Just as the construction of a tall ship’s mast begins with a single tree, so too did Cook’s crew for the Endeavour voyage begin with just a single man. John Satterley. Master carpenter. Valued crew member. Highly-respected man.

Born in Chatham, Kent, Satterley was no stranger to the sea, having previously served on British ship the Prince Edward. On 22 April 1768, he was appointed ‘Carpenter’ of the Endeavour, making him the first member of the ship’s 94-strong crew.

The skillset of an experienced carpenter was critical to a voyage as ambitious as this. With the intention to travel into areas uncharted by Europeans – far from any known ports – the ability of a ship’s carpenter to maintain and repair a vessel could mean the difference between life and death. It was vital, then, for James Cook to have the utmost faith in his team of carpenters, led by John Satterley.

This faith was not only apparent, with Cook hinting at the high level of respect he held for Satterley on numerous occasions throughout the voyage, but also proved to be well-founded. When possible disaster struck, Satterley showed that he could be called upon.

Disaster on the Reef

At 11pm on 11 June 1770, the Endeavour suddenly ran aground on a coral outcrop of the Great Barrier Reef. The hull was seriously damaged, with broken planks of timber seen floating on the surface. Water was beginning to flood the ship, and death seemed likely.

Against the odds, and in large part due to the coordinated efforts of the crew, water was pumped out and, using the small boats, the ship was winched off the coral some 23 hours later. But the ordeal was not over. The damage that the ship had sustained had to be examined, and any necessary repairs would need to be carried out urgently.

Of course, this could not be done at sea. To inspect and repair its hull, the Endeavour first needed to find sanctuary. Miraculously, it was eventually able to enter the mouth of a nearby river (Walmbaal Birri), which had been scouted by the ship’s pinnace, one of the smaller boats.

Despite again running aground in the river’s narrow channel and becoming momentarily stuck in sand near its mouth, the difficult manoeuvre was executed. Having built a makeshift gangway extending a distance of about 6 metres to the river’s sloping bank, the stores could now be unloaded. This itself was no small task; over a few days the sails, timber, water casks, gunpowder, coal and other stores were carried ashore and stored in tents.

The Endeavour was now light enough to be hauled higher up on the river bank. Cook and Satterley had inspected the damage, and the decision to ‘beach’ the vessel was made:

‘One of the Carpenter’s crew, a Man I could trust, went down and examined [the damage] and found three streaks of the sheathing gone about 7 or 8 feet long and the Main plank a little rub’d …

The Carpenter who I look upon to be well skilld in his profission and a good judge of these matters was of opinion that this was of little concequence, and as I found that it would be difficult if not impractical for us to get under her bottom to repair it I … Moor’d her along side the beach.’

A makeshift shipyard was promptly constructed, complete with a blacksmith’s forge and a timber workshop, where Satterley and his fellow carpenters began the work to replace the damaged timbers. Despite being thousands of kilometres from the nearest established shipyard, the Endeavour was repaired within just a few weeks, thanks – in no small part – to the competence and ability of John Satterley.

‘A view of Endeavour River, on the coast of New Holland, where the ship was laid on shore in order to repair the damage which she received on the rock’. Engraving by William Byrne, 1743-1805. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia. View this item (PIC Drawer 7412 #S1698) online
‘A view of Endeavour River, on the coast of New Holland, where the ship was laid on shore in order to repair the damage which she received on the rock’.
Engraving by William Byrne, 1743-1805.
Courtesy of the National Library of Australia. View this item (PIC Drawer 7412 #S1698) online

Satterley was highly regarded by most of the crew. Some have suggested that a few of the gentlemen on board the Endeavour, including surgeon William Monkhouse, were displeased (if not resentful) with the high level of respect that Cook held for his carpenter – a position traditionally less prestigious than those held by the other gentlemen. We can be sure, however, that Satterley was well-regarded by most of the crew, particularly for his role in this critical part of the voyage.

Weeks later, the ship departed Walmbaal Birri (Endeavour River), and eventually made it safely to the Dutch port of Batavia (Jakarta), where further repairs could be carried out.

Death of a ‘Man much Esteem’d’

January and February 1771 saw many of the Endeavour’s crew members die of tuberculosis, malaria and dysentery in Batavia. Satterley was among these. His last contribution to the voyage was to provide Cook with an account of the damage to the ship, which was considerable, but not beyond repair.

Cook wrote in his journal that he

‘consulted with the Carpenter and all the other officers concerning the Leake, and they were all unanimously of opinion that it was not safe to proceed to Europe without first seeing her bottom.’

Not long after, Satterley died ‘after a long and painful illness’ on 12 February 1771.

On the day of Satterley’s death, Cook wrote that he was

‘a Man much Esteem’d by me and every Gentleman on board’

a level of praise that many of the others who died during the voyage did not receive. He is remembered in Cook’s logbooks as being ‘a most worthy and respectable man’.

The Endeavour’s Carpenters

The following men were members of Satterley’s team of carpenters: Francis Haite (42), Richard Hughes (22), Samuel Moody (40), George Nowell (unknown) and Edward Terrell (19). All died in 1771, except for young Edward Terrell.