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Archeologist Traces Capt. Cook's Ship


The following information is extracted from an article which appeared under this title in The Providence Journal of Rhode Island on 3rd March, 1999. It is written by Jerry O'Brien.

Planted snugly in the mud of Newport Harbor, in barely 20 feet of water just north of the Pell Bridge, the fragile remains of an old shipwreck have lured curious divers and stirred the interest of archaeologists for many years.

In recent years, local researchers have been intrigued with the possibility that the wreck is one of a dozen transport vessels scuttled by the fleeing British in the Revolutionary War. Now, Newport marine archaeologist D.K. Abbass is offering the enticing possibility that the wreck could also be the Endeavour, the long-lost first ship of Capt. James Cook, the extraordinary British explorer and navigator whose unprecedented commitment to scientific inquiry and sound seamanship helped create the modem world.

One theory from Newport lore has the decrepit ship falling to pieces in the 1790s near what is now the Brown & Howard Wharf. But Abbass contends instead that Endeavour, renamed Lord Sandwich, was leased back to the British Navy as a transport vessel during the Revolutionary War. By tracking key measurements of the vessel through admiralty documents, she believes she has proved that the Endeavour is at the bottom of Newport Harbor, somewhere in a crescent bound to the north by the waters off the Naval War College and to the south by Brenton Cove. This is the area where the ships are known to have been scuttled.

If the shipwreck in the outer harbor is an 18th-century transport, it has a one-in-three chance of being Endeavour, Abbass holds, because three of the many transports sunk in 1778 had tonnage, like the Endeavour, over 300 tons. Abbass believes that an 80-foot timber at that site is consistent with Endeavour's dimensions. She readily acknow-ledges that even if the wreck is one of the sunken transports, it may not be Endeavour. She has formed a nonprofit organization, the Foundation for the Preservation of Captain Cook's Ships, to bring credibility and fundraising muscle to the search.

With her own organization, the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Group, and with the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, she is working with the attorney general's office to untangle international maritime laws to help protect the site.

"I'm fantastically delighted about it," said English naval historian Antonia Macarthur, author of His Majesty's Bark Endeavour.. The Story of the Ship and Her People and a leading authority on historic maritime restoration. "I haven't read the full report, but I know what she found when she was here. The evidence certainly looks strong and it's certainly pointing that way. It's another great step forward."

"We have to be more skeptical," advised archaelogist Richard Gould of Brown University's Anthropology Department, urging that this and similar underwater sites in the harbor be carefully examined. "We have to make absolutely sure that what is there is diagnostic-proof of identity. This raises problems. There are a lot of pieces around the world that are purported to have come from Endeavour. It's a little bit like pieces of the True Cross. You could lay them end to end and top the Empire State Building."

But a lump-in-the-throat feeling has spread to all observers, most of whom are well aware of Abbass's sound credentials. She was the project archaeologist on the Radeau, the French and Indian War vessel at the bottom of Lake George.

A pair of Australian researchers, writing in 1997 in The Great Circle: Journal of the Australian Association for Maritime History, conclude that this decrepit ship, abandoned in Newport in 1793, was a later Cook vessel, Resolution. Abbass tended to agree. Going a step further, she surmised that the Endeavour/Lord Sandwich may have been the same Lord Sandwich transport vessel that was used as a prison ship in 1777 and 1778 around Aquidneck Island, and possibly sunk in the Siege of Newport.

From his home in Suffolk, England, yesterday, Ian Boreham met the news of Abbass's work with excitement, caution and a wisp of melancholy.

As the editor of Cook's Log, a publication of the international Captain Cook Study Unit, whose Web site is a prodigious source of information on Cook, Boreham has a keen interest in Cook developments. "I believe that the possibility that that ship is the Endeavour is strong enough that future investigation must take place," Boreham said.

Then he paused and sighed. "Romance is a wonderful thing. One would love the most romantic idea to be true -- namely, that she really is still alive or, rather, slumbering."

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1618, volume 22, number 2 (1999).

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For more up to date information about the search for the remains of the Endeavour in the harbour at Newport, Rhode Island, go to the project's website at
By Cliff Thornton on 11/12/2015 9:14:41 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Good info
By on 11/6/2015 7:29:52 AM Like:0 DisLike:0

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