Endeavour - Frequently Asked Questions

Published by Kathy Abbass on Friday, 15th February 2019 - 12:00PM

The special LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR® symbol, featuring the RIMAP and ANMM logos. Graphic © RIMAP 2016.

THE LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR: Frequently Asked Questions

 © RIMAP 2017


For the identification of the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR®, there is a greater likelihood that materials associated with the ship's later use in Rhode Island will have survived in the archaeological record than the earlier materials associated with James Cook and his voyage. This means that if RIMAP can prove that the LORD SANDWICH still exists in Newport Harbor, then it means RIMAP has found the ENDEAVOUR.

The following is a sample of the kinds of questions RIMAP might address to determine if a particular site could be that storied vessel. It gives a general answer to each question, but more importantly, it also gives some warnings about what those answers might mean. This FAQ has been updated many times, as RIMAP research has progressed.

General Questions about the Transports

This section describes how RIMAP is going about sorting out the different transports that still exist in Newport Harbor, without reference to which one might be the ENDEAVOUR.

QUESTION 1: How many transports were there?

ANSWER: We know the names of 13 transports that were scuttled during the Siege of Newport in 1778 and that there were other British transports in Newport at the time that were not sunk, or scuttled elsewhere.

CAUTION: RIMAP created a Matrix of ship names and historical details about each of them, based on historical documents that suggested which ships were in the 1778 fleet. That list has been amended by recent archival research. Some of the names on that list have changed, and now RIMAP know where each was sent. This suggests that further archival research will reveal even more details.

QUESTION 2: Will RIMAP be able to find all 13 (or more) transports?

ANSWER: Given the history of Newport Harbour, it is not likely that all of the transports have survived the past 235+ years.

CAUTION 1: We know that parts of Newport Harbour have been dredged, apparently in the area where some of the transports are thought to have been. Newport Harbour has always been an active anchorage for ships (including parts that are now mooring fields), and ships inn that anchorage could have disturbed or destroyed sites. Also, in the early 20th century, the US Navy sponsored a diver training program, and those students found and destroyed at least one historic vessels in the harbor, probably near Goat Island where dive school was located, and where the some of the transports were lost. These activities make it unlikely that all of the transports still exists. However, RIMAP has found what appear to be 10 of the 13 ships, and plans to continue the search.

CAUTION 2: As noted elsewhere, the Navy's torpedo manufacturing activities on Goat Island have contributed to the potentially dangerous ordnance found in local waters, including 2 derelict torpedoes near where RIMAP has found transport sites. This could be a safety issue for RIMAP teams conducting local fieldwork.

QUESTION 3: How many transports has RIMAP studied?

ANSWER: RIMAP's preliminary study of RI 2125 determined that it is one of the smaller vessels, although more complete excavation is suggested to confirm that assumption. Our study of the second site, RI 2119, indicates that it might be in the right size range to be the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR®, but later archival work proves that it is in the wrong location to be that vessel. Nevertheless, it also deserves more complete study. This early work was done by RIMAP volunteers, including three staff members of the Australian National Maritime Museum. Since then RIMAP has completed pre-disturbance site maps of seven more potential 18th-century sites, all of which appear to be of varying sizes, and will map the eighth in 2017.

CAUTION: RIMAP has a number of years of work yet to do before we can with certainty say that it has found all of the transports that still exist.

QUESTION 4: Are there other vessels lost in Newport that could confuse the study of the transports?

ANSWER: There were certainly other vessels sunk in Newport Harbor in the 18th century, some of which played a part in the American Revolution.

CAUTION: RIMAP must not confuse sites that might be other vessels from the same period with sites that might be the transports.

QUESTION 5: How can we determine if a particular vessel is from the proper period?

ANSWER: The date of a shipwreck site can be determined by its condition, its associated artifacts, and the ship's construction details. After more than 200+ years, the exposed portions of a wooden ship and its organic artifacts have deteriorated and disappeared in Rhode Island's salt water environment. What is left behind is a pile of ballast stone that sometimes stands proud from the bottom. Those stones and the silt that cover the site create an anaerobic environment (no oxygen), so the wooden structure and organic artifacts beneath are protected as long as the silt is not disturbed. Ships that have been lost for only 100 years have not deteriorated to the same extent.

