It was the famous ship of one of the most celebrated explorers of the modern world. And now archaeologists from the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) say they believe they’ve discovered the final resting place of the HMS Endeavour, the vessel in which Captain James Cook reached Australia in 1770.
The ship, which was made of oak and pine in the north of England, was later used by the Royal Navy in the Revolutionary War and was scuttled with a dozen other vessels off Newport, Rhode Island, in 1778.
The 25-year-long archaeological study of the Newport transports has narrowed the search for the Endeavour from a fleet of 13 vessels to five, and now possibly to one or two archaeological sites.
The director of the Australian National Maritime Museum, Kevin Sumption, told the Guardian that a “promising site” had been located, though he said it had yet to be confirmed as the final resting place of the Endeavour.
Cook departed Plymouth in August 1768, and in April 1770 the Endeavour became the first European ship to reach the east coast of Australia when Cook arrived at what is now known as Botany Bay.
Several years later, the ship was renamed the Lord Sandwich and in its later life was used by the British as a prison for Americans captured during the Revolutionary War.
RIMAP began the study of the British transports in Newport Harbor in 1993 with a remote sensing survey and began locating the 18th-century sites. By 1999 RIMAP had published historical evidence that the Lord Sandwich transport had been used as a prison ship in Newport Harbor, and had been Captain Cook’s Endeavour of his first circumnavigation.
Also in 1999, former RI Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse led the legal maneuver to ensure Rhode Island’s ownership of the historic Newport fleet, including the Lord Sandwich, formerly the Endeavour.
The RI Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission is now the custodian of the Newport Harbor shipwrecks, the RI Coastal Resources Management Council has established a “No Anchor – No Dive” zone around the archaeological sites to protect them.
The Lord Sandwich was scuttled by the British to help serve as a form of blockade.
When France entered the war on the side of George Washington, the Admiralty ordered the Lord Sandwich sunk along with 12 other transport ships to act as a blockade to French vessels.
“The American army was assembled on the mainland and the French sent a fleet to help,” RIMAP executive director Kathy Abbass told CNN in 2014. “The British knew they were at great risk so they ordered 13 ships out to be scuttled in a line to blockade the city. They were sunk in fairly shallow waters.”
The confirmation of the Endeavour‘s location is particularly significant because 2018 is the 250th anniversary of Cook’s departure from England, and 2020 is the anniversary of Cook’s claim of Australia for Britain.
If the discovery is confirmed and the ship can be moved, Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and the U.K. could all compete to be the one to display the remains of the ship. The U.S. Space Shuttle Endeavour is named after the ship.
Not everyone venerates Cook. A statue of Cook in Sydney’s Hyde Park was vandalized in 2017. There was graffiti reading “no pride in genocide” and “change the date,” referring to Australia Day, which celebrates the day the Union Flag went up at Sydney Cove to establish a British penal colony.
The Aboriginal community and Torres Strait Islanders call January 26, 1788, Invasion Day.
Cook was considered one of the greatest English explorers and navigators. He died at Kealakekua Bay on February 14, 1779, during his third voyage in the Pacific.
Cook became involved in a dispute with the native Hawaiians. He was pelted by stones and struck by a club. A Hawaiian warrior then brandished a knife — a gift from Cook — and plunged it into his back. He was then stabbed and bashed with rocks.
The Hawaiians ritualistically prepared his corpse as they would that of a king. They preserved his hands in sea salt, then roasted the rest of his body in a pit before cleaning his bones.