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Researchers Believe They May Have Located a Famous Ship Once Owned by Captain Cook

Researchers Believe They May Have Located a Famous Ship Once Owned by Captain Cook

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A team of researchers in the USA believe that they've located the area of the wreck of Captain James Cook’s ship. The HMS Endeavour is known for being the ship which reached Australia on April 19, 1770, during the first of three expeditions led by the explorer.

The ship was originally named ''The Earl of Pembroke'', and it was purchased for the expedition by Cook and renamed. The HMS Endeavour  weighed 368 tons (334 metric tons) and measured 105 feet (32 meters) long. After the adventurous voyage with Cook, the Endeavour was retired from the navy. It was renamed yet again, this time as the Lord Sandwich and became a ship used to transport troops during the war in 1775.

During the American Revolution in August 1778, Americans were in trouble and hoped for the support of the French navy. The British decided to scuttle 13 ships into Newport, including Lord Sandwich. They wanted to block the French navy en route.

Painting of the Earl of Pembroke, later HMS Endeavour, and finally Lord Sandwich leaving Whitby Harbour in 1768.

Painting of the Earl of Pembroke, later HMS Endeavour, and finally Lord Sandwich leaving Whitby Harbour in 1768. (Public Domain)

The expedition searching for the Endeavour started a few years ago by mapping 8 shipwreck sites in the Newport Harbor. The team discovered that all of them were a part of the fleet of 13 transport ships that sunk in 1778. The first results of the research were presented during the meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology in Quebec in January 2014.

According to the BBC, The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) says that it is 80 to 100 percent possible that they have found the location of the famous wreck. RIMAP is a non-profit organization that was set up 1992. Their main goal is to complete underwater archaeology with their skills and support studies of maritime history and marine archaeology sites in Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay.  With the grant received from the Australian National Maritime Museum, RIMAP was able to track down historic documents connected with the ships scuttled in 1778.

As Dr. Kathy Abbass, the executive director of Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project said to CNN: ''Lord Sandwich was the first lord of the admiralty at the time so the name makes sense -- a nod by its private owner. We know from its size, dimension and these records that the Sandwich was the Endeavour." 

Selected sites of RIMAP studies – Shipwrecks of Rhode Island

Selected sites of RIMAP studies – Shipwrecks of Rhode Island. (RIMAP)

However, the RIMAPs researchers wrote in a statement published recently that they still cannot say that they have found the wreck of Endeavour for certain because the site maps have too little information. Archaeological excavations are necessary to conclusively announce that they discovered the famous wreck. They wrote: ''Meanwhile, there are a number of more subtle targets in Newport Harbor that will need attention before we can with confidence say we have found all of the transports lost there in 1778.''

The next step for RIMAP is to investigate the ships and the artifacts they contain. However, they have decided that before that phase of the research they want to build a facility to conserve, manage, store, and display the material which they will take from the water. The researchers of RIMAP believe that it is meaningful that the discovery of the wreck of the Endeavour takes place during the year of the 240th anniversary of the day when Rhode Island colonial legislature disavowed loyalty to King George III of England and the colonies issued the Declaration of Independence.

There are still many controversies surrounding the voyage of Cook to Australia. On May 24, 2014 Ancient Origins reported that research had linked an old swivel gun found in Darwin, Australia to a mine on the Spanish Iberian Peninsula, suggesting that the Portuguese reached Australia not only before Cook, but also before the Dutch made the first European sighting of Australia in 1606.

A replica of the HMS Endeavour in Sydney, Australia.

A replica of the HMS Endeavour in Sydney, Australia. (CC BY SA 3.0)

Furthermore, the “discovery” of Australia in 1770 is also a painful point in history due to its connection to the decimation of Aboriginal culture. However, a positive part of Cook's expeditions was created by the scientists who accompanied him, including for example, the astronomer Charles Green, the botanist Joseph Banks, and the naturalist and ethnologist Johann Georg Adam Forster.

Johann Georg Adam Forster joined Cook during his second expedition to Australia 1772 - 1775. He joined the crew due to Cook’s fame for his voyage from 1768-1770. During the stay in Australia, Forster completed research which allowed him to write two books about the natural environment of the area: 'De Plantis Esculentis Insularum Oceani Australis Commentatio Botanica' and 'Florulae Insularum Australium Prodromus'.

Portraits of Captain James Cook and Johann Georg Adam Forster

Portraits of Captain James Cook (Public Domain) and Johann Georg Adam Forster. (Public Domain)

Apparently the relationship between Forster and Cook was very strained. Memoirs written by the researchers who joined the crew of the expedition said that Cook didn't like and didn't respect their work. He was just interested in exploring and bringing goods to the King. Cook was also irritated when he had to wait until the scientist collected enough of information about animals, plants, etc. As a result, Cook decided not to take any scientists with him on his third and last voyage.

Featured Image: HMS Endeavour off the coast of New Holland. Source: Public Domain

By Natalia Klimczak

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