The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) continues to search Newport Rhode Island’s Outer Harbour for 18th century vessels. They had been scuttled in 1778 by local British leaders in Rhode Island to protect British interests in Newport from the French. That successful action maintained British control of Newport. One of the ships sunk in Newport Harbour was Lord Sandwich, formerly Endeavour, formerly Earl of Pembroke. An impressive array of documentation links Endeavour to the Newport events of 1778. There is no longer any question that Lord Sandwich ex-Endeavour rests in Newport Harbour.1 The central focus now is to study the entire fleet of scuttled ships. It is hoped that one of the sites will lead to identification of Endeavour.
On 30 July 2012, my wife Paula, our daughter Celia, and I visited D.K. Abbass, Ph.D., Director of RIMAP and of the Foundation for the Preservation of Captain Cook’s Ships at RIMAP’s headquarters at Naval Station Newport. An article in Cook’s Log summarized RIMAP’s activities as of 2006.2 My report is of the more recent activities, including the first-time release of images outlining six of the sites that may lead to Endeavour’s identification, as well as images of a few artefacts from RIMAP’s investigation.
What’s “down there” in the waters of Newport’s Outer Harbour, you may wonder? Newport was founded in 1639 and it served as a major maritime trading hub. After 234 years, the sites of scuttled ships now consist of debris piles, with the lower decks buried in the harbour floor, and covered with silt. Silt along with ballast shields the ship’s wooden timbers from oxygen and disturbance thereby preventing additional deterioration of the site.
The ravages of time, however, affected the scuttled ships and damaged the sites. The harbour has been dredged more than once, bridges were constructed, and thieves and scavengers removed portions of the ships. There are 19th century newspaper accounts of scavengers taking material from unidentified ships in the harbour. Malicious vandalism has occurred. Today’s large ship and boat traffic, yacht races, activities of lobster and other fisherman, as well as two centuries of anchorages and mooring fields, disrupt and degrade the harbour floor.3
Of course, archaeological penetration of a site will introduce oxygen and may thereby lead to a degree of deterioration. To date, RIMAP has conducted pre-disturbance examination of the sites in Newport Harbour by sonar, trained archaeological divers, and other means. Divers from the Australian National Maritime Museum, students from the Universities of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and professional archaeologists from around the United States have joined RIMAP’s teams.
RIMAP began its work in 1992 and assembled an extensive collection of documents. It has records of thirteen vessels sunk in 1778. RIMAP found a number of potential Newport sites that match where we know the ships were lost. RIMAP has so far mapped eight of these potential 18th century sites and released information on six locations. Additional mapping is planned.
The ships, scuttled as private transport vessels and not part of the Royal Navy, are now the property of the State of Rhode Island. This designation provides legal protection for the sites. While the possibility of locating Cook’s ship is of tremendous importance, there is also interest in the thirteen ships, all of which are significant for Rhode Island naval and maritime history. It is possible that the remains of additional ships will be discovered.
As the scuttled transports were commercial vessels in 1778, rather than naval vessels they are eligible for salvage. The State of Rhode Island moved in 1999 and 2000 to protect the fleet of transports with a salvage award (which is stronger than U.S. preservation laws) and then took title to “all non-motorized wooden vessels” in the two square mile study area where the fleet was known to be lost. The State also named RIMAP as its agent to conduct the research and to locate and study the ships.
Kathy Abbass comments, “any protection of the lost fleet is only as good as its enforcement”. Those resources are spread thin. Arrest and prosecution are difficult and expensive. Because the ships are now in a protected historic site, unauthorized access or outright vandalism touches upon the state’s economic interest in international heritage tourism. People who watch RIMAP’s activities know where the sites are located. Oversight and enforcement issues will likely continue.
