SYDNEY — Maritime experts said Thursday they believe they’ve found the wreck of one of the most important ships in the history of Australia and the South Pacific after it was scuttled in the U.S. more than 200 years ago.
Experts said they identified what’s left of British explorer James Cook’s ship HMS Endeavour in Newport Harbor, Rhode Island. Cook sailed the ship around the South Pacific in a pioneering voyage before landing on the east coast of Australia in 1770.
For 22 years, maritime archaeologists have been investigating several ancient shipwrecks in a 2-square-mile area of Newport Harbor. The Endeavour was deliberately sunk there by the British during the American Revolution and lay forgotten for more than two centuries.
Kevin Sumption, the chief executive of the Australian National Maritime Museum, said archaeologists were convinced they had found the wreck of the Endeavour after matching structural details and the shape of the remains to those on original plans.
“I am satisfied that this is the final resting place of one of the most important and contentious vessels in Australia’s maritime history,” Sumption said in announcing the discovery at the museum.
“The last pieces of the puzzle had to be confirmed before I felt able to make this call,” he said. “Based on archival and archaeological evidence, I’m convinced it’s the Endeavour.”
He said the ship’s significant role in exploration, astronomy and science made it important not only to Australia, but also to New Zealand, Britain and the U.S.
Only about 15 percent of the vessel remains and researchers are now focused on what can be done to protect and preserve it, Sumption said. He said the museum was working closely with maritime experts in Rhode Island as well as with state and federal officials in the U.S. and Australia to secure the site.
The ship was launched in 1764 as the Earl of Pembroke. Four years later, it was renamed Endeavour by Britain’s navy and was readied for a major scientific voyage to the Pacific.
From 1768 to 1771, the Endeavour sailed the South Pacific, ostensibly to record the transit of Venus in Tahiti in 1769. Cook then continued sailing the region searching for the “Great Southern Land.”
He charted the coastline of New Zealand. His first encounter with the Indigenous Maori people ended badly, with his crew killing several Maori, although relations later improved. In 2019, the British government expressed regret over the killings but stopped short of a full apology.
He also charted Australia’s eastern coastline, before claiming the land for Great Britain in 1770.
The Endeavour was later sold to private owners and renamed Lord Sandwich. It was deliberately sunk in 1778 by British forces during the American Revolution.
A year later Cook was killed in Hawaii during another Pacific voyage. In 1788, the so-called First Fleet of 11 ships, with hundreds of convicts aboard, arrived in Australia to establish a British colony.