On a recent visit to Wellington, New Zealand, I had the pleasure of stepping aboard the HMB Endeavour, a faithful, Australian-built replica of James Cook’s ship the HMS Endeavour. The ship is normally docked at Darling Harbour in Sydney but was over for a visit.
It was an awe-inspiring sight to stare up into the rigging of such an exact copy of the Endeavour, Captain Cook has always been my greatest hero. I felt quite emotional and looking at the long queue of people waiting to step aboard the ship, I could see that many others shared my emotions.
The original Endeavour started life in 1764 as the collier Earl of Pembroke, with the Navy purchasing her in 1768 for a scientific mission to the Pacific Ocean and to explore the seas for the surmised Terra Australis Incognita or “unknown southern land”.
As I stared up at her rigging, next to me was a little old lady, a school history teacher as it turned out. She loved this ship, she said to me: “Don’t believe what these silly people tell you these days about Captain Cook, our colonies and empire, it’s all rubbish.
I didn’t need to be told and we got to discussing Captain James Cook for a while, a man that as far as I and many others are concerned, was a genius. James Cooke’s career was remarkable in many ways, particularly because of his background. Born in Yorkshire, the son of a farm labourer, he had no formal education but his father’s employer paid for him to attend a local school for five years. By the time the now Lieutenant Cook departed in command of the Endeavour on his first voyage of discovery in August 1768, he had become competent in mathematics, astronomy and charting.
Cook made enormous contributions in the above fields and the primary objective of his first voyage of discovery was to observe the transit of Venus across the sun. The purpose of this observation was, combined with other observations, to calculate the distance of the Earth from the Sun.
Captain Cook continued to build on Britain’s navigational knowledge, we were becoming the best navigators in the world, thanks to previous work by John Harrison. Harrison was another Yorkshire man, a humble carpenter that dedicated his life to the development of the marine chronometer. Unless you are a navigator, you probably wouldn’t know that when fixing one’s position at sea using celestial navigation, for every four seconds of inaccuracy of time, it equates to one nautical mile of longitudinal error.
Harrison, after a lifetimes work, eventually won a prize offered by Parliament of 20,000 pounds (around three million pounds in today’s money) under the 1714 Longitude Act. Harrison’s contribution to safety at sea was immeasurable and he gave Britain its dominance at sea. Don’t forget, to this day, the Prime Meridian of the world runs through Greenwich.
For me and I’m sure many others, the staggering thing is, the realisation that it wasn’t royalty, kings and queens or politicians that gave Britain its empire but humble, common men, men that were geniuses none the less, often with no formal education. After living in South America for many years, other places too, I’ve realised that countries colonised by the French, or particularly the Spanish and Portuguese, didn’t fare so well as those colonised by the British. The Spanish and Portuguese ransacked much of South America. I always remember a student of mine, many years ago. She was working towards a qualification to enable her to emigrate to a Western country. She said to me: “I want to move to a country that was an ex British colony: every country that the British have ever been to works, it is a good place to live.” For most of these countries, this is indeed the case. Many of the countries that we colonised, if they hadn’t been colonised by we British, they’d have been colonised by one of the European countries. We were the best option, we weren’t perfect but nothing ever is.
We seem to be in a similar position today, the European Union would like to dominate us to make us subservient. For many of these countries, it has long been their dream and we’ve fought the battles that prove it: we are fighting them again. We need have no fear of life outside the European Union, we don’t need them and never did.
As I stood on the HMB Endeavour, a staggering monument to the brilliance of my countrymen, built by one of our ex-colonies, I realised that our credentials are good with the world. Symbolically, Great Britain is still great, the world will do business with us again and I’m sure that this is what gives the unelected Eurocrats nightmares. I will always be proud of my countrymen, my country and my heritage. I will never have time for the weak-minded morons that have turned their back on their own country and culture.
Just as I was about to walk away from the Endeavour, the little old lady that I had been chatting to me said two more things. She said: “When my students ask me: why are we here? I always say, you’re lucky we are, because of us, you’re innocent until proven guilty.” Long may this remain the case.
Then she said: “Don’t believe what they say about the Syphilis, that was spread by the French, Spanish and Portuguese.” She was referring of course to the great Syphilis epidemic that was spread by sailors that nearly wiped out much of Polynesia and was blamed on the British.
This lady may well be right about the Syphilis, nothing would surprise me. The irony is, now we face another disease spread by Europeans: the European Union, we don’t need it and it is about as welcome as a dose of Syphilis.