Blog: The story of HM Bark Endeavour
Published: 19 Jul 2018
At our Award Ceremony in June 2018, Peter received the Mary Soames award for History, WCMT’s gift to Lady Soames, Winston Churchill’s youngest daughter and Churchill Fellow Emeritus, to mark her 90th birthday in 2012. Here Peter talks about the story of HM Bark Endeavour, the issue he researched, and the experience of his Fellowship.
In 2015 I began writing a book on HM Bark Endeavour, known as the first of James Cook's great exploration vessels. She circumnavigated the globe in 1768-71, charting New Zealand and the east coast of Australia for the first time.
Writers always hope to travel. Experiencing a place, absorbing its unique character, helps enormously in the process of bringing a story to life.
But there are many obstacles to this. For the book I had begun, I hoped to visit New Zealand and Australia, but these are not cheap countries, nor could they have been any further away. Like most authors, I also juggle various jobs – I teach at two universities, do a little journalism and, often, look after my one-year-old.
Below: a painting of James Cook by the indigenous artist Helen Tiernan, who Peter met during his travels in Canberra
Being awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 2016 changed everything. The places I wished to visit were no longer impossibly distant and I was able to carry out research without having to constantly fret about work, family and funding.
Having the opportunity to explore libraries and museums in Sydney, Canberra and Auckland was invaluable, but an equal treasure were the conversations I was able to have with the academics, curators and Indigenous peoples I met. These conversations were surprising, invigorating and sometimes challenging. They changed utterly the way I thought about the story.
For a year after I returned home from my Fellowship travels, I wrote. I wanted to use the ship as a lynchpin and convey the great diversity of interpretations that were foisted upon her - in her lifetime and afterwards.
I always wanted to tell a fresh, modern story that is quite different to the worn 'Captain Cook' narrative. It’s a story that still feels alive today because we are still living with the consequences of the early encounters between Europeans and the indigenous peoples of the Pacific. ‘Endeavour’will be published next month in Australia and the UK and I am hoping that it brings a new understanding to a complex period of history.
My Fellowship was a unique opportunity to break out of my usual working rhythms and to stimulate my imagination by exposure to new ideas in an unfamiliar place. Receiving the Mary Soames award was a terrific surprise at the end of a rewarding journey.
Peter is pictured above at the award ceremony with guest of honour Nick Danziger, left, and Susanna Soames, daughter-in-law of Lady Soames, right. Picture ©Clive Totman 2018