CAUTION: Some ship construction methods have been very conservative, and are even found in today's shipyards. The dates of artifacts found on a site will indicate the latest date at which the ship might have been lost, but the portable artifacts on the surface of many sites have long since been scavenged by diving collectors. The loss of these artifacts may mean we might not have particularly important diagnostic pieces for our study.

QUESTION 6: Is there historical information about each ship that will be helpful to sort out the transport sites?

ANSWER: Yes. For instance, the RIMAP Matrix shows which troops (British, American, and Hessians) were carried on board many of the transports. If there are artifacts on a site related to a specific regiment on a ship, then that ship's identity may be suggested. RIMAP's Director and Principal Investigator (Kathy Abbass) has completed a study of the preliminary histories of the ships for the National Park Service, and those results are found in various RIMAP reports and publications.

CAUTION: One artifact relating to a regiment can only suggest which ship is which, since that artifact could have come from a visitor, or be stolen or strayed. A more confirming situation would come from a collection of artifacts that all point to the same troops on board. RIMAP will continue its research to try to complete each ship's historical profile, but as long as there are missing troop data for some of the transports, it is important to be careful not overlook the possibility that multiple transports shared features that might be diagnostic. And some of the vessels in the scuttled fleet were victuallers, not transports, so the artifacts that might identify them are different.

QUESTION 7: What do we see when we look at a transport site?

ANSWER: The remains of Rhode Island Revolutionary War shipwrecks are typically limited to the following materials:

Above the ballast stones are the inorganic artifacts and structure that fall onto the ballast as the wooden ship and its organic materials disintegrate. Some sites have exposed ship timbers, and they will continue to deteriorate.

Below the ballast we find our greatest potential to study the ship because the portion beneath the ballast is protected by those stones. As the site becomes covered with silt, the silt not only helps to prevent erosion of the site, but it also reduces the presence of oxygen. Without oxygen, the site will eventually reach equilibrium and the organic artifacts and structures embedded in the silt and ballast will not deteriorate further. After more than 200 years Rhode Island's Revolutionary War shipwrecks have reached equilibrium, and the silt and ballast are protecting the historic remains beneath. As long as the silt is not disturbed and the equilibrium is maintained, the site should remain intact indefinitely.

CAUTION 1: RIMAP hopes to find structural features or artifacts that will prove the identity of a particular ship. It is a matter of chance that these have survived the natural deterioration process as the shipwreck reaches equilibrium.

CAUTION 2: Digging through an underwater site disturbs the site's equilibrium by re-introducing oxygen and re-starting the deterioration process, and this process will continue until the site reaches a new equilibrium. Underwater archaeologists recognize that excavating a site, even under the most controlled of scientific conditions, will also disturb that site's equilibrium and begin the deterioration process anew. Therefore archaeologists do not excavate unless there is a good reason to do so. That is also why other divers who dig to collect artifacts are doing more damage to a site than by removing potentially diagnostic materials.

QUESTION 8: Is there information about ship construction that would be helpful to sort out the transport sites?

ANSWER: We know where many of the vessels were built (multiple locations in England and in North America, possibly Germany or Holland), but not all of them.

CAUTION 1: Construction techniques apparently were not be very different between America and Britain during colonial times because the American colonies were essentially British, but there may be some differences in the materials used. A study of all the transports in Rhode Island might provide a database to investigate these differences.

CAUTION 2: Because the Royal Navy made meticulous drawings of the ENDEAVOUR before her voyage, we know more about her than any of the other commercial vessels of the late 18th century. This was enough information for modern marine architects to create designs for replicas, and for untold numbers of model makers to build their own personal ENDEAVOURs. A study of all the transports in Rhode Island might provide a database to investigate further the construction details that might be consistent in all the vessels, as well as regional variations.

QUESTION 9: Were all the transports the same size?

ANSWER: We know the tonnage of most of the 13 transports. Tonnage is a measurement of the ship's interior volume for carrying cargo, and it was determined in the 18th century by a complex equation using a set of the ship's measurements. Tonnage is only partially related to overall length of an archaeological site, but given how much the Newport transports have deteriorated, length may be the only measurement available to determine a vessel's tonnage.

CAUTION: We have detailed measurements only for the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR® because they were taken before Cook went around the world. That surplus of knowledge may skew the understanding of the other vessels.

