“This is a vessel that is significant to people around the world, including Australia.”
That statement from Kathy Abbass, director of the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP), can only mean one ship: the HMB Endeavour commanded by Lieutenant James Cook on his first voyage of discovery to Australia, New Zealand and beyond. Ignominiously sold and renamed Lord Sandwich 2, it was scuttled with 12 other ships in a Revolutionary War blockade of Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island in 1778 and unsuccessfully searched for ever since … until now.
“Now that RIMAP [Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project] and the ANMM [Australian National Maritime Museum] have identified a possible site in Newport Harbor that might be the Lord Sandwich ex Endeavour, the detailed work must begin to prove it.”
Actually, the site has been known since 2016 when the wreckage of five ships was found off of Goat Island in Narragansett Bay in Newport. On September 21, RIMAP will release a 3D representation of what it believes to be the Endeavour and its plans for recovering whatever is left of the Endeavour/Lord Sandwich. Those plans include raising the money to bring up the pieces of the ship and any surviving artifacts, process them and display them for the world to see.
The plans must also include a way to determine whether the U.S., the UK or Australia can claim ownership of the ship. This year marks the beginning of the 250th anniversary of Cook’s first voyage of discovery, which left port on August 26, 1768, and resulted in the crew being the first Europeans to reach the east coast of Australia. While Australians (with the exception of Aboriginal Australians) want the Endeavour to help celebrate the anniversary, Australian National Maritime Museum maritime archaeologist Kieran Hosty says the chances are slim.
“The legal aspect is the ship belongs to America under their legislation. The ship was abandoned by the British, the insurance money paid out and the State of Rhode Island has claimed ownership of the vessel. With the Endeavour, we may have to enter into the memorandum of understanding to allow the material to be lent to us.”
Good luck fighting for it after the insurance money has been paid, even if it was almost 250 years ago. Hosty also says there won’t be much to fight over anyway. The age plus the location in a busy harbor leads him to believe no more than 15 percent of the wooden ship remains. Shirani Aththas, communications manager for the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM), describes what will be studied to verify that it’s Endeavour:
“There are certainly timbers preserved in the harbour there. It’ll be bits of wood and vessel that might be recovered. Once excavated it will require sampling, testing of the type of wood and nails, and analysis which won’t give us a definitive answer for another 18 months.”
Is that enough to make the Australian descendants of Europeans happy? Is it enough to make the Australian descendants of Australians even angrier? Perhaps they should be given a few pieces too … and the freedom to do what they want with them.