HMB Endeavour Cannon

HMB Endeavour cannon and shipwreck relics on display 

A new display at the Australian National Maritime Museum captures a moment in time, when the renowned vessel struck a reef during its exploratory voyage to the South Pacific.  

The display includes images, audio-visual projections and salvaged objects from this seminal journey, which reflect encounters with First Nations peoples from Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. It also considers how maritime archaeology and our understanding of James Cook’s momentous voyage have changed over time.

The cannon is one of six, jettisoned from the HMB Endeavour (Endeavour), as it foundered in Eastern Kuku Yalanji Sea Country on the Great Barrier Reef, near modern Cooktown in 1770. The display reflects on what these objects can tell us about the vessel itself, and how its journey impacted those who lived on the lands and sea it traversed.

Maritime archaeologist Kieran Hosty said, ‘The discipline of maritime archaeology was in its infancy when this cannon, on loan to the museum courtesy of NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service Collection, was salvaged from Endeavour Reef back in the 1970’s. Since then, both our methods and aims have changed significantly. ‘The recovery of these artefacts - especially the use of explosives - caused damage to both the coral reef and some of the salvaged objects. Today, we are far more careful about how we record and excavate – the focus is on recovering information with minimal damage to the site.’

Although not a warship, Lieutenant Cook and his crew used the Endeavour cannons against tāngata whenua (local Māori people) during the vessel’s circumnavigation of Aotearoa/New Zealand in 1769, in a deliberate display of European firepower.

The exhibition’s interpretive framework uses Eastern Kuku Yalanji languages and names of the lands, river and waters where the cannon was retrieved and where the Endeavour spent several weeks undergoing repairs in 1770.



On display are examples of iron blocks or kentledge - which is permanent ballast used to stabilize sailing vessels - recovered from the stranding site, along with stone souvenirs that track the travels from Tahiti to Aotearoa. Video footage and recreations of the current wreck site of Endeavour - at the bottom of Newport Harbor, Rhode Island, USA - link maritime archaeology from Australia to America, reinforcing the vessel’s global heritage.

Also on display from Deep Dive, the museum’s online centre for Maritime Archaeology, are immersive videos, imagery, and underwater footage which capture the museum’s maritime archaeologists at work on the stranding site in 2009, with partners Silentworld Foundation and the Museum of Tropical Queensland. A wealth of further information is available online at Deep Dive - including archaeological reports, field blogs and photogrammetry data sets.

Museum Director Daryl Karp said, ‘There is an enduring fascination with the remnants from the HMB Endeavour’s exploratory journey, and with its wreck. This cannon captures many facets of an historic expedition that changed the world, and certainly changed the places that later became known Australia and New Zealand. ‘This display gives us an opportunity to consider what an historic object such as the cannon can tell us, and offers different ways of seeing it: as part of the Endeavour story, as part of a shipwreck story, as part of an invasion story, as part of a salvage story – each of which extends over centuries.’