QUESTION 10: Is the ballast left behind on a shipwreck site diagnostic of American and British vessels?

ANSWER: RIMAP has been sampling the ballast on the transport sites, including bits of coal. So far, the analysis is inconclusive.

CAUTION: Ships frequently dumped and took on ballast, from wherever they needed to do so. It is possible that an American vessel could have picked up British ballast from where it had been previously dumped by another ship. We also know that British ships carried coal from London, and that they frequently picked up more coal and ballast in North America. Ballast, on its own, will probably not be diagnostic of a ship's identity, but might be an important confirming feature.

Specific Questions Relating to the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR®

This section describes how RIMAP hopes to identify the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR® from among all the transports that still exist in Newport harbor. The first task is to assemble information about the ENDEAVOUR, how she was built, repaired, and used on her journey around the world with Capt. James Cook. Then we need to look at information about how the LORD SANDWICH transport was repaired and then used on her station in North America.

QUESTION 1: What is known about how the ENDEAVOUR was built?

ANSWER: The ENDEAVOUR was first built in Whitby as the collier EARL OF PEMBROKE. As the ENDEAVOUR was taken out of the collier service into the Royal Navy, she was surveyed and her lines were taken, including her keel length. There are also contemporary sketches of what she looked like. All of this material provided enough information to build the ENDEAVOUR replica in the 1980s, but was as she was taken into naval service, and does not reflect the changes that came from her later uses.

CAUTION 1: Some marine architects disagree about these original construction details, .

CAUTION 2: It is unknown if any of the repairs made to the ENDEAVOUR in the Endeavour River or at the Dutch shipyard in Batavia (now Jakarta) will still be evident.

CAUTION 3: It is unknown what sorts of repairs or changes were made to the ENDEAVOUR while it was used as a Royal Navy store ship sailing to the Falkland Islands.

CAUTION 4: When the ENDEAVOUR was sold to a private owner, it is unknown if there were repairs or changes made before she sailed to Archangel.

CAUTION 5: It is unknown what sorts of repairs or changes were made when the ENDEAVOUR was sold into the transport.

CAUTION 6: And it is unknown what sorts of repairs or changes were made to accommodate her use as a prison ship in Newport Harbor.

QUESTION 2: Is there a simple measurement that is a good place to start?

ANSWER: RIMAP knows the tonnage of most of the vessels lost in the fleet, and her length is generally related to her tonnage. Since we know ENDEAVOUR's length, if a Newport site is much shorter or longer than that measurement, then we can eliminate that site from consideration as the ENDEAVOUR.

CAUTION 1: Keel length must be used with caution as an indication of tonnage. For instance, a long narrow vessel may measure to a similar tonnage as a shorter but more beamy one.

CAUTION 2: Unfortunately, the ends of some of the Newport sites are so badly eroded that determining the measured length without excavation may be difficult.

CAUTION 3: Now that RIMAP has identified the Limited Study Area where we seek only the five ships there that were scuttled together, the comparisons to make are fewer. The size of one ship in that group is uncertain, but if it is the smallest ship, then the site that was the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR® is the largest. If that questionable ship is the same size as the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR®, then there will be two vessels to investigate. Further archival work help to sort out the size of that last vessel.

CAUTION 4: The overall length of the keel may be difficult to determine without an extensive excavation of a site because we presume that there will be erosion at the exposed ends, and this erosion may give an inaccurate interpretation of the vessel's length.

CAUTION 5: The assumption that a keel could not be replaced in the 18th century is not accurate, but whether a ship would deserve such attention is another question.

QUESTION 3: How do the transports under study measure up?

ANSWER: To date, RIMAP dive teams have created site maps of 9 of the sites, and their sizes vary widely. Of the 4 sites already found in the Limited Study Area, the overall lengths of their exposed structures are: 24', 30', 45', and 63'. Those are not overall length, or even keel lengths, but only what can be seen without disturbing the sites. After the 2017 fieldwork, RIMAP will have mapped the new site discovered the previous year, and only then can a detailed analysis be planned of site measurements.

