2016-05-12 / Front Page

Is Cook’s Ship or Mere Ghost Hidden in the Harbor?

By James Merolla


In addition to historical maps, drawings, and other images relating to Capt. Cook's Endeavour, the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project's website, rimap.org, also lists upcoming marine archaeology classes and fieldwork opportunities. All volunteers will be properly trained. In addition to historical maps, drawings, and other images relating to Capt. Cook's Endeavour, the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project's website, rimap.org, also lists upcoming marine archaeology classes and fieldwork opportunities. All volunteers will be properly trained. Experts are optimistic, but the fact remains that some uncertainly surrounds the question of whether the HMS Endeavour is in Newport Harbor.

Headlines around the world have blared the possible discovery of the Endeavour, which was lionized after Captain James Cook sailed the vessel around the world.

The nonprofit Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) presented data last week saying that the organization was “80 to 100 percent certain” the ship was in waters off Newport, although the group also acknowledged the remnants of Endeavour have yet to be located or identified.

Suggestions that Endeavour lies in Newport Harbor have surfaced in various reports since 1999, with research indicating that it was scuttled in the harbor along with other ships during the Revolutionary War.

In a press release, RIMAP said that documents from the Australian National Maritime Museum “add to the historical backgrounds of the ships sunk in Newport in 1778. We now know the names of the five ships [out of the fleet of 13 scuttled transports] that were sent to one area of Newport harbor. Among those five was the Lord Sandwich [formerly the Endeavour].”

RIMAP had previously mapped nine of the vessels in the fleet, and “when the document told where the group of five was sent, we realized we had already mapped four of them. With a further review of RIMAP’s remote sensing data, there is a promising area where the fifth site might be, and planned 2016 fieldwork should determine if she exists.”

“If that fifth site is found,” the statement continued, “there will be a 100 percent chance that the Endeavour is still there. If that last one isn’t found, then there is still an 80 percent chance that she exists among the four we have already mapped.”

Divers have yet to visit the target to verify that it is indeed a shipwreck and if so, if it’s from the right period in history.

According to RIMAP and several sources, Captain Cook commanded the British Royal Navy bark Endeavour on his first circumnavigation of the globe between 1768 and 1771. According to research by RIMAP’s executive director and principal investigator Dr. Kathy Abbass, it was sold into private ownership by the Crown in 1775 and renamed Lord Sandwich.

During the Revolutionary War, Lord Sandwich was chartered as a transport vessel by the British Navy and eventually served as a prison ship for American loyalists in Newport before reportedly being sent to the bottom of the harbor.

Interviewed by various media outlets, Robert Doane, curator of the Naval War College Museum, said Rhode Island has more shipwrecks per square mile than any other state in the nation.

Jim Jenney, a Newport native and marine historian who has researched New England shipwrecks for five decades, said in an exclusive interview with Newport This Week, “If true, this would be a wonderful find … but I have not seen sufficient evidence that the Lord Sandwich that was sunk in Newport Harbor is the same one which was formerly the Endeavour, and, if they were one and the same, that one of the sites that has been located is that of the Lord Sandwich.

“There is no doubt that Dr. Abbass has done considerably more specific research on the losses associated with the Battle of Rhode Island, but I remain cautious in my support that she has located the correct wreck site,” Jenney continued.

Jenney has worked with Beavertail in documenting more than 1,208 vessels that have sunk off of Rhode Island, from Watch Hill to Block Island to the Massachusetts border. He has done additional research on U.S. wrecks beyond the Ocean State, and has cataloged some 100,000 of them.

Last August, the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association recognized Jenney for his meticulous maritime disaster research that has been compiled as the Rhode Island shipwreck database. Jenney explained that the name Lord Sandwich was used on a number of British vessels of the same vintage. “One aspect which has not been mentioned is that there was salvage performed – after the war – on the wrecks that were intentionally sunk to block the British entrance into Newport Harbor. The hulks that at first protected the harbor were afterwards a hindrance to vessels entering the busy harbor and had to be at least partially removed. At present, I do not think (but cannot say for sure) how successful that removal effort was, but that effort was undertaken,” Jenney said.

Names were shared in a variety of confusing ways hundreds of years ago and Jenney shared an example of how appellations can overlap.

“My father’s father was an avid genealogist who traced our family tree back to the Pilgrims and even further. But he spent years (unsuccessfully) trying to prove that a John Jenney from someplace in England was the same John Jenney who sailed to the New World,” said Jenney. “You can get to a certain point where A must equal B but some (and I am not making an accusation here) can draw that line just by wanting it badly enough.”

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