Woolwich Pier - summer 2002

Note: 2003 update is at end of page [click here]

In August 1768 Cook set out on a 3 year voyage during which he and his party of scientists observed the Transit of Venus in Tahiti and failed to find the Great South Land (because it didn't exist) but explored and mapped the coasts of New Zealand and Eastern Australia. Their ship was Endeavour, a Whitby collier which had been refitted at Deptford. What finally happened to Endeavour is not documented but it was likely to have ended as a storage hulk on the Thames. Between 1988-94 a replica was built in Freemantle, Western Australia which has been sailing the world. It came to Greewich in 1997 and summer 2002 saw it back in London at the same time as one of its voyages was being charted on the BBC TV programme 'The Ship'.

I became involved when a poster at the National Maritime Museum caught my husband's interest. It was recruiting Shipkeepers to sleep onboard in a hammock and undertake a 2 hour watch during the night. However when the papers came they were also appealing for guides which prompted the idea that WE could do that! So we signed up and turned up for a rather disorganised induction meeting at HMS President wondering what we had let ourselves in for. We were issued with guidebooks & handbooks and confirmed our allocated watches. The ship was to be open to the public for 9 days and each day was split into 3 watches.

We reported for duty on the first Saturday and were issued with our uniform of polo shirts and straw hats. To stow our gear and find out our postings we went down to the so called '20th century'. This area would have been part of the hold on the original ship but now houses a galley, bench seats & fixed tables, lockers, showers & heads. It is not a luxurious area but rather cramped and spartan. There is no sleeping accommodation as the cabins and messdecks on the ship are utilised as they would have been in Cook's time. We know the names of the men on Cook's voyage from the muster lists and there is a lovely model of Endeavour in the National Maritime Museum which has 94 figures representing them. The replica Endeavour has a permanent crew of 16, many including the captain Australian, and they take on another 40 or so for each voyage. Working crew pay 95 per day, supernumeries 220. However the Bark Endeavour Foundation is a non-profit organisation.

It was time to try out the route visitors would be taking through the ship.They would be given a sheet which detailed where to go and what to look for at numbered points and we were to answer questions and provide addition information as well as seeing that everyone found their way around safely.

The first post I took up was on the Foredeck. Here I could talk about the masts & rigging (18 miles of it), the ship's bell, anchors & swivel guns and the operation of the windlass as well as pointing out the 'seats of ease' (toilets). I then did a spell of duty on the gangway checking tickets and welcoming people aboard.

My last post of the day was on Messdeck. This was set out to show its various uses for sleeping, dining and recreation. The area would have been used by 65 seamen and at one end was the galley where their one-handed cook made hot meals for breakfast and midday (supper was cold) on a wood-burning stove. As well as a (stuffed) ship's cat the cat-o-nine-tails was on display and parents were more interested in the fact that you could be flogged for not eating your dinner! A point I made when visitors commented on the lack of privacy, space or interesting food was that these things needed to be compared with 18th century conditions and not modern expectations. The only relic from the original Endeavour is here - a piece of pig iron ballast that was thrown overboard when the ship ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef. It was whilst on duty here that a fellow guide and I posed for photos for the Kentish Mercury.

There were fewer guides to change around on the Sunday so I spent my watch in the Great Cabin also overseeing the cabins of Cook (used by the present captain at sea) and the botanist Joseph Banks, who had paid 10000 for his party of 8 to travel. The Great Cabin would normally be for the sole use of the captain but on the Endeavour voyage Cook had to share this space with the gentlemen and scientists. The cabin had been set out to show the range of activities that would have been undertaken with fresh plant material supplied by Kew. Also on display were gifts from around the world and a wooden trunnel (tree nail) that had been taken on the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

There seemed to be a good number of visitors over the weekend and lovely blue skies but when we arrived the following Saturday it was pouring with rain. Another guide and I volunteered to cover the essential outside posts and we were issued with one size (in my case - ankle length) waxed coats & Sou'westers. I sheltered under the longboat to help people down the top hatch but fortunately the rain stopped as the visitors started arriving. It was a little tricky getting down to the lower deck and they seemed to be selling tickets to all comers including the elderly, parents with babies and ladies in tight skirts & high heels. Surprisingly it took bribes & threats to get some of the children to go down.

