RIMAP provides update on search for Endeavour

IS IT THE ENDEAVOUR: A REPORT OF THE 2019 RESULTS

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The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) and its partners the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) and SilentWorld Foundation (SWF) announced the results of their current Newport Harbor shipwreck studies on Sunday at Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina.

Of most interest to many, is whether or not the Lord Sandwich/Captain Cook’s Endeavour is indeed at the bottom of Newport Harbor. HMS Endeavour, also known as HM Bark Endeavour, was a British Royal Navy research vessel that Lieutenant James Cook commanded to Australia and New Zealand on his first voyage of discovery from 1768 to 1771.

Following Capt. James Cook’s first circumnavigation in the Endeavour, the Royal Navy sold the ship to a private owner, who renamed her the Lord Sandwich and sent her to carry British and Hessian troops to serve in the American Revolution.

Endeavour

This vessel was reportedly among a fleet of 13 vessels scuttled in Newport Harbor during the days leading up to the Battle of Rhode Island. 

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With the 250th Anniversary of Cook’s voyage to Australia approaching in spring 2020, there’s interest from around the world to solidify if and/or where the ship sits at the bottom of Newport Harbor as soon as possible.

Dr. James Hunter, Kevin Sumption, and Kieran Hosty from the Australian National Maritime Museum | Photo by Beth Cullen

At Sunday’s event Dr. Kerry Lynch, RIMAP’s Field Supervisor for the Newport fieldwork, gave an overview of how the excavation was done and how the artifacts were retrieved, and Amelia Hammond, RIMAP’s Conservator, had some of those artifacts on display for public viewing.

Photo by Beth Cullen
Diver at the grid. Photo by John Cassese © RIMAP

ANMM archaeologist Dr. James Hunter presented 3-D images of some of the exposed timbers, and ANMM Marine Archaeology Director Kieran Hosty explained what is known of how the Endeavour was built and how the exposed timbers compare to what we must find to prove this site is that iconic vessel.

Dr. James Hunter | Photo by Beth Cullen
Hull Frames of Possible Lord Sandwich/Ex-Endeavour. 3-D Photo by James Hunter © RIMAP

RIMAP’s Principal Investigator, Dr. Kathy Abbass, summarized these findings as very suggestive and reminded the attendees that the Lord Sandwich transport (previously the Endeavour) is important to Rhode Island history, too, because she played an important part in the American Revolution here. The archaeological work has been extended into this week and RIMAP says that if there is new evidence that they will report it in due course.

RIMAP’s summary of the 2019 work;

  • The excavation exposed artifacts and ship’s structure to confirm that this site is an 18th-century shipwreck;
  • Its location is in the area of Newport’s Outer Harbor where the Lord Sandwich ex Endeavour® is known to have been scuttled in 1778;
  • The excavation exposed artifacts and samples, including sheaves, and other wood fragments, bits of leather, textiles, glass, and ceramics, samples of coal and charcoal, ballast and worked stone including gun flints. None of this is immediately diagnostic of which ship this site could be.
  • The excavation also exposed a small part of the ship’s structure and the dimensions and arrangements of those timbers are similar to those known to be from the Endeavour. However, this is only one small opened area, and the construction details of the other ships nearby are not yet known.
  • Although this site still looks promising, there is still no hard evidence that it is the Endeavour. But more importantly, there is nothing to say that it is one of the other vessels that was part of the Newport fleet of transports and victuallers that were scuttled nearby in Newport’s Outer Harbor in 1778.
  • Further excavation will continue, but later data analysis of these findings in the RIMAP lab at the Herreshoff Marine Museum in Bristol may provide the evidence needed to prove this site is the Lord Sandwich ex Endeavour.®
  • So although there is nothing to say this is the Lord Sandwich ex Endeavour® there is nothing to say that it is not.
An uncovered barrel head 2. Photo by John Cassese © RIMAP
Crate to remove artifacts and samples from the site. Photo by John Cassese © RIMAP 2019
Dredge uncovering a wooden sheave 2. Photo by John Cassese © RIMAP

“Of particular note: The identification of this site as the Lord Sandwich ex Endeavour® has been of great interest to the media, but the 2019 fieldwork has now answered a long-standing question of how these vessels were scuttled,” Abbass included in a recap of the press conference.

“The past presumption was that holes were cut in their bottoms to allow the ships to sink, but there had been no historic evidence discovered to describe the details of that action,” says Abbass. “However, the current excavation near the keel has found such a hole cut through the bottom, suggesting that the location of the holes was also part of the decision-making for how to sink the vessels most efficiently. That is the sort of small detail that increases the understanding of how these ships were managed, and it is an important contribution of marine archaeology to maritime history research, too”.  

The event also included greetings from Charlotte, Taylor, an archaeologist with the Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission.

Kevin Sumption, CEO of the Australian National Maritime Museum, spoke about what finding the Endeavour means to Australia and how the museum will feature this research as part of the 250th anniversary remembrance of Cook’s exploration of Australia’s east coast.

Kevin Sumption | Photo by Beth Cullen

Representative Joe McNamara (D – District 19 Cranston, Warwick) presented citations from the Rhode Island State Legislature to the ANMM and Mr. Sumption for their continued support of RIMAP.

Representative McNamara | Photo by Beth Cullen

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