Dr. Kathy Abbass states, “There are always folks who will do mischief, regardless of what the law says. Our hope instead is to educate the general public so that they know that such behavior is illegal and to the detriment of the public good. And we hope that they will help protect the transport fleet, whether or not we ever prove we have found Endeavour”.4
The Sites and Artefacts
Kathy Abbass graciously provided copies of RIMAP’s site images and photographs of some artefacts, including site maps of potential 18th century ships. At present it is not possible to state that any of the six sites pertain to Endeavour. Additional mapping is scheduled as RIMAP’s work continues. The precise locations of these six sites are confidential.
Rule in, Rule Out: Investigating the Sites
RIMAP’s website5 provides very useful, well-organized material outlining the process by which RIMAP conducts its search. RIMAP is studying the entire fleet of scuttled transports. Some of the factors that may help rule in or rule out a particular location include artefacts, keel size and overall dimensions, ballast, and wood. At present it is not known what this information will tell RIMAP until the work is performed and results analyzed.
Investigation of debris may reveal artefacts, such as personal and military insignia, that match those of Hessian troops transported to Newport in Lord Sandwich. Admiralty records state that Lord Sandwich carried troops, the Lansborg du Corps Hessians, to join British forces in the American War of Independence.6 The other transports sunk also served as military transports. Lord Sandwich also served as a British ship for colonial prisoners, and perhaps prisoner-related artefacts can be discovered to assist identification. However, other ships served as prison ships and this factor alone is insufficient to identify Endeavour.
Four of the ships were in the range of Endeavour’s 368 tons, and three of these ships were built in or near Whitby. Therefore the ships may reveal a particular construction.
If a keel length is definitely less than or exceeds Endeavour’s dimensions, the site can be ruled out, but if it matches what is known about the ship, further evaluation of the site is warranted. However, if a ship’s keel has been destroyed, identification will be far more difficult, if not impossible.
Ballast may reveal a ship’s identity. However, a ship’s ballast may have changed more than once during its lifetime and may have originated in multiple locations. On occasion, British ships obtained ballast in America. Therefore investigation of ballast may not prove a ship is Endeavour.
Pieces of wood discovered at a site may likewise be analyzed and perhaps traced to a point of origin. Endeavour was refitted and repaired multiple times, so there are limits to what analysis of recovered wood might suggest. Supplies carried in Endeavour were used to repair the ship after foundering on the Great Barrier Reef in June 1770. Subsequently, she underwent repair at Batavia. If wood unique to Batavia can be identified, that might help with identification; perhaps Dutch shipbuilders left their mark on her. Since she visited the South Seas, wood, pollen, or micro fauna from that area might be located in crevices of wood from one of the sites.
Other ships may have similar features. Grand Duke of Russia (one of the transports scuttled in 1778 ) had served as an East Indiaman and that site may yield similar conditions to Lord Sandwich. RIMAP also does not have much information on some of the other transports that may have been to the South Pacific.
While ships built by or worked on by colonial ship builders were similar in style to those in England, subtle differences might rule in or rule out, or confuse, a particular site.
As field studies continue at the 18th century transport sites, the likelihood of identifying Endeavour increases. However, her discovery is not “a sure thing”. Kathy Abbass comments that it may be possible to identify a site that matches our knowledge about Endeavour, but it may not be possible to prove conclusively that the site is that of Endeavour.
RIMAP’s Site Plans
Dr. Abbass is developing a business plan to support further marine archaeology studies to promote the importance of Cook’s ship and the international maritime history of Rhode Island. It is hoped to build a facility to house RIMAP’s many records and artefacts. Indeed, the current offices resemble a major research library, piled high nearly floor to ceiling with files and materials collected by RIMAP. It is important that the plan links Newport Harbour with the broader naval history of New England in order to spark interest among a wide audience. Conclusive identification of Captain Cook’s Endeavour will serve as the most important discovery for the future of the project.
A fund raising effort is underway to serve these goals. Individuals may become members of RIMAP and the Cook Foundation or make donations toward their work.7 A potential location for a new RIMAP center identifies Butt’s Hill Fort, an important Rhode Island Revolutionary War site for the Battle of Rhode Island (29 August 1778).
