There’s big drama going down in the world of maritime archaeology. The Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) has boldly declared they have discovered the wreck of HMS Endeavour, the first European ship to reach what’s known today as Australia and New Zealand.
In a press conference held in Sydney this morning, Kevin Sumption, chief executive of ANMM told reporters: "I am satisfied that this is the final resting place of one of the most important and contentious vessels in Australia's maritime history."
However, the Rhode Island Marine Archeology Project (RIMAP) isn’t so sure. It released a rebuttal claiming the announcement of the shipwreck's discovery is “premature” and driven by “Australian emotions.”
Under the command of British then-Lieutenant James Cook, HMS Endeavour reached the east coast of Australia in April 1770, marking the start of the European colonization of Australasia and the South Pacific. The mission was originally a scientific expedition to Tahiti to observe the 1769 transit of Venus across the Sun, but it later embarked on a “secret assignment” to identify and capture new territories for the British Empire.
The ship ended its life on the other side of the planet. After being privately sold and changing hands a few times, the ship was used as a British troop transport during the American War of Independence. It was deliberately sunk by the British in 1778 around Newport Harbor in Rhode Island, along with four other ships, although the precise location of its demise has long remained a mystery.
The ANMM now claims the shipwreck has been identified after laying in obscurity for centuries. Through an ongoing 22-year-long project, archaeologists found the wrecks of five ships in Newport Harbor that feature distinct cutting holes in their hulls, indicating they were intentionally scuttled, just as records show. Based on the size of one of the wrecks located about 500 meters off the coast and 14 meters, known as RI 2394, the ANMM team believes they may have discovered the remains of Endeavour.
"We will never find anything on this site that screams Endeavour. We will never find a sign saying, ‘Cook was here’. We will never see a ship’s bell with Endeavour crossed out and Lord Sandwich inscribed on it,” Kieran Hosty, ANMM maritime archaeologist, said in a statement. “We call on the ‘preponderance of evidence’ where we've got a whole series of things that tie into Endeavour. And so far, we've found lots of things that tick the boxes for it to be the Endeavour and nothing on the site which says it's not."
RIMAP, which also worked on this project, disagrees with this conclusion. In a statement, RIMAP’s executive director D. K. Abbass suggests the ANMM is being too hasty with its assumptions, arguing there is currently “no indisputable data found to prove the site is that iconic vessel,” and that the announcement breached a contract between the two institutes on how they conducted and shared their research.
"RIMAP recognizes the connection between Australian citizens of British descent and the Endeavour, but RIMAP's conclusions will be driven by proper scientific process and not Australian emotions or politics," Abbas said.
The ANMM has doubled down and issued a reply to RIMAP, stating they look forward to publishing a peer-reviewed report on their findings.
“Based on archival and archaeological evidence, I’m convinced it’s the Endeavour," Sumption stated plainly in the news conference.
“Although only around 15 percent of the vessel remains, the focus is now on what can be done to protect and preserve it.”
Captain Cook made landfall in the Endeavor at Botany Bay in what is now Sydney and claimed the region for the British crown, despite the Indigenous communities already established. The ship has been controversial for over 250 years and shows no sign of letting up.