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Cook's Ships - A Summary Update

 

I last wrote about the fate of Cook's ships in 1998 (see Cook's Log, page 1473, vol. 21, no. 1). It is in need of updating in one important respect regarding the final resting-place of Endeavour. And there is fresh information about Resolution, although at this stage I am not convinced that it alters my conclusion.

Our knowledge of the movements of Endeavour after her return to England from Cook's first voyage has grown considerably in the last few years. The "original" Newport Museum claim is that she was sold for use as a whaler to the French, renamed La Liberté, ran aground in Newport Harbour in 1793, and was broken up some years later. Many relics of the timbers of this hulk were thereafter distributed worldwide. This claim has caused much controversy over the years since it was first committed to paper (in 18241, 31 years after the vessel was entered at the custom house at Newport, Rhode Island). Another school of thought believed that Endeavour "ended her days on the Thames".2

Both these hypotheses now appear to be untenable. Summarising the evidence that leads me to this conclusion:

The publication of N A Maffey's article in 19703 made two major contributions to previous knowledge. First, he clearly demonstrated the doubts surrounding the basis of Newport's identification of the ship as Endeavour: "Our sworn documents are third hand hearsay". Secondly, by reference to the recently published facsimile reprints of early Lloyd's Registers, he conclusively established the Endeavour was renamed Lord Sandwich in February 1776, and the entry under this name was carried forward to the registers for 1778 and 1779. Thereafter, "her ultimate fate is obscure". (But Maffey did remark: "At this period, it should be borne in mind, the American War of Independence had broken out and there would have been quite a demand for chartered tonnage". Hindsight now confirms how perceptive that comment was.)

Mike Connell has published at least two commentaries, building on Maffey's findings. When I drafted my 1998 article, I had seen only one of them: What Did Happen to Captain Cook's Endeavour?4 I was not convinced of the accuracy of Connell's "opinion" that "HM Endeavour Bark ended her days in the River Thames and NOT at Newport Rhode Island, USA". At that time I preferred Maffey's "obscure" conclusion.

Later in 1998 (at the CCSU's Marton gathering), Ron Moore let me have an undated copy of a more detailed paper by Mike Connell, written in co-operation with Des Liddy.5 This is now available, in an expanded form, and was published in the 1997 Great Circle (which I have not seen). The latest copy that I have received from our Editor is dated 1996, but sent to him in 2001. It runs to 31 pages, and is clearly the result of wide-ranging and exhaustive research.

As to a conclusion about Endeavour, the authors come down even more strongly in favour of her being "left to decay naturally in the Thames". Connell is reported as confirming this view, in a press report dated March 1999.6

Mike Connell enlisted the assistance of Ron Moore to carry out some of the UK research required. Moore, in turn, published a short paper in New Zealand.7 (When published this article was wrongly attributed to myself; this error was noted in the next issue of NZ Marine News). The article was mainly concerned with following up some alternative suggestions regarding the career of the renamed Lord Sandwich; in light of subsequent events, these theories can now be disregarded. Moore did mention that the evidence from Lloyd's Registers was handwritten (as reported by Connell), and that "When and by whom this entry in the original was made is unsubstantiated . . ."

This gave rise to a most illuminating response from Rick Hogben.8 He explains in some detail the early system that Lloyd's used for updating existing registers: From the beginning, amendments to the details shown in the Register were noted - or, to use LR's own term, "posted" - in the current edition, prior to being incorporated in the next one. In the early years these "postings" were hand-written, but they soon came to be printed, using small type-set hand stamps... Not only were LR's own office copies amended in this way, but other companies in central London holding copies of the Register, could arrange to have them collected on Thursday afternoon every week, taken to the printing works for "posting", and returned on the Friday morning.

Mr Hogben goes on to explain the use of a supplementary page to record the change in the alphabetical sequence of the new name, and confirms that the register for 1776 shows "Ld Sandwich, owned by J Mather" with the previous name Endeavour shown underneath. This provides added assurance that the recorded change of name is valid.

It is now necessary to revert to Connell & Liddy's paper, which develops an entirely new argument regarding Cook's Resolution; namely that she was the vessel whose name was changed (by the French) first to Marie Antoinette, and thereafter to La Liberté. Connell and Liddy remark that Resolution "has no direct Australian significance"9 (as compared with Endeavour, which Cook used to chart the eastern Australian seaboard); but they develop their argument in order to explain the origin of the Newport claim of a "Captain Cook connection" through La Liberté.

