Britain’s Captain James Cook made three voyages between 1768 and 1779 in the Pacific Ocean and to Australia, but only one – the first – was on his most famous ship, the HMS Endeavour. That boat later became a war transport ship during the American War of Independence and was renamed the Lord Sandwich 2. It was then converted into a prison ship but did not survive the war – on August 4, 1778, Lord Sandwich 2/HMS Endeavour was scuttled in an attempt to block Newport Harbor on the coast of Rhode Island. Numerous attempts have been made to find it, and this week the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) announced a wreck in Newport Harbor has been confirmed as the ship. Or has it?
“Based on archival and archaeological evidence, I'm convinced it's the Endeavour."
That statement by ANMM director Kevin Sumption came after over two decades of research which began in 1999 when 18th-century shipwrecks were found in a two-square-mile area in the harbor. In conjunction with the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP), they isolated the thirteen wrecks used to form the blockade and attempted to identify each. By 2016, In 2016 RIMAP put the Endeavour in a cluster of five wrecks, and in 2018 there was a tentative announcement that they thought the found Endeavour, but did not have positive identification. On February 3rd, 2022, ANMM announced the identify had been confirmed.
“What we see on the shipwreck site under study is consistent with what might be expected of the Endeavour, but there has been no indisputable data found to prove the site is that iconic vessel, and there are many unanswered questions that could overturn such an identification."
In what sailors would call a retaliatory shot from the bow, RIMAP principal investigator Kathy Abbass declared one hour after it was made that this announcement was premature and a "breach of contract." This is now an international conflict the likes of which HMS Endeavour/Lord Sandwich 2 would have been suited for although it’s the U.S. and RIMAP versus and Australia and ANMM. ANMM’s Kieran Hosty says Abbass had the information 10 days before the announcement, and “as far as I'm aware the contract with the Rhode Island project expired in November last year.” That contract is critical because so many parties are involved in the confirmation and recovery of what’s left (about 15%) of the Endeavour, as Kevin Sumption explained to ABC News.
"It's an important historical moment, as this vessel's role in exploration, astronomy and science applies not just to Australia, but also Aotearoa New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States."
It sounds like the wreck of the HMS Endeavour has been found and now everyone wants a piece of the pieces. If so, they may want to remember what happened to Captain Cook. On his third voyage in the Pacific in 1779, his crew took some wood from a burial ground on the island of Hawaii. The native people responded by taking a small wooden boat from his crew, so Cook retaliated by attempting to kidnap and ransom the King of Hawaiʻi, Kalaniʻōpuʻu. The Hawaiians rescued their chief and killed Captain Cook.
Be careful what you endeavor when it comes to the Endeavour.