CAUTION 1: RI 2119 appeared to be a promising candidate to be the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR®. However, RIMAP's overall research design was to find all of the sites that still exist before concentrating much on any one site. RIMAP's early work on RI 2119 was useful because it proved these sites to be artifact rich, but it was the right decision not to focus on it, because later archival work indicated that she could not be the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR®.

CAUTION 2: Most of the transports were smaller vessels than the naval ships of the period.

Although large Royal Navy vessels sometimes visited Narragansett Bay, the frigates stationed there (and lost in 1778) were only 5th and 6th rates. The GRAND DUKE OF RUSSIA transport was about the size of a 6th rate frigate, but the other transports, including the LORD SANDWICH were about the size of the smaller Royal Navy "armed" vessels.

CAUTION 3: The Continental Navy ships and local privateers lost in Rhode Island were also small. However, ships have been described as the most complex of man's inventions, and they can be a challenge to document and understand.

QUESTION 4: What about the wood used to build the transports?

ANSWER: RIMAP has taken wood samples of some of the timbers for identification on both RI 2119 and RI 2125. Most of the timbers have been oak.

CAUTION 1: It is difficult to distinguish between oak grown in North America from that grown in Britain. The presence of other woods in the major timbers (such as an elm keel) may be suggestive that we might have the ENDEAVOUR, but is diagnostic only if there had been only one ship in the fleet with an elm keel.

CAUTION 2: Now that RIMAP's Matrix includes two vessels built at Whitehaven, another coaling port almost due west of Whitby (where the ENDEAVOUR was built), it is necessary to understand the differences between those ship-building traditions and their sources of raw materials.

QUESTION 5: Are there other construction details that will allow us to identify the ENDEAVOUR Bark?

ANSWER: Again, the original survey of the vessel before Cook joined her gives a great deal of information about how that particular ship was built when she was taken into the Royal Navy. Therefore, we will look for detailed timber measurements that might be consistent with those of the original survey and lines.

CAUTION: As long as the historical materials support the presumption that the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR® was the largest in the group of 5 ships scuttled in the Limited Study Area, those measurement will stand scrutiny. However, if there were two ships in that group of the size of the ENDEAVOUR, then the way to determine which site is ships may be more complex.

QUESTION 6: The ENDEAVOUR was adapted in preparation for her trip around the world with Capt. Cook. Could evidence of those adaptations be diagnostic to suggest that we have found the ENDEAVOUR?

ANSWER: These later adaptations may be more useful as a diagnostic tool than her original construction features as a collier. The ENDEAVOUR had some interesting changes made to accommodate the crew on such a long journey, some of which were requested by the aristocratic supercargo, Joseph Banks. Banks was a wealthy young man with an interest in natural science. He funded the scientific portion of the voyage, including his staff of scientists, artists, servants, dogs, and equipment. It is interesting to note that Banks also planned to accompany Cook on the second voyage. Unfortunately, he required changes to the RESOLUTION that made the ship such a bad sailer that Cook ordered them removed, and Banks went off on an expedition to Iceland, instead. This story tells us that it was quite common for a ship to incur major changes to accommodate a current purpose, and with later changes in that purpose, the ship was changed again. That may be a source of confusion in what archaeologists see later in that ship's remains.

CAUTION: The changes to the ENDEAVOUR may have been obliterated by later uses of the vessel, but RIMAP will be vigilant to find subtle evidence of them.

QUESTION 7: Could the repairs made after the ENDEAVOUR was damaged on the Great Barrier Reef off Australia be used to identify a specific Newport shipwreck?

ANSWER: We know that the crew went ashore during the repair at the Great Barrier Reef to collect local wood for fuel, but the ship's carpenter apparently used wood carried on board to make a temporary repair of the hull. A more substantial repair was made at the Dutch East India Company at Batavia, but we don't yet know the origin of the materials they used.

CAUTION: We need to know more about the materials that would have been used in the Dutch East India Company's shipyard. It is also possible that those exotic repairs were obliterated when the ship was repaired at London before she was taken into the transport service.

QUESTION 8: What other evidence might exist from the circumnavigation with Capt. Cook?

ANSWER: The ENDEAVOUR's crew collected local foods and wood for fuel, and the scientists collected biological samples. It is possible that scraps of exotic wood or other material indigenous to Australia and the South Pacific (such as pollen or micro fauna) could have found their way into crevices of the vessel. RIMAP has been sampling apparently undisturbed areas of the silt for such analyses.