Resolution and Newport
Several theories surround the fate of Resolution, Cook’s ship on the Second and Third Voyages.
Information on the Captain Cook Society website’s link to “Cook’s Ships” suggests that, after returning to England in 1780, Resolution sailed to the East Indies and was captured by the French in 1782, renamed La Liberté, and subsequently lost on a voyage to Manila (reportedly last seen in the Straits of Sunda, between Java and Sumatra). It is also suggested that she ended her days as a coal hulk in Rio de Janeiro, details about which are unconfirmed.
Kathy Abbass cites work by two Australian maritime historians, Mike Connell and Des Liddy, suggesting that Resolution / La Liberté ended her days as a hulk, abandoned after 1793 on Newport’s shore, for years confused by many to be Endeavour. The hulk was eventually scavenged in the repair or refitting of other ships.9 This theory links two of Cook’s ships to Newport.
Access to RIMAP and Naval Station Newport
Due to terrorism and on-going security concerns, access to US naval and military bases is strictly controlled. People who wish to visit RIMAP’s headquarters must contact Kathy Abbass for an appointment well in advance of a visit to obtain information in order to pass through naval security.8 Currently, but subject to change, United States citizens must provide full name, date of birth, and social security number to Dr. Abbass more than one week in advance of the visit, to receive clearance to enter the Naval Station. She meets scheduled, cleared visitors at the Pass Gate where personal identification (e.g., a driver’s license and proof of auto registration and insurance) is submitted for clearance, prior to driving to RIMAP’s offices.
Citizens of other countries may also visit RIMAP, although additional information is required, the process is more difficult, and success is uncertain. The key step is to contact Kathy Abbass well in advance to make plans to visit RIMAP. Conversely, she may be able to arrange to meet visitors in a location off Naval Station Newport. A future off-site facility will eliminate these security issues.
RIMAP’s Site Plans
It is good to know that experienced historians, marine archaeologists, skilled divers, and other persons are devoted to RIMAP’s success. Locating and identifying Endeavour is a complex puzzle and a bit of a mystery. Investigation and final resolution may also require the persistence and acumen of a modern day Sherlock Holmes or an Inspector (Endeavour) Morse. I suspect all CCS members look forward to learning of future and hopefully exciting discoveries from RIMAP’s work.
The RIMAP website has additional information about the project’s activities, especially the investigational plan to locate Endeavour and explore the sites of the 18th -century transports. A useful question-and-answer format guides the reader through the investigational process.
James C. Hamilton
- Abbass, D.K. “Endeavour and Resolution Revisited: Newport and Captain Cook’s Vessels” in Journal of the Newport Historical Society. 1999. Volume 70. Part 1.
Abbass, D.K. “Newport and Captain Cook’s Ships” in The Great Circle. 2001. Volume 23. Number 1. Pages 3-20.
- Allan, John. “Exploring the Possible Remains of the Endeavour” in Cook’s Log, page 39, volume 29, number 3 (2006).
- The description of the harbour floor is based upon the author’s 30 July conversation with D.K. Abbass as well as follow-up email correspondence of 8 August 2012 regarding security of ship sites.
- This paragraph is based upon email correspondence between D.K. Abbass and the author of 8 August 2012 regarding security of ship sites and legal issues regarding the scuttled ships.
- Website is www.rimap.org/
- Abbass, D.K. and Mather, I.R. Field Tests in the Search for HMB Endeavour: Newport’s Outer Harbour. A fact sheet provided by D.K. Abbass to the author.
- Details can be found on RIMAP’s website.
- Contact information for Kathy Abbass is: D. K. Abbass, Ph.D., Director – Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) and the Foundation for the Preservation of Captain Cook’s Ships – Post Office Box 1492, Newport, Rhode Island, 02840. RIMAP’s telephone number is (401) 253-2094. Email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
- Abbass, D.K. “Endeavour and Resolution Revisited”. op cit. Pages 1-4 and 18-19.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 15, volume 36, number 1 (2013).