Have Researchers Finally Identified the Remains of Captain Cook’s Ship ‘Endeavour’?

Australian maritime scientists have new evidence linking a Rhode Island shipwreck to the famous vessel.

The replica of Captain Cook's ship HMS Endeavour arrives in Sydney Harbour on May 23, 2012. Photo by Wolter Peeters/The Sydney Morning Herald/Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images.

Two newly analyzed pieces of a shipwreck found off the coast of Rhode Island lend convincing evidence that the vessel is actually the remains of Captain Cook’s lost ship HMB Endeavour, which famously sailed the South Pacific, according to the Australian National Maritime Museum.

After decades of studying a shipwreck site in Newport Harbor, archaeologists said a pump well and a section of a bow found there support their argument that the wreck constitutes the remains of Captain James Cook’s ship. “We consider this evidence further supports the museum’s announcement in February 2022 that the wreck site known as RI 2394 is that of Lord Sandwich/HMB Endeavour,” said Daryl Karp, director of the Australian National Maritime Museum. 

Setting sail from the British port of Plymouth in 1768, Cook steered the Endeavour south across the Atlantic and around Cape Horn in Chile to Tahiti and New Zealand before reaching Australia in 1770, becoming the first European ship to reach continent’s east coast.

The vessel was later sold to a British shipping magnate and renamed the Lord Sandwich 2. During the American Revolutionary War, it served as a transport vessel carrying Hessian troops and was sunk in 1778 by British forces, in an attempt to keep the French fleet from entering Newport Harbor. 

From then on, Endeavour’s whereabouts remained a mystery for centuries, though its legend lived on, lending its name to a NASA space shuttle and the command module of the Apollo 15, which took a small piece of wood from Cook’s ship into space.  

In a report released early last year, maritime archaeologists Kieran Hosty and James Hunter presented their research identifying the wreck at site RI 2394 as the Endeavour. Shortly after this was announced, a British expert in wood-eating marine creatures discovered that the vessel’s remains were being eaten by shipworms

Since asserting the match, the Australian museum added, Hosty and Hunter have traveled to conferences like the International Conference for Underwater Archaeology, the International Symposium of Conservation for Underwater Archaeology, and the Australian Advance Diving Conference, and encountered little resistance to their theory. 

New discoveries have allowed Hosty and Hunter to compare the wreck’s pump well to plans of the Endeavour created during a 1768 survey of the ship by the British Admiralty. The positions of parts of the mechanism line up perfectly with those described in the archives, the scientists said. 

Shipbuilding at the time did not usually involve such precise plans, they added, but rather relied on a system called “rack of eye,” which relied on the shipwright’s knowledge. This also meant no two ships were ever built the same. Thus it’s exceedingly unlikely, the scientists explained, that some other ship would so precisely match the archival plans of the Endeavour

The scientists were able to predict the placement of the ship’s bow based on the same historical plans, and a diving team located it at the wreck site’s southern end in 2021. There, the scientists uncovered what they say is yet more strong evidence for the ship’s identity. 

Distinctive aspects of the timber of the ship’s keel also coincide with those in the archival documents, the scientists said. That evidence comes from an unusual design feature: a so-called “scarph” joint, which does not commonly appear in ships from this period. It precisely  matches the measurements of the dimensions of the one from the archival plans, they said, and furthermore, allowed the project team to obtain precise measurements of other aspects of the wreck, which again closely matched those of the archival plans. 

But despite this evidence, some experts still aren’t convinced the Endeavour has been found. Also studying the wreck, and a bit more circumspect, is the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project, whose director, Kathy Abbass, has promised a report on the subject when their research is complete.

 

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