After a coffee break I went onto the quarterdeck. This commanding position which would have been the preserve of the officers & gentlemen and the animals provided good photo opportunities at the helm. Because they weren't in their operational position for safety reasons it was often necessary to explain how the steering mechanism and capstan worked. There was also the log line (for speed) and the lead line (for depth) plus canons (cast from the originals) and more swivel guns.

That evening we returned for the guides 'thank you get together' where the crew provided drinks and food, including sausage rolls with a tomato ketchup dip. We were presented with certificates signed by the captain and gathered for a group photo which one of the crew took with about 20 different cameras. It was nice to spend the evening on board and go below to areas atmospherically lit with electric candle lights. We also got to see the engines and what was behind locked doors - usually modern equipment.
My last day was spent in a cramped area with only 4' 6" headroom where the extra deck that had been added was below the after fall deck. This served as the mess area for 10 midshipmen & mates and was flanked by 6 small cabins, 4 of which were displayed: the surgeons, second & third lieutenants and the masters. It was interesting to watch the reactions when visitors especially children noticed the chamber pot in one of the cabins had a plastic pooh in it! The floor space was taken up by a hatch with access to the present day refrigerated stores.

Visitors went back through the Marine's area and up to the officer's mess the only area where I hadn't done a spell of duty. This was flanked by cabins allocated to the naturalist & secretary of Bank's party, the astronomer and the artists. These last two and the mess area were displayed with replica artifacts.

Having enjoyed the experience of guiding on Endeavour we were offering our services weeks before the ship was due to return to Woolwich in July. This time the guide co-ordinator would be Woolwich Town Centre Manager Steph Butcher, who had the inappropriate attribute of being very tall!
We volunteered for double watches on 3 of the 9 days the ship was open to the public. During that time I covered most of the positions on the lower decks and some on the upper decks. Visitor numbers varied but it did not attract the queues of last year, perhaps because of the unusually hot weather or the fact that the schools had not broken up. A combined ticket was available with Firepower (Artillery Museum) and the site was busy during the week when Musical Nights ending with fireworks were being staged.

It was good to meet up with old friends from last year, make new ones and re-new our acquaintance with the ship itself. An on board 'Thank You' was held on the last Sunday evening with captain Dai Davies presenting certificates. Guides had already been allocated to the Day & Twilight (evening) sailings scheduled but when an extra evening was added for army personnel at Woolwich we were lucky enough to be chosen. Four of us were responsible for showing around and providing information for those who wished to see the lower decks. Only some people took up the invitation and we were then free to enjoy the trip from the comfort of the Great Cabin or up on deck. The weather was ideal and with a combination of sails and engine we went as far as Wapping, past features I have often walked on the Thames Path. Making the journey on such a lovely ship with its friendly crew made a brilliant evening. I've still no desire to 'run away to sea' but if I learn that Endeavour is returning to Woolwich on exhibition I'll be dusting off my straw hat eager to sign on.

Twilight pix available [click here]

Becoming Old Sea Dogs we joined Endeavour again at Woolwich on 19 September 2003 for a day-sail to Chatham, where the ship was due to be on exhibition until the 28th. The trip involved a spell in the (20th century) galley preparing food for the paying passengers and doing a duty with the tea urn, set up on the mess deck, as well as an hour or so posted as guides. However in the time between we were free to enjoy the voyage and joined the crew for lunch. The journey provided the opportunity to sail (at 1.5 knots) with foremast and stay sails but without the engines and to fire the cannon at passing landmarks. We also had to negotiate a lock in order to get into the basin at Chatham. The QEII bridge at Dartford looked very high when we were approaching but quite a tight fit as we passed under!

Day Sail pix available [click here]


Endeavour returned to Australia for a time but this summer (2018) returns to her Whitby 'home'. Details can be found on the website.

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