Captain Cook's ship positively identified

Researchers at the National Maritime Museum in Sydney recently announced their progress in identifying the Endeavor. For more than twenty years, the museum has been investigating James Cook’s famous ship, which sank in the port of Newport (East Coast of the United States) in 1778. In February 2022, the team declared having found it after analysis of a wreck discovered by marine archaeologists near the American coast in 2016. This announcement was, however, described as premature by some. The new elements could well provide the evidence that was missing to confirm this identification.

Museum director Daryl Karp is categorical: “these elements support the announcement made in February 2022 according to which the site of the wreck known as RI 2394 is that of the Lord Sandwich/HMB Endeavour”. Researchers noted the consistency in the size of the wreck’s visible beams, as well as the use of white oak to construct the hull – a hallmark of 18th-century British shipbuilding. The presence of a scuttle hole and repairs to the hull are also consistent with descriptions of the Endeavor in archival documents.

The identification of the wreck is mainly confirmed by the analysis of two significant parts found on the seabed: a bilge pump and part of the bow. The discovery of the bilge pump, used to remove water that could accumulate in the bilge, allowed archaeologists Kieran Hosty and James Hunter to positively identify the central part of the wreck. The piece of bow found makes it possible to obtain a measurement from the end of the keel to the location of the main mast, while providing important information on the construction of the ship. These two pieces of the wreck correspond perfectly to the known plans of the Endeavor.

The Endeavor is one of the most famous three-masted ships in maritime history. Thirty-two meters long, the ship was acquired by the Royal Navy for the first expedition of British Captain James Cook between 1768 and 1771. It was on board that Cook explored the South Pacific with the aim of discovering Terra Australis . The captain sailed to Tahiti then to New Zealand, before reaching Australia in 1770 and mapping the east coast of the continent. After this major scientific epic, the ship, renamed Lord Sandwich, was used to transport troops during the American War of Independence (1775-1783), before being deliberately scuttled by British forces in 1778.

The museum says a final archaeological report on the identification of the wreck will be published in 2024. The team emphasizes “the urgent need to ensure the highest possible level of legislative and physical protection for the site, taking into account of its historical and cultural significance to Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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