What was the fate of our nation’s discovery ship, Captain Cook’s HMS Endeavour?

6 November 2015

What was the fate of our nation’s discovery ship, Captain Cook’s HMS Endeavour?

This question was posed to me at a recent event facilitated by the Australian Consulate here in New York where our Consular General Nick Minchin was hosting an evening for the American Friends of the Australian National Maritime Museum.

HMS Endeavour off the coast of New Holland, by Samuel Atkins c. 1794

HMS Endeavour off the coast of New Holland, by Samuel Atkins c. 1794

I am embarrassed to say that I had no idea what the answer was to the question about the life and times of this iconic ship after it left Australian waters in 1770.

It seems however that we might be getting closer to solving this circa 250 year old mystery by identifying the actual resting place of this famous vessel. There seems to be irrefutable evidence that our HMS Endeavour (later renamed the Lord Sandwich after being sold into private maritime service) is laying in Davy Jones’ locker in Newport Harbor here in the USA.

It seems the Endeavour, a.k.a. The Lord Sandwich, came to the inglorious end of her relatively short 14 year life in 1778 when she was deliberately scuttled (along with 12 other ships) in the entrance to Newport Harbor in the north-eastern State of Rhode Island in the USA. The sinking of the thirteen vessels was an attempt by the British to form an artificial reef to inhibit the entry of the French Fleet into the bay during the American Revolution.

For some years, the entire harbor site has been subject to a very significant investigation known as the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP). This project is under the professional and academic supervision of Dr Kathy Abbass who is a world renowned marine archaeologist. Whilst the main intent of Dr Abbass’s mission is much broader than identifying artefacts associated with our Endeavour, proving the existence and location of this ship remains writ large in the minds of the investigating team given the maritime importance of locating a vessel associated with one of the greatest explorers the world has ever known.

Dr. Abbass made a presentation to the aforementioned event hosted by the Australian Consulate and it was clear for all present to see that she is determined to unravel the final parts of the puzzle relating to our “heritage” ship. Dr Abbass reported that the work of her team is currently restricted because they do not have the appropriate facilities to provide a “controlled” environment for relics and articles recovered from the wrecks. Without being able to scientifically examine these artefacts (particularly those of an organic nature), Dr. Abbass thinks it will be impossible to make a final determination to establish which of the thirteen (13) scuttled ships is the Endeavour.

As an interesting aside, there is a body of evidence that indicates that when John Bertrand won the America’s Cup in Australia II at Newport on the 26th September 1983,  that prize winning yacht would have sailed immediately over the top of the resting place of the Endeavour, giving it the spirit to win!

If that fact proves to be true it will give those of us who believe in Leprechauns and Gremlins something to think about!

Kevin Sumption, Director of the Australian National Maritime Museum, also pointed out to those gathered that the Christian name for Captain “James” Kirk of the starship USS Enterprise was inspired by our Captain “James” Cook. Additionally, Cook’s journal entry which said “ambition leads me … farther than any other man has been before me” inspired the pilot episode title Where No Man Has Gone Before” of what would become the cult famous Star Trek series.

There is a question of funding for the Newport Harbor project and I think our Government (along with the British and US Governments) should consider that question in light of the importance of establishing finally the resting place of a vessel that has, in one way or another, played such a significant role in their respective histories, particularly our own.

Kathy Abbass

With Dr Kathy Abbass inspecting an artefact (a piece of cloth) from the research site that she has affectionately named “Captain Cooks Underpants”