Marine Archaeologists Think They May Have Found Captain James Cook's Lost "Endeavour"

Painting by Samuel Atkins (1787-1808) of Endeavour off the coast of New Holland during Cook's three-year voyage of discovery ending in 1771. Wikimedia Commons

An international team of marine archaeologists believe they may have found the final resting place of Captain James Cook’s HMS Endeavour, the 18th-century exploratory vessel made famous by its crew's three-year circumnavigation of the globe by way of the South Pacific.

The Endeavour was a British Royal Navy Research vessel weighing 368 tons and measuring 32 meters (105 feet) in length, according to the Captain Cook Society. Originally designed to carry coal along the east coast of England, the flat-bottom collier was wide and sturdy enough to hold the team of explorers and their equipment as they voyaged to never-before-seen places between 1768 and 1771. Following the mission, the ship was sold to a private owner who renamed it the Lord Sandwich and attempted to bring soldiers to America during the nation’s revolution. When the French blocked Narragansett Bay in the days leading up to the 1778 Battle of Rhode Island, the ship was reportedly intentionally scuttled with a dozen other wartime vessels.

Lord Sandwich ex Endeavour® has rested below the ocean surface ever since, its location unbeknownst to the world.

(Left) The interpretive sign on the shore of Gurney's Resort on Goat overlooking the site and the RIMAP research vessel. Photo by S. Nelson-Maney © RIMAP 2019 (Right) The original site map of what may be the remains of the Endeavour. © RIMAP 2008

For more than a decade, the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) has been leading the charge to locate the vessel. In 2016, experts found historical documents in London that confirmed the ships had indeed sunk at the mouth of the bay. Now, a new excavation on one of the sunken vessels has led the authors to believe they may have found the ship.

Divers dug two trenches to expose the hull and its keel, both of which were similar in structure and dimensions to the Endeavor, reports RIMAP. Three-dimensional images show exposed timbers that match what we know about how the iconic vessel was built.  

The 3D image of some of the exposed timbers. John Cassese ©/RIMAP 2019

In order to scuttle the ships, experts previously believed that holes were cut into the bottoms to allow them to sink, but no historical evidence has been found to describe this practice. Now, divers on the vessel found a hole cut through the bottom of the ship near the keel that could have been intentionally drilled in order to sink the vessel and keep it out of enemy hands.

Experts also excavated a number of artifacts and other goods, including pieces of leather, textiles, glass, ceramics, wood fragments, as well as samples of coal and charcoal that will be professionally preserved.

Though they cannot say with certainty that this ship is the Lord Sandwich ex Endeavour®, the researchers will continue to excavate the ship and analyze data collected on the recent dive in order to confirm its place in history. 

The grid used to control the excavation. John Cassese ©/RIMAP 2019
The diver hand fans the silt covering into the water column, it is then removed by the dredge, thus exposing a sheave (part of the rigging). John Cassese ©/RIMAP 2019

   

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