Researchers Say They Found Captain Cook’s Endeavour

According to Australian maritime archaeologists, the ship Captain James Cook used to travel to Australia has been discovered in Newport Harbor. On the other hand, their American research partners are not convinced.

According to Australian experts from an Australian maritime museum, the HMS Endeavour, the vessel British explorer Captain James Cook which sailed on a historic expedition to Australia and New Zealand between 1768 and 1771, has reportedly been discovered off the shore of Rhode Island.

Historical ship

In 1768, British explorer James Cook set off aboard the HMB Endeavour, a navy research vessel, searching for an “unknown southern country” known as Terra Australis Incognita. More than 90 individuals boarded the ship, which historians described as “homely but strong.”

Two years later, it anchored off the east coast of what is now Australia, ushering in two centuries of British rule. According to historians, it would later convey British troops during the American Revolutionary War before sinking in 1778 as part of a fleet of ships believed to have sunk off the coast of Rhode Island.


The research dispute that raised questions

A team of Australian and American academics has been scouring the waters, searching for the wreckage for more than two decades.

Then, 254 years after Cook sailed, maritime archaeologists from the Australian National Maritime Museum stated that they were “convinced” they had found the ultimate resting place of “one of the most significant and contested warships in Australia’s maritime history,” according to Kevin Sumption, the museum’s chief executive, and director.

The Rhode Island Marine Archaeological Project, the museum’s American research colleague, responded unexpectedly soon after the news conference in Sydney.


Recently, a short message surfaced on the project’s website from Rhode Island. It described the identification of the debris as “premature” and the Australian museum’s activities as “a breach of contract between RIMAP and the ANMM for the conduct of this research and how its results are to be shared with the public.”

Several questions were raised as a result of the contradictory claims. Is it possible that the Australians jumped the gun by revealing the discovery without the permission of the Rhode Island group? Why had they picked a time that was inconvenient to their American research colleagues for their press conference? What was the nature of the breach of contract? And, most importantly, has the wreckage of Cook’s famous ship been found?

A request for feedback from the Australian Museum was not answered. The Rhode Island project only reiterated its earlier stance.


The search begins

Captain Cooks Voyages
“Captain Cook’s Voyages” by Archives New Zealand, licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Endeavour was a little ship (less than 100 feet or 30 meters long) that was not regarded as a big or spectacular vessel during its lifespan. However, because of its significance in Australian history, it is a well-known figure in its history.

In 1770, Cook hoisted the British flag on what is today known as Possession Island. A British navy came into Sydney Harbor eighteen years later to establish a convict colony. The mariners planted a flag on what the British called “Terra Nullius” (Nobody’s Land), even though Aboriginal people had lived on the continent for over 65,000 years.

The present search for the Endeavour’s wreckage began in 1999 when the Australian National Maritime Museum Center collaborated with Kathy Abbass’s Rhode Island Marine Archaeological Project, which was founded to “study Rhode Island’s maritime history and conduct marine archaeology fieldwork.”


The teams scoured the Newport Harbor region off the coast of Rhode Island for more than two decades. They identified antique ships by cross-checking historical sources, and modeling what was remained of a vessel’s original form.

Mr. Sumption highlighted a variety of grounds in announcing that a wreck in the harbor had been definitively identified as the Endeavour, including historical data connected to the ship’s sinking, schematics of the vessel as recorded in the 1700s, and the usage of European rather than American wood. According to the researchers, Mr. Sumption was “happy” with his team’s conclusion, even though just 15% of the vessel had remained intact.

“The last parts of the puzzle needed to be validated before I felt comfortable making this decision,” he explained. “I’m confident it’s the Endeavour based on archival and archaeological data.”


The controversy continues to make headlines all across the world

“The fact that the Endeavour produces so much attention and engagement 252 years later illustrates what a defining icon it is in Australian history, both in its deep past and its current history,” Anna Clark, a research fellow at the Australian Center for Public History, said.

However, the announcement from the Rhode Island project immediately eclipsed the initial story.

The Endeavour controversy comes at a critical juncture in Australia’s colonial history debate. On Jan. 26, Australia Day commemorates the arrival of the first European settlers in Sydney in 1788. Indigenous Australians have been excluded from celebrations since the holiday’s inception, and it has been the target of public protests in recent years.


When asked how First Nations people may be part in 1888, Sir Henry Parkes, the creator of the Australian federation, replied that it would only serve to “remind them that we have plundered them.” For many, Invasion Day symbolizes the country’s horrible treatment of Indigenous people.

The debate over whether Cook’s ship was discovered or not has reignited accusations that some Australians are overly preoccupied with the man and his ship.

“The ship itself is not very exceptional in the British naval force at the time,” said Kate Fullagar, a history professor at Macquarie University in Sydney. “Except it did endure a long time,” she said.


It’s unclear how the situation will be addressed. The Australian museum afterward issued a statement denying the charge of breach of contract. Mr. Sumption has subsequently changed his mind about the Endeavour’s discovery from “convinced” to “confident.” When the “legitimate report” was complete, the Rhode Island project claimed to release it on its website.

According to several analysts, Endeavour’s academic significance is limited. “Just finding an iconic ship has no archaeological value,” Wendy van Duivenvoorde, an associate professor of maritime archaeology at Flinders University in South Australia, said.

“We don’t answer any questions by finding a shipwreck,” she added.


Deeply rooted in Australian history

The Endeavour is an important symbol, especially in Australia. This isn’t the first time that there has been controversy over its discovery; people seem to forget that it was presumably found many times before.

It is intriguing how this recent discovery caused a lot of debate, considering some people think it’s unnecessary or even relevant for this ship to be found. Even though some people deny that Endeavour has been found, it seems as if Mr. Sumption made a sound case for his finding.

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