Proving the Endeavour

Published by Kathy Abbass on Thursday, 14th February 2019 - 12:00PM

The ENDEAVOUR at sea.


 © RIMAP 2017.


The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) effort to locate Capt. Cook's ENDEAVOUR Bark has four major components: 

  1. To locate as many of the 18th-century shipwreck sites as still exist in Newport's Outer Harbor;
  2. To assemble the historical details for each ship known to be lost there;
  3. To collect the archaeological data from the shipwreck sites and match it with the ships' histories; and
  4. To share this research process and its results with the general public. 
James Cook, the Royal Navy officer who explored more of the world than anyone else in history. Greenwich Maritime Museum.


© RIMAP 2016.

RIMAP's historical research has determined that more than 200 vessels were lost in our state during the American Revolution. This includes Royal Navy ships and the privately-owned vessels chartered to the British as transports and victuallers, ships of the Rhode Island Navy and later the Continental Navy, as well as privateers and other locally owned commercial ships and small craft. RIMAP's historical research and archaeological investigations of these vessel are worthy of respect because of their contribution to the local and national histories of the Revolution. RIMAP's study of the transport fleet scuttled in Newport in 1778 is especially important because little is known about the ships that carried British and Hessian troops, supplies, and materiel to the North American theatre of the war.

However, in 1998 RIMAP discovered that the LORD SANDWICH transport had been the ENDEAVOUR Bark that carried Captain James Cook on his first circumnavigation of the world. When RIMAP announced those findings, there was international interest in its work, especially from the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) because Cook claimed that land for England in the ENDEAVOUR. The ANMM has sent archaeologists to participate intermittently in RIMAP's field studies, and has contributed financial and technical support in the hope that the vessel will be identified by the coming 250th anniversary celebrations of Cook's voyage. These start in England (2018), then New Zealand (2019), and especially in Australia (2020), and include respectful remembrances for the First Nations that met Cook and the ENDEAVOUR. 

The ENDEAVOUR's route around the world 1768-1771. Source: Wikipedia

1.  Finding the Sites

As noted in the Program on this website called "Find the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR® - Remote Sensing, " RIMAP began the effort to find all of the transports that still exist in Newport's Outer Harbor in 1993 with a side scan sonar survey of the area to the north of Goat Island. As resources (volunteers and finances) allowed, RIMAP conducted a number of further remote sensing surveys and even more sessions in which RIMAP divers ground-truthed targets. This was a laborious process, especially since it sometimes takes "educated eyes" to recognize the subtle features of what is left of an 18th-century site in Rhode Island's low-visibility waters. 

The RIMAP poster of 8 Site Maps in Newport's Outer Harbor. © RIMAP 2014.

As each site was located, it was mapped for its current condition. See the Program on this website called "Find the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR - Map the Sites" for those details. By 2013 RIMAP teams had found and mapped 8 sites in Newport's Outer Harbor. The poster that showed these maps was the 2014 RIMAP membership gift. In 2014 RIMAP discovered another site west of Goat Island and mapped it in 2015. As noted below, RIMAP found yet another site in 2016, making a total of 10 potential transport sites to date. That last will be mapped in the planned September 2017 fieldwork. 

The 1779 chart (in white) shows where Fage said the British ships were scuttled, and it is superimposed on a modern chart of Newport's Outer Harbor (in blue). The red triangles show where RIMAP teams have located potential transport sites to date. Graphic, © RIMAP 2017.

2. The Historical Details

RIMAP's original research design was to find the 13 archaeological sites and at the same time collect archival materials about each ship's history. By 2002 RIMAP had identified 13 vessels that appeared to have been scuttled in the 1778 fleet, and had created a Matrix to summarize what was known about each of them. As this information grew, it included when and where each ship was built, their sizes, where sailed, who and what carried, and any other details that would help to determine how closely an archaeological site might fit the history of a ship.

The original Matrix of historical materials for the ships of the transport fleet. Graphic, © RIMAP 2001.

The original Matrix was amended in 2016 when RIMAP saw the Lt. Knowles report to the Navy Board that summarized the instructions of where he sent each ship to be scuttled. Knowles gives the same names for 8 of the ships (4 sent west of Goat Island, 3 near Coaster's Harbor Island, and 1 that was burned). However, the BETTY and BRITANNIA were in Coddington Cove with HMS JUNO (not Newport Harbor) , the second UNION drops out, and Knowles added the LUCY, scuttled south of Goat Island. 

The Knowles letter, reporting where each vessel was sent. Caird Library, Greenwich Maritime Museum.

Of particular significance is the list of 5 vessels sent north of Goat Island to protect the North Battery on the Newport Shore. Knowles lists these as the LORD SANDWICH, EARL OF ORFORD, YOWART, PEGGY, and MAYFLOWER. The YOWART and MAYFLOWER are 2 names that were not on the original Matrix, and historical data for these new vessels were assembled for the RIMAP report issued in 2016. 

