Brian Lavery - Maritime History Expert

Replica Ships

Brian Lavery is skilled draughtsman, able to understand ships plans as well as draw them. He has taken a leading part in the design of replica ships such as the Susan Constant in Virginia and Captain Cook’s Endeavour.

The Susan Constant

If they were asked which ship founded the United States of America, most people would mention the Mayflower; but in fact the Commonwealth of Virginia was founded 13 years earlier by the Susan Constant and two other ships, bearing Captain John Smith and his comrades, and heavily fictionalised by Disney in Pocahontas.

I first became involved with the Susan Constant when I was contacted by the Jamestown Yorktown Foundation. An earlier replica had proved inaccurate, and was decaying fast. They had built a replica of one of the smaller ships, the Godspeed, and sailed it across the Atlantic, but that proved very difficult. The new replica was to be built in the United States.

They suggested that they might hire a naval architect and I would look over his design to check it for historical accuracy. I thought this was the wrong way round, I should design the ship using the principles and practices of the time and the naval architect would say whether it would float or not – which is what we agreed to do.

I have to disagree with one replica builder who suggested that when we know very little about ships of the period, the designer has a relatively free hand. I would argue that we should seek out every scrap of information that is available.

There are very few scale plans or models from the period but several manuscript treatises on naval architecture, so I used a synthesis of them. The only thing we knew for sure was the tonnage of the ship, 120, and only because she was involved in a court case after a collision in the Thames.

I designed the ship from the keel up, using archaeological evidence, for example from Jon Adams’ investigation of the wreck of the Sea Venture off Bermuda, for the details. The only change suggested by the naval architect was to increase the depth by 18 inches to conform to modern safety standards. It is essentially my design, and I am told it sails quite well round Chesapeake Bay

The Susan Constant under construction

The Susan Constant replica under construction

Some of my Susan Constant replica drawings

"The state… hired the well-known British expert Brian Lavery to draw the plans. This time they did it right… the ship he designed… is widely regarded as one of the best replica vessels around."

Professor John A Tilley

Captain Cook’s Endeavour

The work on the replica of Captain Cook’s Endeavour, built in Fremantle, Australia, was very different. For one thing, I came into the project relatively late. Secondly, plans of British warships are plentiful for the period and it was mainly a question of settling the details.

And the Endeavour was intended to sail the oceans so accommodation for a modern crew was needed. You can build an eighteenth century ship, but you can’t get eighteenth century people.

The answer was to fill the hold with modern equipment including refrigerators and engines, and to keep the upper decks as they would have looked to Cook and his crew.

shed in fremantle where endeavour replica was built

The ship under construction

Endeavour under construction

The shed in Fremantle where the Endeavour was built

"The design and construction of the new Endeavour is a remarkable achievement. It represents a massive research effort and a triumph of shipbuilding."

Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, 1994