If they are correct, then the owners of relics from this old hulk, around the world (apart perhaps from Australia!) may well consider them to be of more, rather then less significance. Cook's contribution to Pacific and Antarctic exploration in Resolution during his second and third voyages was huge. As John Beaglehole put it: "As for Resolution, that honest product of Mr Fishburn's yard at Whitby, she proved one of the great, one of the superb, ships of history; of all the ships of the past, could she by magic be recreated and made immortal, one would gaze on her with something like reverence."10

Connell and Liddy reckon that " . . .it can now be concluded with certainty (my emphasis) that the vessel wrecked in Newport, Rhode Island (under the La Liberté name) is James Cook's Sloop Resolution..." They may well be right, but I have reservations.

They depend heavily on evidence provided by Thierry Du Pasquier in a book11 published in 1990, which I have not sighted; and they thank Du Pasquier for his "unpublished data, and for the records of the connection between the prize Resolution, Marie Antoinette, and La Liberté."12 The critical sentence in Connell and Liddy's article reads: "Du Pasquier recently found evidence confirming the name change from Resolution to Marie Antoinette while it was in French service."13 This claim is based on a "private communication" from Du Pasquier dated June 1996.

This is taking rather a lot to take on trust, particularly as while the capture of Resolution by the French in the East Indies in 1782 is mentioned by Connell and Liddy, the subsequent report by Admiral Suffren14 that she was feared to have foundered or been retaken by the British whilst on passage to Manila is ignored. There is also some inconsistency in the name of French ship that made the capture. Connell and Liddy quote from Lyon's The Sailing Navy List: All the Ships of the Royal Navy-Built, Purchased and Captured 1688-1860, and show the name as Sphinx.15 Whereas Suffren's journal records that the Sylphide joined him, with her prize the Resolution, "le même qui avait fait le tour du monde avec le capitaine Cook".16 This may simply be due to a slip of a pen (by anyone in the information trail) or it could be more significant.

Much weight is given to John Barrow's reported sighting of La Liberté ex-Resolution in Porto Praya, Cape Verde Islands in 1792; and that may indeed be true, although as I pointed out in my earlier article,17 Barrow was certainly an authoritative author, but was not always an accurate one. He writes in a similar vein to Beaglehole: "The Resolution was the house of our immortal Cook and out of respect for his memory I would have laid her up in a dock until she wasted away plank by plank."18 Barrow gives no indication of whether he personally recognised the ship and, if so, how; or whether he depended on advice from someone else.

Some of Maffey's qualifications of Newport's Endeavour claim are equally valid in respect of the Resolution claim. Beyond that, one would have thought that a ship so well known as to be especially noted by both Suffren and Barrow, would have earned a mention in Newport on arrival or shortly thereafter, far less after a delay of 31 years. Indeed it would be odd for her to return safely from the East Indies to France, and to remain unmentioned in European shipping circles until Barrow's chance sighting, after an interval of nearly ten years.

However, given that there is no evidence to confirm her loss after capture by the French, it is indeed possible that Resolution did make her way back to France, unknown at least to Suffren in 1783. Further study of Du Pasquier's evidence (published and unpublished) may assist to clarify this point.

In 1999 there was a brief frenzy of media activity, reporting (largely inaccurately19) the work of the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP). I was prompted to obtain some information direct from RIMAP, which reached me as a cogent and well documented article by Dr D K Abbass, the Project Director.20

Abbass explains that she had followed up on Connell and Liddy's work, and successfully found clear evidence at the London Public Records Office that the Lord Sandwich / Endeavour had served as a transport to North America (as Maffey had thought she might) and that Lord Sandwich (and some other transports) were scuttled by the British off Newport in 1778, in order to prevent an attacking French fleet from taking up dangerous bombarding positions in the relatively narrow deep water channel.

So in some measure the Newport claim was vindicated; although the arrival of Lord Sandwich (ex Endeavour) about 15 years before La Liberté (claimed to be ex Endeavour) does seem to indicate a degree of confusion in the minds of the local historians, which they certainly passed on to succeeding generations, as well as to the recipients of relics of the timbers of La Liberté.

As to any connection between La Liberté and Resolution, Dr Abbass remarks: "The . . . identification of the Newport hulk as Endeavour 35 years after the abandonment of La Liberté, and her true identity as Resolution needs more detailed consideration than is appropriate in the present essay... Endeavour can not have been La Liberté ex Resolution, abandoned at the wharf in 1793 after a career as a whaler. . . .If (my emphasis) Connell and Liddy are also correct that La Liberté was Cook's Resolution, . . . then Newport was the final port of call for two of the four vessels that went round the world with Captain James Cook."21

Abbass thereafter produces convincing evidence to support her belief that the Lord Sandwich, having been used as prison ship at Newport during the revolutionary war, was scuttled in relatively shallow water not far from the Newport waterfront, although the precise site (of perhaps three or four sites used by the British for this form of submerged protection) is as yet unknown.