The Newport Harbor ships in the Knowles report, and in the order in which he listed them. Graphic, © RIMAP 2017.

The important contribution of the Knowles report was not only that RIMAP's Search for the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR® could reduce the number of vessels to study from 13 to 5, but that Study Area could be limited to a much smaller part of the Harbor. However, the fact that the YOWART and the MAYFLOWER were built at Whitehaven adds an extra bit of challenge. Whitehaven was a coaling depot on the western shore of Cumbria, almost due west of Whitby in northern England. 

The proximity of Whitehaven to Whitby. Graphic, © RIMAP 2017.

The fact that the ENDEAVOUR had been a collier built at Whitby has always been considered to be diagnostic for the archaeological  identification of the LORD SANDWICH site. However, the 2 the vessels built at Whitehaven may have been colliers as well, and Whitehaven's geographical proximity to Whitby suggests that the raw materials for their construction might not be very different. Unless there are unexpected regional variations in construction, this means that site sizes may be the best way to determine which collier is which. But those are questions for RIMAP's future studies.

The new LSexE Matrix. Graphic, © RIMAP 2017.

Of course, as new information emerges about the former uses of all the vessels in the transport fleet, there may be others with important histories, too, and that is a consideration for RIMAP's future studies. Meanwhile, the Knowles Report allowed RIMAP teams to focus the 2016 fieldwork on the newly designated Limited Study Area off the North Battery.

The red circle indicates the Limited Study Area where the group of ships (that included the LSexE) was sent to protect the North Battery. Graphic © RIMAP 2016.

In the Limited Study Area RIMAP had previously discovered and mapped 3 three sites in a row, with a void to the north and another site beyond that. If the site to the north was one of the ships scuttled along with the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR®, then that meant RIMAP still had 1 site to find. Because of the expected linear arrangement, that missing site was predicted to be in the void. 

The ships shown as a line on the 1779 Fage chart, compared to the shipwreck sites (in circles) that RIMAP had discovered and mapped by 2015. Graphic © RIMAP 2016.

The earlier remote sensing surveys of the void had generated no obvious targets, and the few previous ground-truthing efforts there were inconclusive, mainly due to limited underwater visibility. Therefore, to ensure that no subtle feature was overlooked, in 2016 the RIMAP dive teams conducted carefully controlled visual surveys of that whole void, and confirmed that it was sterile of significant cultural materials. Once that was completed, the team turned to a closer inspection of the area at the 3 sites in a row. 

A schematic drawing of the 2016 searches, shown in pink. The previously known sites are yellow dots, 3 in a row and the 4th to the north. The newly discovered site is red. The void was confirmed as sterile. Graphic © RIMAP 2016.

To complete the meticulous survey of the Limited Study Area, and to confirm that all the 18th-century sites there have been located, the 2017 plan is to continue the visual searches of the sections adjacent to the known sites. The new site discovered in 2016, and any newly discovered sites, will be mapped. 

The planned 2017 search areas. Graphic, © RIMAP 2016.

3. Comparing the archaeological data from the shipwreck sites with the ships' histories

Once all the sites are located in the Limited Study Area, RIMAP will begin the work of the detailed investigations necessary to provide the data to match the ships' histories. This will start with a minimal disturbance to determine each ship's overall length. Such disturbance will require RIMAP to have an artifact conservation facility, with permanent storage and a public display area. Certainly a proper facility will be required for any major excavation.

RIMAP's earlier experience in the transport study has proved that, despite initial assumptions, these 18th-century sites are artifact rich. In order to view structural details and take samples on RIMAP's first 2 sites, the dive teams removed a small portion of the site's ballast and the silt deposited over the past 200+ years. In that process, many sorts of unexpected cultural materials were collected, including stone, metal, glass and ceramics, and especially organic materials such as bone, wood, leather, and textiles. RIMAP's lack of a proper conservation facility has meant that some of these items have been kept in wet storage until the proper facility for their treatment can be built. That lack of a facility has also meant that RIMAP's studies of the other 8 sites has been strictly non-disturbance. Only those materials visible on the surface of those sites, and therefore at risk of damage or theft, have been collected. 

A sample of artifacts from the 18th-century sites in Newport's Outer Harbor. Clockwise from left: Glass bottle, Lead pump (?) liner, Ceramic teapot, Rope in concretion. Composite graphic, © RIMAP 2015.

4. To share RIMAP's research process and its results with the general public.

RIMAP is in a long-term planning process to have the needed an artifact management facility, including a conservation lab, storage, and a display area. One option is to pay other labs for their services, but that expense would be better put to creating the facility in Rhode Island where the public could view the artifacts near where the ships are located. And the RIMAP plan for a facility will integrate with the Rhode Island heritage tourism industry, one of the major economic drivers in the state.  

Architect's rendition of a possible RIMAP facility. By Farzan of NewPort Architecture, © RIMAP 2015.

To help RIMAP find the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR®, and have the facility required to prove it, please donate HERE

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