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Is This Shipwreck Off the Coast of Rhode Island Actually Captain Cook’s Legendary HMS Endeavour?

Australian maritime experts believe it's the historic ship, but US archaeologists disagree.


Back in 1770, Captain James Cook sailed the HMS Endeavour down under and discovered Australia. Now, a team of Aussie maritime experts claims it’s discovered that very vessel off the coast of Rhode Island in the US.

Kevin Sumption, the director of the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney, today announced that the shipwreck had been conclusively identified after 22 years of research, as reported by the Associated Press.

“I am satisfied that this is the final resting place of one of the most important and contentious vessels in Australia’s maritime history,” Sumption said.

HMS Endeavour

A painting of “Endeavour” by Samuel Atkins (1760–1810).  National Library of Australia/Wikimedia Commons

Just hours later, though, the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) in the US, which partnered with the Australians in the search, refuted the claim and said the announcement was a “breach of contract.”

HMS Endeavour

One of the wreck site’s four cannons lies on the seafloor.  Australian National Maritime Museum

“What we see on the shipwreck site under study is consistent of what might be the Endeavour, but there has been no indisputable data to prove the site is that iconic vessel, and there are many unanswered questions that could overturn such an identification,” RIMAP’s executive director Kathy Abbass said.

Australian National Maritime Museum

The research team preparing for a dive in Newport Harbour.  Australian National Maritime Museum

What’s not in dispute is the fact that the Endeavour is one of the most famous ships in the history of the South Pacific. The 98-footer was Cook’s research vessel of choice for his first voyage of discovery. Packed with 94 people and 18 months of provisions, the ship left England in 1768, before sailing through the South Pacific and landing in New Zealand in 1769. A year later, Endeavour became the first ship to reach the east coast of Australia. It played a significant role in the discovery and subsequent colonization of these countries, not to mention contributed to the fields of science, astronomy and exploration. This makes the Endeavour important to not only Australia, but New Zealand, Britain and the US, too.

After its legendary global voyage, the Endeavour was sold to a private owner in 1775 and renamed Lord Sandwich. It was then deliberately sunk by the British military during the American Revolution in 1778 and was forgotten for more than two centuries until the two teams of researchers decided to dig for evidence to confirm its identity. Today, only about 15 percent of the vessel remains—but, apparently, that’s still enough to cause waves.

Watch more about the discovery below:

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