Robyn Gossett (nèe Jenkins) in chapter two of her book "New Zealand Mysteries" (re-published in 1996 by The Bush Press, Auckland, ISBN 0-908608-73-X) discusses the probable fate of the Endeavour. Did it end up at the bottom of an American harbour (see Cook's Log page 1273, vol. 19, no. 2 (1996)), or was it used to house female convicts on the River Thames in England? She continued the discussion in a newspaper article published in The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand entitled "What happened to the Endeavour?" I am grateful for permission to publish the following edited extracts:
The history books content themselves with recording Cook's voyages to the South Pacific to recover new lands and make scientific observations, but they do not tell what happened to his ship.
Perhaps nobody would have shown any interest had not a letter appeared in the "Providence Journal of Rhode Island" in 1834. This drew the attention of the public to the fact - not generally known - that the remains of Captain Cook's Endeavour lay at the bottom of Newport harbour, Rhode Island.
Immediately there were letters to the Newport and Boston newspapers, most of them confirming the original letter. But one, from some nautical man in Boston, flatly denied the possibility and stated that the Endeavour was lying at anchor in Thames between Woolwich and Greenwich, where she was acting as a receiving home for female convicts.
Then came a letter from the British consul at Rhode Island, stating that the Endeavour had been bought by the French Government in 1790. She had been refitted in Dunkirk, registered as a French vessel, La Liberte, and under that name had come to Newport.
Then came a letter from Robert Stevens to the effect that a ship named Liberty had arrived at his wharf in 1793 with a cargo of oil and whalebone, and, while being moved from one wharf to another in Newport in 1794, had grounded and sunk in the harbour.
All this pointed to Newport as the last resting place of Cook's Endeavour until a letter appeared from Robert W. Jenks, of Providence Museum. He wrote that when he had taken a trip down the Thames in 1825, Cook's Endeavour, moored between Woolwich and Greenwich, was pointed out to him.
Not only this, but he had spoken to an old tar, a pensioner at Greenwich Hospital, who claimed to have been one of the crew of the Endeavour. This old man also added that his greatest pleasures were his frequent visits to the hulk of his old ship as she lay moored a short distance from the hospital.
When Jenks visited the Endeavour, he found she was occupied by an old pensioner and his family who made a scant living by showing visitors over her. That letter capped everything. If the Endeavour had sunk at the bottom of Newport Harbour in 1794 she could hardly have been open to visitors in England in 1825.
As far as the British Admiralty was concerned, the Endeavour of 370 tons was built for the coal trade and bought by the Admiralty in 1768, having been selected by Palliser as most suitable for Cook's expedition. In 1773 she was fitted out as a store ship and finally sold in 1775 for £615. From that date all accounts appear to be hearsay.
It is known the Admiralty sold the ship in 1775 and that the Liberty arrived in Newport Harbour in 1793, but as for the 15 years in between no definite proof exists that the Liberty was, in fact, Cook's ship.
The British Consul in Newport certified in 1834 that Cook's Endeavour had ended its days in Newport, but this information had come not from the Admiralty but from the consignees of the Liberty.
Accordingly, there is no proof that the Liberty was, in fact, Cook's Endeavour. The Liberty was apparently known as the Endeavour before she was taken over by the French, but during the intervening 18 years at least two other Endeavours were on the Admiralty books.
In fact, Cook's Endeavour's correct name was Endeavour Barque to avoid confusion with other ships of the same name.
Mungo Park sailed in an Endeavour, and Lloyd's register for 1796 has an Endeavour brig trading between London and America. Robert McNab also found in the Record Office, London, that another Endeavour, a sloop of war, was sold out of service in 1783. This may have been misrepresented to the buyer as Cook's Endeavour.
Earlier this century, Captain Fairchild, of the New Zealand Government steamer Hinemoa, was convinced that the old "Endeavour" wreck which lay in Dusky Sound was Cook's ship. He made several measurements to prove his point, but as the vessel's keel was 128 feet and her tonnage appeared to be about 800 tons this was unlikely.
Moreover he overlooked an important point: the ship in Dusky Sound was sheathed in copper, a practice introduced by the navy in an attempt to defeat the teredo shipworm. Although the practice was in use in Cook's time he is known to have preferred his ships sheathed in wood.
Of the available evidence, the eyewitness account of the Endeavour on the Thames seems more reliable than the statement from Newport, but when in 1969 I sought an opinion from the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich I received the answer that, as far as the museum personnel knew, Cook's Endeavour returned to the coal trade in 1775 and was grounded at Rhode Island in 1790.
In 1970, I wrote to the Newport Historical Society because I was also interested in obtaining a photograph of La Liberte's sternpost, which holds pride of place in the society's marine museum.
The society suggested that I write to Godfrey Blunden, author of "Charco Harbour", and an authority on nautical matters. He firmly believed that the Endeavour finished up on the Thames. Did it? Plenty of doubt exists, and it remains one of the world's nautical mysteries.
From information supplied by Ron Moore
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1359, volume 20, number 1 (1997).
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