A twenty-five year marine archaeological search for the remains of Endeavour in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay now appears ever-closer to success. On 21 September, 2018, the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) presented its annual report on research activity during the year, which had significantly narrowed the options for Endeavour’s location in Newport, Rhode Island Harbour. The work of RIMAP has been covered several times in Cook’s Log since 1999.1
With the French entry into the American Colonial War for Independence in 1778, the British scuttled thirteen ships to blockade French ships getting into Newport Harbour, then and now an important naval base. One of these ships was Lord Sandwich, formerly Captain Cook’s Endeavour. Beginning in 1993, RIMAP gradually narrowed the location of the ship from thirteen to two sites. RIMAP has now announced that one of these sites is the most likely to contain the remains of Endeavour. It is located off the small Goat Island in Narragansett Bay.
Considerable effort by Dr Kathy Abbass, director, RIMAP, has gone into determining that Lord Sandwich was one of the ships scuttled in Newport’s waters in 1778.2 RIMAP has been searching various sites using remote sensing equipment to locate the vessels. The Rhode Island Preservation and Heritage Commission was declared custodian of the shipwrecks in Newport Harbour. A “No Anchor – No Dive” zone was established around the archaeological sites to protect the area, with RIMAP authorized to be the state’s agent to conduct historical and archaeological research.
RIMAP is a not-for-profit organization staffed by volunteers, many of whom have been trained to do underwater research, with work supported by fund-raising or grants. The Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) has periodically participated in the project’s fieldwork, and also provided grants to support RIMAP’s research.
Abbass states that, having found the most likely site for Endeavour, future, detailed work “must begin to prove it”. During 2019, work will begin extracting artefacts from the site, to be processed, analyzed, stored and displayed. It is hoped some of the items will help conclude that the remains of the vessel belong to Cook’s ship from his First Voyage to the Pacific. Fund-raising to support RIMAP’s activity is ongoing.
The effect of the water submersion over a long time has caused the ship’s wooden timbers to deteriorate. There is no suggestion at this point, that a large piece of Endeavour can be excavated, as happened with Mary Rose at Portsmouth and even more so with Vasa at Stockholm.
Many newspapers around the world heralded the recent announcement made by RIMAP, with varying degrees of accuracy. Readers interested in further details, images, maps, and a review of past activity in the search for Endeavour will find RIMAP’s website useful.3 A video of the RIMAP announcement,4 and a report by 7 News Melbourne are also worth watching.5
James C. Hamilton
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 39, volume 41, number 4 (2018).
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