CAUTION 1: It is also possible that this material was removed when the ENDEAVOUR was repaired and became the Royal Navy store ship, or when it became the transport LORD SANDWICH. Also, there were at least two other vessels on the Newport station that had been East Indiamen, the transport GRAND DUKE OF RUSSIA (lost along with the LORD SANDWICH in Newport) and the ALARM Galley (lost a few days earlier in the Sakonnet River). There is the possibility such exotic materials could be found in them, as well.

CAUTION 2: For nearly 200 years it was thought that LA LIBERTE, the vessel abandoned in Newport in 1793, had been the ENDEAVOUR. We now know that LA LIBERTE was probably the RESOLUTION instead, which means that the artifacts in private hands and museum collections that came from this ship are mis-labeled. The LA LIBERTE ex ENDEAVOUR identification has been accepted for so long and is so entrenched in past literature, that it is important to remember that these earlier artifacts may be used for contemporary comparisons, but not as diagnostic materials for the identification of the transport LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR®.

QUESTION 9: How was the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR adapted for the transport service?

ANSWER: We do know that many of the transports were prepared to carry equipment, horses, artillery, and large numbers of troops. We have no specific information about how the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR® was changed, but we do know that she was in such poor condition when first offered to the transport service that she failed survey and had to be repaired before she could be accepted.

CAUTION: Although we don't yet know exactly what those repairs had been, it is certain that they would have corrected some of the damage and disintegration arising from her long service in the Royal Navy, and especially because of her voyages in the southern hemisphere (first with Cook and then to the Falklands carrying naval supplies) We do not know if any of her original adaptations for Cook's voyage were retained after that refit.

QUESTION 10: What do we know about the LORD SANDWICH and her service as a transport?

ANSWER: We know which troops were on board during the Atlantic crossing, and which troops were carried from New York to occupy Rhode Island in 1776. It is possible that we will find artifactual evidence of these troops on the Newport shipwreck sites. Our assumption is that the LORD SANDWICH would have been in particularly poor condition because of her history, although there is evidence that she made short sails in Narragansett Bay. We don't yet know if she had been included in the fleets that went to Long Island to collect wood for fuel. More archival research is needed to answer these questions.

CAUTION: As noted in the general discussion above, a cluster of artifacts from a particular regiment carried on board will be stronger evidence than a single artifact in making the connection between the troops aboard a single vessel and that vessel's identity.

QUESTION 11: Is there something unusual about how the LORD SANDWICH transport was used in Newport?

ANSWER: We know that the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR® was used intermittently as a prison ship while she was in Newport, and we have the names of some of the American prisoners who were kept on board. Some of these prisoners were quite prominent in Newport at the time, and it is possible that there may be artifactual evidence of their presence left behind on the site.

CAUTION 1: We know that the RACHEL AND MARY was also used as a prison ship in Newport, and it is possible that at times some of the same prisoners were kept on her as well.

CAUTION 2: The treatment of prisoners on vessels has been exaggerated, especially in the Rhode Island example. Those captured Continental Army or Navy personnel were treated as prisoners of war, awaiting exchange, but the local Newport supporters of the Patriot cause were held on board only during the times of threat, as during the 1777 Gen. Spencer attempt to oust the British from Rhode Island. As soon as that threat was over, those prisoners were released.


The RIMAP original research process was to find all of the transports that still exist in Newport Harbor, to study each site in turn, and to determine how closely each fits the descriptions of the known transports. By 2016 RIMAP had found 10 potential transport sites, but at the same time had discovered documentary evidence that allowed the study to be limited to the area where the group of 5 ships had been scuttled together that included the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR®.

Once RIMAP's preliminary work is complete and all 5 of the sites have been found, then the detailed work to identify which site is which ship must begin. That detailed work will require a facility to conserve, study and store the artifacts and samples that will be the diagnostic proof that RIMAP has found the ENDEAVOUR.

Many individual volunteers and institutional partners have donated their time, expertise, finances, and passion to bring this project to RIMAP's current level of success. If you want to help RIMAP find the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR®, too, please contact us HERE.

What RIMAP's facility might look like. Graphic by Farzan of NewPort Architecture, © RIMAP 2017.

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