After a twenty-year search, marine biologists claim to have finally found the wreckage of the vessel once skippered by the British explorer Captain Cook.
Searching in waters off the coast of Rhode Island, Australian maritime archaeologists say they came across the famed ship, HMS Endeavour, near Newport Harbour, where it has rested at the bottom of the ocean for 200 years.
While researchers had a rough idea about where the Endeavour may have last been sighted before it was sunk by the British during the American War of Independence in 1788, its exact location was not known until now – two centuries later.
Australian National Maritime Museum chief Kevin Sumption confirmed the identity of the ship, telling 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,
“The last pieces of the puzzle had to be confirmed before I felt able to make this call.
“Based on archival and archaeological evidence, I’m convinced it’s the Endeavour.”
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According to the State Library of New South Wales, Australia, Cook set sail with secret orders from the British Admiralty to locate a “Continent or Land of great extent” and to claim it “in the name of the King of Great Britain”.
While, contrary to myth, Cook was not the first European to land on Australian shores, as it was initially discovered by Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon in 1606 – the British navigator is attributed to the British colonization of the country.
Upon landing, he named the land he encountered New South Wales in 1770.
Often said to be one of the greatest explorers in history, James Cook (1728-1779) was also instrumental in charting what’s now New Zealand, exploring the shores of North America and locating and famously documenting the Great Barrier Reef off Queensland as Endeavour struck the corals and narrowly escaped sinking.
“It’s an important historical moment, as this vessel’s role in exploration, astronomy and science applies not just to Australia, but also Aotearoa New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States,” said Sumption.
According to Sumption’s report, the wreck’s structural details, length and shape closely resemble the historic plans of Endeavour, including the keel and the joinery used in the bow at the front.
Historical research suggests the ship, along with four others, was sunk during the American War of Independence slightly north of Goat Island in Newport Harbour.
But Dr Kathy Abbass, a lead investigator on the project from the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project said Australian researchers may have jumped the gun in their announcement:
“What we see on the shipwreck site under study is consistent with what might be expected of the Endeavour, but there has been no indisputable data found to prove the site is that iconic vessel,” she told ABC.
“RIMAP recognises the connections between Australian citizens of British descent and the Endeavour but RIMAP’s conclusions will be driven by a proper scientific process and not Australian emotions or politics,” she added.
“A legitimate report’ will be shared by the RIMAP on its website once the studies are complete”.