SYDNEY (AP) — Maritime experts said on Thursday they believe they have found the wreckage of one of the most important ships in Australian and South Pacific history after it sank in the US more than 200 years ago.
Experts said they have identified what remains of British explorer James Cook’s ship HMS Endeavor in Newport Harbor, Rhode Island. Cook sailed the ship around the South Pacific on a pioneering voyage before landing on the east coast of Australia in 1770.
For 22 years, maritime archaeologists have been investigating several ancient shipwrecks in a 2-square-mile area of Newport Harbor. The Endeavor was deliberately sunk there by the British during the American Revolution and lay in obscurity for more than two centuries.
Kevin Sumption, the director of the Australian National Maritime Museum, said archaeologists were confident they had found the Endeavor wreckage after matching the structural details and shape of the remains to 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 Australia’s maritime history,” Sumption said, announcing the discovery at the museum.
“The last pieces of the puzzle had to be confirmed before I felt able to make this call,” he said. “Based on archival and archaeological evidence, I am convinced it is the Endeavor.”
He said the ship’s important role in exploration, astronomy and science made it important not only to Australia, but also to New Zealand, Britain and the US.
Only about 15% of the ship remains, and researchers are now focused on what can be done to protect and preserve it, Sumption said. He said the museum was working closely with maritime experts in Rhode Island and with state and federal officials in the US and Australia to secure the site.
The ship was launched in 1764 as the Earl of Pembroke. Four years later, it was renamed Endeavor by the British Navy and was readied for a major scientific voyage to the Pacific.
From 1768 to 1771, Endeavor sailed across the South Pacific, ostensibly to record the transit of Venus on Tahiti in 1769. Cook continued his journey through the region in search of the ‘Great Southern Land’.
He mapped the New Zealand coastline. His first encounter with the native Maori people ended badly, with his crew killing several Maori, though relations later improved. In 2019, the British government expressed regret over the killings, but did not offer a full apology.
He also mapped the east coast of Australia before claiming the land for Great Britain in 1770.
The Endeavor was later sold to private owners and renamed Lord Sandwich. It was deliberately sunk in 1778 by British troops during the American Revolution.
A year later, Cook was killed in Hawaii on another voyage in the Pacific. In 1788, the so-called First Fleet of 11 ships, with hundreds of convicts on board, arrived in Australia to found a British colony.