Driving away from John O’Groats at the end of my recent long cycle ride (www.lejoblog.wordpress.com), we were following signs to Perth for a while. That was Perth, Scotland – not Perth, Australia as in this photo. Mind you, you could be easily mistaken – Shakespeare sign, turreted castle at the end of the street, Elizabethan era styled buildings, Olde English writing on the signs. For all the world it looks like it could be the UK, but the mid-twenties temperatures after nightfall on the 26th of December are a dead cert giveaway that this has to be elsewhere!
OK, the post is slightly contrived, but I had to have some link to getting back to posting on this site!
I was in Sydney recently and paid a visit to the excellent Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour. One of the permanent exhibits is the ex-Royal Australian Navy destroyer, HMAS Vampire. Whilst wandering around the ship, and especially in this gun turret, I was reminded of a similar visit to a Royal Navy ship in 1976 (clearly remembered, as it was the hottest British summer on record) when, as a young teenager, my father was trying to convince me that a career in the Navy would be a wise choice. In the equivalent turret on that trip, my father pushed one of these shells along the track, only for it to disappear into the loading mechanism with a lot of clunking and whirring. As a young kid I was convinced the gun was now loaded with high explosive and only a button press separated downtown Portsmouth from total obliteration. In fear of being discovered for our brazenly war-like act, we toured the rest of the narrow, claustrophobic, unwelcoming steel ship and I became unwaveringly convinced that a life in HM’s ships was absolutely not for me.
If that life would have been bad enough, next door to HMAS Vampire was an even worse proposition – HMAS Onslow – an Oberon Class Submarine.
This is the one and only route through the submarine and we are looking at the engine room. Tucked into nooks and crannies throughout the vessel are kitchens, washrooms, bunk beds, the occasional individual cabin (if you were ever senior enough), communications and operations rooms. I’m sure never to be forgotten by her 68-strong crew was also the fact that all of these ‘amenities’ were of course hemmed in by torpedoes at both ends of the hull. This could be your home at sea for months at a time with up to 6 weeks solid spent underwater. How did they ever sell the idea to anyone?
So there we are, 2 jobs that are performed in claustrophobic, steel clad surroundings, in close proximity to high explosive and with the likelihood that people might try to kill you; both jobs that I would have absolutely hated doing. And what did I elect to do instead? Well, I dressed up in highly constrictive clothes with a helmet and mask on my face, strapped myself tightly onto a seat containing a couple of pounds of high explosive under my backside, wedged myself into a tight steel cockpit and blasted off at high speed into the sky where there was a high likelihood that someone (friendly, unfriendly, or self) would try to kill you.
Teenage logic, eh? Go figure!
The ship that eventually bore the name HMB Endeavour and passed into history as the ship on which James Cook discovered Australia, was initially built in 1764 as the Earl of Pembroke, a Whitby collier transporting coal up and down the east coast of the UK. She was converted to a research vessel and purchased by the British Royal Navy in 1768. Leaving the UK in August of that year, it took 20 months for her to arrive off the East coast of Australia at Botany Bay in April 1770. After an eventful journey home in which she was nearly lost after running aground on the Great Barrier Reef she arrived back in the UK on the 12th July 1771. Over the next 7 years she saw service as a transport ship, before eventually being scuttled off Rhode Island during the American Revolutionary War in 1778. A few relics from the original ship have been discovered from her 1770 grounding on the Great Barrier Reef, when cannons, anchor and ballast were thrown overboard in an effort to lighten and re-float her. A small piece of that ballast is the only original part of this full scale accurate replica that was launched in 1994. This replica has completed 2 circumnavigations of the globe, including a repeat of the original 18th Century voyage.
The vessel is now docked at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney’s Darling Harbour, laid out exactly as it would have been in Cook’s time and it can be visited by the public most days. The ship still occasionally puts to sea with paying and professional crew – it would be a wonderful experience to be onboard when it did!