat, was scuttled somewhere along the American coast.

So do we have small fragments of this famed ship lurking in our museum here in Invercargill? Well, err, no.

This is a classic case of mistaken identity between Cook’s Endeavour and a vessel of the same name captained by William Bampton.

Although less well known internationally, Bampton’s Endeavour has its own fascinating
tale.

The story starts in Sydney where the Endeavour and a second ship, Fancy, set sail in September 1795.

Their intended destination of Fiordland appears to have been driven by the Endeavour’s poor condition.

The ship was built in 1771 and after undertaking many long journeys, wasn’t as watertight as it had once been.

Captain Bampton had his eye on securing a replacement vessel, in the form of a partially completed and abandoned ship built in Tamatea/Dusky Sound by a small band of sealers in 1793.

The Endeavour’s crew, and 41 stowaways who were discovered on board shortly after leaving Sydney, arrived in Tamatea in October and soon got to work.

They quickly built huts and then turned their attention to stripping the Endeavour of everything of value and finishing the vessel left by the sealers, which was duly launched under the name Providence.

What remained of the Endeavour escaped its moorings on October 25 , 1795, struck a rock and sank earning its place in history as New Zealand’s first European shipwreck.

As the passing of time muddied the waters, the wreck of the Endeavour was confused not only with Cook’s ship but also that of the Madagascar, a vessel bound for the United Kingdom from Melbourne carrying a cargo of gold.

Although the Endeavour’s true story was brought back into the light during the course of the 20th century, these framed timbers and letter remain to beautifully weave together the multiple narratives with which it has been associated.

— Kimberley Stephenson, Collections manager

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