The HMS Endeavour is the famous ship that Captain James Cook used on the first expedition to Australia in 1768 AD. The wreck of the ship that enabled this voyage is now believed to have been found off the coast of the US state of Rhode Island in Newport Harbor, say Australian researchers, as reported by DW. However, while the Australians insist the Endeavour shipwreck discovery is the real thing, the Rhode Island maritime authorities are saying it’s too early to be sure.
British explorer and navigator, Captain James Cook from the British Royal Navy, is renowned for his three historical voyages to the Pacific in the 18th century, particularly the voyage that led to the discovery of the Australian continent. Cook set out in 1768 in search of an “unknown southern land” known as Terra Australis Incognita, with more than 90 sailors on board a “homely but sturdy vessel” [the HMS Endeavour ] as per a report in The New York Times . When he dropped the Endeavour’s anchor in “Australian waters,” he set into motion centuries of British colonialism in the region.
The Endeavour ship was later used for the transportation of troops during the American Revolutionary War. And in 1778 the Endeavour was sunk in battle, along with a horde of other ships, off the coast of Rhode Island in Newport Harbor.
The Endeavour shipwreck discovery, if verified, would be exactly like this replica of the HM Bark Endeavour in Cooktown, Australia. (John Hill / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Endeavour Shipwreck Discovery Isn’t An Open and Shut Case!
On Thursday morning, 254 years after Captain James Cook had set sail, the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM), who have dived at the Newport Harbor site for more than 22 years, announced their Endeavour shipwreck discovery. Ancient Origins has been tracking the Endeavour shipwreck discovery process and has published three articles on the discovery updates and news since 2016: first article , second article , third article .
Kevin Sumption, director of the ANMM, in a Thursday media briefing, said “Since 1999, we have been investigating several 18th-century shipwrecks in a 2-square-mile area where we believed that Endeavour sank. Based on archival and archaeological evidence, I’m convinced it’s the Endeavour. The focus is now on what can be done to protect and preserve it.” He added that the vessel is one of the “most important and contentious” in the maritime history of Australia.
However, this is not an open-and-shut case, and certainly not a straightforward find. Kathy Abbass, the executive director of the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP), accuses the Australians of jumping the gun with the Endeavour shipwreck discovery announcement.
“What we see on the shipwreck site under study is consistent of what might be the Endeavour, but there has been no indisputable data to prove the site is that iconic vessel , and there are many unanswered questions that could overturn such an identification,” Abbass said in a statement.
Abbass has furthered her claim and accused the ANMM of a “ breach of contract ,” though ANMM marine archaeology manager Kieran Hosty told The Art Newspaper that the said contract had expired in November 2021, and was no longer valid. Incidentally, both organizations, RIMAP and ANMM, have been collaborative researchers and partners in the Newport Harbor wreck discovery project for over 22 years.
A maritime archaeologist from the Australian National Maritime Museum working at the Endeavour shipwreck discovery site in Newport Harbor, Rhode Island, USA. ( Australian National Maritime Museum )
Rhode Island Maritime Authorities Say “Too Early To Be Sure”
In a statement posted on their website , RIMAP has called itself “the lead organization” and authority on the project, and wrote in no uncertain terms that, “The Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) report that the Endeavour has been identified is premature… RIMAP’s conclusions will be driven by proper scientific process and not Australian emotions or politics.”
In response, the Australian museum said it had worked with Abbass for 22 years and acknowledged that she is entitled to her opinion, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence accumulated. “As stated today, our director Kevin Sumption is confident that the preponderance of evidence identifies shipwreck site RI 2394 in Newport Harbor as the last resting place of Endeavour. The museum has reviewed our previous agreements with RIMAP, and we conclude that we are not in breach of any current commitments. We look forward to pursuing a due process of peer review and consultation with all stakeholders in Rhode Island.”
Certain crucial questions remain unanswered, including ethical considerations in announcing such a find despite the lack of approval from the lone other research partner. Had due process been followed, the discovery of such an important historical find could be celebrated without the stain of infighting and hesitation.
Top image: The Australian National Maritime Museum say the Endeavour shipwreck discovery, pictured here underwater in Newport Harbor, USA, is the real thing but Rhode Island maritime authorities say it’s too early to be sure. Source: Australian National Maritime Museum
By Sahir Pandey