A long time ago, I spent a day on a replica of HMS Endeavour on Sydney Harbour. It was an uncanny experience. This ship, a reconstruction, seemed an almost inconceivably small thing to have delivered so much change and disruption to the Southern Hemisphere. The knowledge that I was part of the settlement that had resulted – over time – from its visit had to sit alongside the havoc that settlement had brought. At a level of simple geography, it was also uncanny: Sydney Harbour is a body of water the original ship never entered, embraced by shorelines its sailors never saw. This voyage wasn’t re-creating anything that had ever actually happened.
I carry two sensations from that day, more than fifteen years ago now. The first is the smallness of the ship’s two finest cabins assigned to Lieutenant James Cook, its captain, and Joseph Banks, the rich young man who craved – and got – a ‘grand tour’ that would circumnavigate the globe. Each had just 2.4 square metres of floor space, with ceilings 1.7 metres high. Both men, over 1.8 metres tall (or six foot in their measure), must have had to dip their heads and duck. The second is the skewed view through the windows, their uneven glass rippling the scenes outside into distorted versions of themselves. Changing the world waterborne visitors saw through a thick and alien lens.