By the 1950's, the United States was heavily involved in Operation Deep Freeze scientific operations in the Antarctic. The British planned their own programme in the form of an International Geophysical Year during 1957 - 58, starting with the first motorised crossing of Antarctica. Dr Vivian Fuchs and his party was to cross the Antarctic continent from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea via the South Pole. Britain expected New Zealand to play a key role and the RNZN and RNZAF would be heavily involved.
Firstly, the NZ Government purchased a 1000 ton ship named the John Biscoe which had been working for the Falklands Islands Dependencies Survey since 1947. The ship was originally the Pretext built in the US in 1944 as a net-layer. In 1956, she became the HMNZS Endeavour, after having been re-fitted at Southampton by Thornycroft for the the Trans Antarctic Expedition. She was built mainly of wood, but strengthened for ice with her stem being solid steel.
HMNZS Endeavour made her first voyage south in December 1956, taking an RNZAF Mk7 Auster as deck cargo. In company with HMNZS Pukaki and Hawea, the flotilla sailed out of Port Chalmers and headed south. Upon reaching 67 degs 27 mins South, the frigates turned back and left Endeavour to carry on.
The Kiwi Trans Antarctic Expedition crew, led by Edmund Hillary, and assisted by the Endeavour's crew, set about building Scott Base. On the 29 January 1957, Scott Base was officially opened
The ship returned to NZ on the 22nd February 1957.
After that winter at Scott Base, Hillary's team drove modified Massey Fergusson farm tractors towards the Pole, putting down fuel and supply depots for Fuchs's party.
Endeavour sailed south again in December 1957 to do two tasks. The first task was to support the Trans Antarctic Expedition, which was expected to arrive in McMurdo in March 1958, The second task was to conduct a four month scientific research programme.
Upon reaching McMurdo, Endeavour's crew spent some time refurbishing the huts left by previous explorers, with Ernest Shackleton's hut just about complete by the end of February. In March 1958, Fuchs and his expedition arrived at McMurdo. Shortly thereafter, they sailed for New Zealand.
Endeavour sailed south again for the 1959 - 60 season and by the 1960 - 61 trip, was showing signs of wear and tear. She was taken off the run and replaced by the US Tanker USS Namakagon, and also re-named Endeavour.
The old net-layer was sold in June 1962 to Canadian owners and named Arctic Endeavour.