The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) has located the remains of four more shipwrecks in Newport Harbor, USA for historic treasure, dating back to the Revolutionary War.
Previously, RIMAP had discovered two shipwrecks in the harbor. Now that six have been located, it is increasingly likely that what is down there are the 13 British transport ships sunk during the war, believes D.K. Abbass, director of RIMAP, including the Endeavour.
In 2000, the State of Rhode Island was awarded ownership of the shipwrecks on the bottom of Newport Harbor by U.S. District Judge Ernest C. Torres. With the most recent discovery expanding Rhode Island’s historical holdings, Abbass hopes the state will begin discussing how the wrecks will be further explored and the longterm management of the historical structures.
The discovery was made in August 2005 during a controlled archaeological survey of Newport Harbor by Professor Rod Mather of the University of Rhode Island and graduate student Jamin Wells. “We identified a series of eight targets using side-scan sonar, and four of them turned out to be shipwrecks,” said Mather. Divers from RIMAP, led by Kerry Lynch, conducted numerous reconnaissance dives and confirmed that three of the four targets in a crescent shape on the harbor floor were 18th century shipwrecks and two targets closer to the Newport Bridge represented another shipwreck and a large anchor. “As is the case with many eighteenth century shipwrecks, the newly discovered vessels were pinned to the bottom of Newport Harbor with their own ballast stones,” Mather said. “Over time, a complex series of biological, chemical and physical processes broke down the shipwrecks, leaving ballast piles onto which artifacts including cannons fell and below which there is almost certainly well—preserved sections of the ships’ lower hulls.”
This latest wave of wreck discoveries was fueled by a US$20,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which paid for the remote-sensing searches. The grant was only for exploration and discovery, not for study and excavation.
Mary-Louise Williams, director of the Australian National Maritime Museum, believes there is no prospect of the Endeavour being raised. The ship’s timbers cannot have survived intact a 200-year tidal attack. However the museum has spent about AUS$80,000 since 1999 supporting the underwater explorations.
The discovery was announced at a meeting with Governor Donald Carcieri at the Colony House in Newport on Tuesday, May 16 2006.
From information supplied by
Richard Hindle, George Long and Arthur Cant
See Cook’s Log, page 2010, vol. 25, no. 4 (2002) for the previous report on these explorations.
Events have followed Kathy Abbass’s predictions quite closely thus far. Early discoveries of submerged hulks were the wrong size, and hence discounted. Although not mentioned in the latest announcement, the timbers now found must be in the ballpark for size. There are no records of whether or not any of the hulks were salvaged at any time, so at least this discovery indicates that several of them were not – it now sounds as though at least 50% of them were not salvaged. She has always said that they will be “very, very, lucky” if they can prove to have located the remains of Endeavour; but hopes to find some south sea artefact, or something else unique to Endeavour.
Even if they can, in the future, account for all the ships scuttled, it will be difficult (or very, very, lucky!) to find evidence sufficient to prove (in the strict sense of that word) which timbers (if any) came from Endeavour. Even if one or more artefacts turn up, it may be difficult to “connect” them to particular timbers.
The real excitement was in the discovery at Kew of the use of Lord Sandwich as a transport; and the subsequent confirmation from American documents of her presence at Newport (as a prison ship, whenever revolutionary forces were active in the area), and subsequent scuttling.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 39, volume 29, number 3 (2006).