Parkin begins with an introduction explaining how he got involved with the Endeavour and describing his attempts to reconstruct its plans and layout. In a kind of historical detective story, he argues that sketches by the ship's artist Sydney Parkinson are a better and more reliable source than the surviving plans.
The other hundred pages of Part One provide general background on the nautical life and technology of the period and on Cook and the British Navy. Parkin describes the life of the sailor and the continuous work required to keep the structure of the ship in place — spunyarn and junk and ropes, masts, chains, anchors, steering, and so forth. He gives a brief biography of Cook and a description of the Endeavour itself, with a detailed tour of its spaces and fittings. (This is illustrated with plans, though this paperback omits the separate set of ship plans that accompanies the expensive hardcover edition.) He introduces the problem of scurvy as known at the time, and describes the ship's provisions. He lists the members of the crew and describes the fate of those who perished before they reached Australia, and he gives a brief account of their encounters ashore in New Zealand.
The three hundred pages of Part Two are a day-by-day account of the voyage of the Endeavour up the east coast of Australia. For each day Parkins presents the ship's log, the journal entries of Cook and Banks and, where informative, extracts from the journals of others on board. Parkin adds his own commentary to this, and provides excellent maps to help us follow the course of the ship.
Even the less dramatic parts of the voyage have their vicissitudes, but the navigation of the Great Barrier Reef is a hair-raising adventure: the collision with a reef, the efforts required to get the ship off it, the month and a half spent carrying out repairs, the "escape" through the outer reef to sea, and the near disaster when it was encountered again. There is also plenty of interest in the more ordinary events, and in the responses of Cooks and Banks and others to a new continent.
Parkins commentary on this is sometimes annoying. His idealisation of the sailor's life and his praise of Cook seem excessive — helping us understand the magnitude of his achievements is useful, but telling us how much praise he deserves for them is unnecessary. Parkin also insists on applying modern standards in evaluating the attitude of Cook and others to the Aborigines (or "Indians" as they called them). And he himself fails to offer any useful information about them, with content-free references to "ancient wisdom", an "ancient and somnolent land" and such like.
Where he sticks to providing information, however, Parkin's commentary is valuable. He explains the hard to understand parts of the log and journals. He connects the places Cook named and encountered with modern coastal features and explains the sources of his names. And his reconstructions help fill in the gaps of the often bald journal entries: he gives a detailed account of what the crew must have done when the Endeavour hit the reef, for example.
H.M. Bark Endeavour will obviously be of most interest to Australians, perhaps especially those with some nautical experience along the East coast. As a gripping account of one of the more exciting sections of one of the great voyages of exploration, however, it should appeal to fans of naval fiction as well.