Captain Cook’s Endeavour May Have Been Found Off Coast of Newport, RI 230 Years After it Disappeared

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This story has been updated to include further background information on the discovery.

The ship that carried Captain James Cook during several trips to the South Seas, including Tahiti and when he discovered Australia may have been recently located.

Captain Cook’s famous ship has seemingly been discovered in the United States 230 years since it was sold, sunk and forgotten. The Endeavour is one of the most famous ships in naval history and was used by Captain James Cook to discover the East Coast of Australia in 1770.

The last sighting of the Endeavour was around 1778 when it is believed the ship was sold, renamed the Lord Sandwich, and then used to transport British troops during the American Revolution.

Archaeologists believe they have found the scuttled remains of the Endeavour in Newport Harbour, Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project made the discovery, saying the ship was scuttled in the harbour by British forces in the lead up to the Battle of Rhode Island in 1778.

The Endeavour was discovered alongside 13 other ships in a massive archaeological investigation which combined high-tech mapping of the seabed with analysis of historical shipping documents found in London. RIMAP said they were ’80 to 100 per cent certain’ that they remains they had discovered belonged to the Endeavour.

wreck-of-endeavour-found
A map showing the reported location of the wreck
The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) will announce recent research progress in the Search for the Lord Sandwich ex Endeavour at 10 a.m., Wednesday May 4, at the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission offices in the Old State House, 150 Benefit Street, Providence, RI. RIMAP has mapped 9 archaeological sites of the 13 ships that were scuttled in Newport Harbor in 1778, during the American Revolution. A recent Australian National Maritime Museum grant allowed RIMAP to locate historic documents in London that identify the groups of ships in that fleet of 13, and where each group was scuttled. One group of 5 ships included the Lord Sandwich transport, formerly Capt. James Cook’s Endeavour Bark. RIMAP now knows the general area of Newport Harbor where those five ships were scuttled, and in previous work had already mapped 4 of the sites there. A recent analysis of remote sensing data suggests that the 5th site may still exist, too. That means the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project now has an 80 to 100% chance that the Lord Sandwich is still in Newport Harbor, and because the Lord Sandwich was Capt. Cook’s Endeavour, that means RIMAP has found her, too.
 
On May 4 RIMAP will describe its 2016 plans to confirm the 5th shipwreck in the limited study area, and will outline what must be done in the future to determine which of the 5 sites there is which ship. The next phase of the archaeological investigation will require a more intense study of each vessel’s structure and its related artifacts. However, before that next phase may begin, there must be a proper facility in place to conserve, manage, display, and store the waterlogged material removed from the archaeological sites. Therefore RIMAP has begun the capital campaign to create the facility to satisfy those technical requirements and allow the intense archaeological fieldwork to begin. The ships in Newport were scuttled in the days leading up to the August 1778 Battle of Rhode Island in Portsmouth, and RIMAP hopes to build its facility at Butts Hill Fort, the center of the American line during that Battle.
May 4, 2016, is Rhode Island’s 240th birthday because it is the anniversary of the Rhode Island Colonial legislature’s disavowal of loyalty to the King of England on May 4, 1776. That was two months before all the colonies issued the formal Declaration of Independence. Tourism related to Rhode Island’s magnificent history is a major economic driver for our state, and the submerged cultural resources here are an as yet undeveloped aspect of that industry. All of the 13 ships lost in Newport during the Revolution are important to American history, but it will be a national celebration in Australia when RIMAP identifies the Lord Sandwich ex Endeavour.  So for RIMAP to be closing in one of the most important shipwrecks in world history, for that ship to be found in Newport, and for it to have an international reputation, should be an intriguing birthday gift for all of Rhode Island. 
 
The May 4 event is open to the public, and RIMAP representatives will discuss the “Search for Endeavour,” there will be summaries of past research, and the opportunity to ask questions about future plans. That day graphics and other materials related to this effort will also be placed on RIMAP’s website for public review. 
 
RIMAP’s public education program includes two classes the following Saturday, on May 7, that are related to the “Search for Endeavour.” The morning class will describe how local shipwreck preserves may protect these historic sites while at the same time share them with the public, and the afternoon class will show how the original Star Trek story was based on Capt. Cook’s 18th-century exploits (Cook = Kirk and Endeavour Enterprise, etc.). For further information about the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project, how to sign up for its classes and volunteer, how to donate to the artifact management facility, and how to participate in the search for Endeavour, see www.rimap.org or contact RIMAP at rhodeislandmap@yahoo.com.
 
Further Background Details
 
Capt. James Cook was the British Royal Navy officer who explored more of the world than any other person in history, but he is important to Australia because he claimed part of that continent for England while on his Endeavour voyage. That action enabled the first English settlement there, and that is why the Endeavour is considered to be Australia’s founding vessel. Staff from the Australian National Maritime Museum have participated in past RIMAP fieldwork, and a grant from that museum supported RIMAP’s archival studies in January 2016 to identify the area of Newport Harbor where the Lord Sandwich was sent to be scuttled. 
 
The Endeavour was a sturdy but nondescript vessel built in Whitby, Yorkshire, to carry coal from northeastern England to London. It was similar to the commercial vessels in which Cook had apprenticed before joining the Royal Navy, and this ship was selected for a trip around the world (1768-1771) because she could easily carry Cook, his crew, selected scientists, and all their supplies and equipment. Cook then sailed around the world again in the Resolution and on his third voyage was killed at Hawaii in 1778. Meanwhile the Endeavour continued in Royal Navy service until 1775, when she was sold to a private owner who changed her name to Lord Sandwich. Under that name she was a transport to carry British and Hessian troops to North America during the American Revolution. The Lord Sandwich was in the fleet that carried troops to occupy Rhode Island in 1776, she was used as a prison ship in Newport Harbor, and then was scuttled in August of 1778 to protect the city from the French threat that led to the Battle of Rhode Island. 
 
The Lord Sandwich then lay forgotten on the Newport Harbor floor for more than 200 years. Meanwhile another vessel was mistakenly identified as the Endeavour and artifacts made from her timbers were taken into museums and private collections around the world. One piece was even taken into space in the Endeavor space shuttle. RIMAP’s archival work has overturned that spurious Endeavour story and RIMAP’s archaeological research has shown instead that the Lord Sandwich ex Endeavour may still exist and may be found in Newport. 
 
The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that trains members of the public to volunteer in professionally directed maritime history and marine archaeology research. Since its founding in 1993, more than 850 volunteers have taken RIMAP training and participated in 83 research projects that included a reputed slave ship, World War II sites, unidentified vessels emerging from local dunes, and other ships lost in the American Revolution. 
 
The value of RIMAP’s work is estimated to be more than $5,500,000, and it has all been done with no funding from the Rhode Island state government’s budget. Instead RIMAP’s research has been sponsored by its members and donors, and grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the DOD Naval Legacy Program, the National Park Service Battlefield Protection Program, the National Maritime Heritage Program, and by federal pass-through funds from RI Sea Grant, the RI Committee for the Humanities, and the RI Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission. The special grant from the Australian National Maritime Museum in 2016 supported the archival research to show where in Newport Harbor the Lord Sandwich ex Endeavour was scuttled, and that is where, with more hard work, the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project will find her.