Wreckage may be from Captain Cook’s famed ‘Endeavour’
US marine archaeologists say remains of ship that charted Australia may be off Rhode Island
A replica of Captain Cook’s ship Endeavour at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney. The centuries-long hunt for the remains of the famed ship could be nearing an end. Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images
The Endeavour set off from England in 1768 and traversed a world that sailors’ maps had yet to document. The ship bounded through the Pacific Ocean, scraping up against the Great Barrier Reef and stopping in New Zealand and Tahiti. The journey also charted parts of Australia, leading its captain, James Cook, to become regarded as a central figure in the nation’s origin story.
A decade later, the vessel sank after having been sold, renamed (as the Lord Sandwich 2) and scuttled, apparently left to anonymously join about a dozen other ships in a mass grave of wreckage off the coast of Rhode Island.
But marine archaeologists said this week that after a search that spanned decades, the remains of the Endeavour, however decrepit, may have been located.
The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project said that on Friday it would detail the results of its study of what lies at the bottom of Newport Harbour, and it is expected to announce that it has narrowed down the wreckage that belongs to the storied ship.
“We can say we think we know which one it is,” Kathy Abbass, the archaeology project’s director, told Fairfax Media. The discovery has stirred hope that the remains could be excavated in time for the planned celebrations in 2020 of the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s arrival in Australia.
But it has also touched on the challenging history associated with exploration, which connected Europe with the rest of the world but also cleared the way to the oppression and devastation of indigenous populations.
For some 25 years, marine archaeologists have sought to pinpoint the Endeavour’s wreckage from a collection of remains from 13 ships. In 2016, the researchers homed in on a group of five ships that they believed included the Endeavour. Now, researchers say they will release a three-dimensional image of a “promising site”, located off tiny Goat Island in Narragansett Bay in Newport.
The scientists have cautioned that time took a considerable toll on the remains. Cook’s three-year expedition on the Endeavour was a mission to gather astronomical and geographical data for the British Navy. It ended up telegraphing the cultures and surprising wildlife of far-off places back to Britain.
An artist on board ended up producing more than 900 images from the trip, including what was believed to be the first drawing of a kangaroo by a European, as well as depictions of Maori warriors in New Zealand.
The journey was harrowing at times. One night, while sailing along Australia’s eastern coast, the ship swiped the jagged coral of the Great Barrier Reef, leaving a gaping hole. The ship’s load had to be lightened to keep it afloat. Cook ordered that a half-dozen cannons be dumped overboard.
Scientific expeditions and search parties tried to find those cast-iron cannons for two centuries before researchers from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, armed with a magnetometer, reported discovering them in “good condition” in 1969.
Like Columbus, Cook left a deep impression on the lands he explored, with towns, islands, mountains, rivers and a university named for him. (There is even a Cook Crater on the moon, even though, of course, his expeditions never took him there.)
But also like Columbus, his legacy has been the subject of reappraisal and controversy. Statues of him have been vandalised, and some activists contend that his exploration factored into the dispossession of Indigenous Australians. Disagreements over Cook’s legacy were revived over plans to spend nearly $50 million on celebrations tied to the anniversary of his arrival in Botany Bay, in Sydney, in 1770.
The captain sailed on the Endeavour for the first of his three voyages around the world. He was killed in Hawaii on his final voyage in 1779. The Endeavour – or by this point, the Lord Sandwich 2 – made its way to North America, where the British used it to carry troops and prisoners during the American Revolutionary War.
In 1778, it was intentionally sunk to block French ships coming to aid the Americans in their rebellion. – New York Times