An Endeavour to Preserve

Behind the scenes

An Endeavour to Preserve

Swab the decks! Dress down the sails and repair the rigging, arrrrr matey!

Earlier this year you could have been forgiven for mistaking our conservation lab for a pirate ship as these exclamations became commonplace. 

In preparation for the exhibition Voyage to Aotearoa: Tupaia and the Endeavour, it was suggested that a model of the Endeavour could be included.

Auckland Museum has three models of the Endeavour in its collection. Each of these were assessed by our conservation team to decide which would be the most appropriate for display.

The model most recently accessioned (acquired into our collection), the 2012.12.1, was chosen as it was the most accurate model and in the best condition.

While 2012.12.1 required minimal conservation, it was decided the other two models should also be inspected and treated where possible. 

Read on to learn about the work involved in conserving these objects. 

The exhibition Voyage to Aotearoa: Tupaia and the Endeavour at Auckland Museum explores Captain Cook’s voyage from Tahiti to New Zealand through the eyes of the Polynesian navigator, priest and crew member, Tupaia, some 250 years after the voyage was undertaken.

Tupaia was a navigator and priest from the island of Raiatea, part of the Society Island group which includes Tahiti. Tupaia's outstanding navigational skills and Pacific geographical knowledge were utilised by Lt. James Cook aboard HMB Endeavour, which Tupaia joined as guide on its voyage of exploration to find Terra Australis Incognita. Tupaia travelled with Cook to New Zealand and was also an interpreter to Māori as well as navigator.

Figure 1: 2012.12.1 Endeavour model

Assessment and conservation of Auckland Museum's Endeavour models


Endeavour model Mar.039


Model Mar.039 was made by E.P Wild. It has been in our collection for such a long time that the date of acquisition is not recorded.


It is a larger model, exquisite in detail, and possibly the oldest of the three. It was also in the poorest condition. When inspected, we could see lead corrosion was present on the anchors, which was possibly caused by the chemical interaction of the wooden materials of the ship with the lead of the anchors. The rigging threads also had extensive breakage at the points of attachment. This degredation could have been caused by:

- The composition of the pulley blocks, causing the threads to become brittle and crumble

- The adhesive holding the threads together could have failed with age

- The composition of the threads themselves, e.g. if the threads were silk and had experienced significant light exposure over possibly 100 years of existence, they could crumble with age.

- The adhesive could also be degrading the threads, especially if it is cellulose nitrate is involved.

We suspected all may have been true as the threads were extremely fragile, almost like ash. Even touching the spars or sails lightly could cause another breakage.


You can see in the photos that crumbs of rigging had fallen to the bottom of the box. In addition, everything was very dusty and dirty, and the sails were yellowed and discoloured.

The sheer fragility of the rigging made this object unsuitable for display. It would be nearly impossible to handle and conserve without causing further breakages.

Endeavour model 1997x2.79

The second model is a scale model (1997x2.79) possibly acquired in 1929 and made by Henry H. Bootes, but the original acquisition details are not confirmed. This model was on loan at Waitangi from the 1950s to 1997.

This model was also in bad condition and while the rigging was fragile and easily broken if touched too heavily, is was not as extremely fragile as Mar.039. This one was possible to conserve without causing more damage, provided a lot of care was taken. (See below for before and after images).

(above): 1997x2.79 significant dust and dirt buildup, failed adhesives, numerous loose parts.

 (above): Conservation in action: swabbing the decks. Many exclamations of “Arrr!” were involved.

(above): Conservation in action. The broken rigging was repaired by laying a fine, single strand of hair silk along side the thread, near the break and extending beyond it. The silk was consolidated to the thread with a conservation adhesive. The extension of the silk was then adhered to the other end of the broken thread. This both consolidated the weak thread and provided a means of bringing the two ends of broken thread back together.

This model of the Endeavour is less accurate than the Endeavour model 2012.12.1 so it was not put on display in Tupaia and the Endeavour. It is now on show in our Weird and Wonderful Discovery Centre.

1997x2.79 Before treatment

1997x2.79 After treatment


Blog An Endeavour to Preserve by Valerie Tomlinson, Conservator, Collection Care, Auckland War Memorial Museum. Published 2 December 2019.