In September 2001, I was fortunate to be in the Newport area, and even more fortunate to meet Dr Abbass, and spend a morning with her. We discussed various aspects of the RIMAP project and its research work, and toured the waterfront to give me some idea of the whereabouts of the wreck sites. She mentioned that while she has found documentation recording compensation from the Admiralty to the owners of several of the scuttled transports, including Lord Sandwich, there is still doubt as to what happened thereafter: "It is not clear if the British government took tile to the transports after the owners were reimbursed for the value of their lost ships. It is also uncertain if any of the ships were seaworthy enough to continue in service, and therefore could have been worth raising".22

So the trail is not quite ended; it is faintly possible that the ship was salvaged, in which case another chapter is yet to be written. However, Dr Abbass still hopes to locate some record of the disposal of the scuttled ships.

At the wreck sites, she is in the first place hoping to find ship's timbers of a size that indicate they could have come from the Lord Sandwich. Work has been completed on the first site, where they found European built timber, but too small, and probably from one of the smaller British transports. Work on the second site continues, and a report of progress will appear in the next RIMAP journal23, and also on their website.24

 

Dr Abbass also showed me the last resting-place of the hulk of La Liberté, under some reclaimed land in front of what used to be Cahoone's shipyard, close to the present waterfront. The land has not been built on, but is used as a car park, so in the fullness of time and given sufficient funds, it may be possible to look for her remaining timbers as well.

My final point of reference is an article by Riemer Brouwer published in our sister journal, "Endeavour Lines" in 2001.25 Brouwer sums up the evidence, and confirms that the Australian National Maritime Museum "is well aware of the various theories that have circulated and after very careful consideration supports the theory put forward by Dr Abbass that Endeavour ended her days in Newport harbour as the troopship Lord Sandwich".26

Conclusion

The question that I was asked was whether our website should be up-dated. The answer has to be "Yes", but I think it is worth preserving a record of where we have come from, and recognising that the après-Cook stories of both Endeavour and Resolution are still being written.

John F. Allan

References

  1. N A Maffey, Captain Cook's Ship, H M Bark Endeavour, NZ Marine News, Vol. 21 #4, (1970), p124-132.
  2. Robert McNab, Murihuku, (1909), p30.
  3. N A Maffey, op cit.
  4. Mike Connell, What Did Happen to Captain Cook's Endeavour, Australian Sea Heritage, #49 (Summer 1997), p17-19.
  5. Mike Connell and Des Liddy, Cook's Endeavour Bark: Did This vessel End Her Days in Newport Rhode Island?; Sydney 1996.
  6. "By Kip Brook, in London"; "Endeavour hulk found - US expert"; Wellington, NZ, Evening Post, 6th March 1999.
  7. Ron Moore, "In pursuit of H M Bark the Endeavour", NZ Marine News, Vol. 48 #1, (1999), p16-17
  8. Rick Hogben, "Endeavour and Lloyd's Register", NZ Marine News, Vol. 48 #2, (1999), p68.
  9. Connell & Liddy, op cit. p6.
  10. John Beaglehole, The Journals of Captain Cook, Vol. II, p xxxii. (And quoted by Black Dog Studio in their publicity material for Robin Brooks's excellent print of the ship.)
  11. Thierry Du Pasquier, Les balineurs français de Louis XVI à Napoléon (1990).
  12. Connell & Liddy, op cit, p16.
  13. Connell & Liddy. ibid, p12.
  14. Mariner's Mirror, Vol. XVII, #1, p84, (1931). Note by F.S.
  15. Connell & Liddy, op cit, p13.
  16. Mariner's Mirror, op cit, p84.
  17. John Allan, op cit.
  18. J Barrow, A Voyage to Cochinchina in the Years 1792 and 1793, (1806).
  19. There were honourable exceptions. An article by Jerry O'Brien in the Providence Journal dated 3rd March 1999, is a very clear and complete report on Dr Abbass's work.
  20. D K Abbass, Endeavour and Resolution Revisited: Newport and Captain James Cook's Vessels. Newport History, Journal of the Newport Historical Society, Vol. 70, Part1, 1999.
  21. Ibid. p4 & p18.
  22. The Great Circle, Vol. 23, No 1, p11.
  23. Ground Truth; The Newsletter of the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project.
  24. www.RIMAP.org
  25. Riemer Brouwer, The Search for Endeavour, Endeavour Lines, #36, (May 2001), p5-7.
  26. Ibid.

John Allan

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1959, volume 25, number 3 (2002).

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