Aussies say famed British explorer's ship found in Rhode Island, Americans say not so fast

SYDNEY — Australian shipping experts said Thursday they believe they have found the wreck of one of the most important ships in South Pacific history, after it was sunk in the United States more than 200 years ago.

But archaeologists in the US quickly countered that the finds were premature and a breach of contract for their joint research.

For 22 years, marine archaeologists have been studying several ancient shipwrecks in a 2 square mile area of ​​Newport Harbor, Rhode Island. James Cook’s HMS Endeavor is said to have been intentionally sunk there by the British during the American Revolution.

Cook had previously sailed the ship on a pioneering voyage around the South Pacific before landing on the east coast of Australia in 1770.

On Thursday morning Kevin Sumption, chief executive officer of the Australian National Maritime Museum, held a press conference in Sydney after alerting the media that he was making “a major historic maritime announcement”.

Sumption said archaeologists are confident they have found the wreck of the Endeavor after comparing the structural details and shape of the remains with those on the original plans.

“I am pleased that this is the final resting place of one of the most important and controversial ships in Australian maritime history,” Sumption said.

But in a statement released soon after, DK Abbass, executive director of the Rhode Island Marine Archeology Project, said her group was the lead organization on the Newport Harbor study.

“What we are seeing at the surveyed shipwreck site is consistent with what might be expected of the Endeavor, but no indisputable data has been found to prove the site is this iconic ship and there is much unanswered.” Questions that could undo such an identification,” Abbass wrote. “When the study is complete, RIMAP will publish the legitimate report.”

In a subsequent interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Kieran Hosty, the Australian Museum’s manager of maritime archeology, said he thought his group’s contract with RIMAP expired in November, but could not comment for certain. He gave other details that he said convinced her it was the Endeavor, including the size of the beams, that it was built in Europe and the holes sunk in the keel.

“So it ticks all of those boxes,” Hosty told ABC. “That’s why we’re very open to talking to Dr. Abbass if she doesn’t agree with our results, her findings.”

Sumption had previously said the ship’s significant role in exploration, astronomy and science made it important not only to Australia but also to New Zealand, the UK and the US

“The final pieces of the puzzle had to be confirmed before I felt able to make this call,” Sumption said at the news conference. “Based on archival and archeological evidence, I am convinced it is the Endeavor.”

Only about 15% of the ship remains and researchers are now focused on what can be done to protect and preserve it, Sumption said at the press conference. He said the museum is working closely with maritime experts in Rhode Island, as well as state and federal officials in the US and Australia to secure the site.

But Abbass said that while her organization recognizes the link between Australian citizens of British descent and the Endeavor, her conclusions are guided “by proper scientific process and not by Australian emotion or politics”.

The ship was launched in 1764 as the Earl of Pembroke. Four years later it was renamed Endeavor by the British Navy and prepared for a major scientific voyage to the Pacific.

From 1768 to 1771 the Endeavor sailed the South Pacific, allegedly to record the transit of Venus in Tahiti in 1769. Cook then continued to sail through the region in search of the “Great Southern Land”.

He charted the coast of New Zealand. His first significant encounter with the indigenous Maori people ended badly when his crew killed several Maori. In 2019, the UK government expressed regret over the killings but did not issue a full apology.

He also mapped Australia’s east coast before claiming the land for Great Britain in 1770.

Endeavor was later sold to private owners and renamed Lord Sandwich. It was deliberately sunk by British forces in 1778 during the American Revolution.

A year later, Cook was killed in Hawaii during another Pacific voyage. In 1788 the so-called First Fleet of 11 ships with hundreds of convicts on board arrived in Australia to found a British colony.

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