Archaeologists are searching for the remains of HMB Endeavour in Newport Harbour, Rhode Island, USA. The search is led by American archaeologist, Dr Kathy Abbass, Director of the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP).
Dr Abbass’ research shows that HMB Endeavour was paid off by the British Royal Navy after returning to England. It was renamed Lord Sandwich and used by the British Board of Transport to carry troops to North America during the American War of Independence. In August 1778, the Lord Sandwich was scuttled with 12 other transports in Newport Harbour to blockade the port against an invading French fleet.
Although Dr Abbass and RIMAP are greatly interested in the Lord Sandwich, their main objective is to research, record, document, interpret and help protect all the vessels lost in Rhode Island waters during the American War of Independence.
Surveying the wreck site
In 1999, a combined RIMAP-ANMM team surveyed a promising wreck site. They analysed the construction techniques and timber scantlings, and identified sediment, stone and coal, ruling out the possibility that the wreck was the Lord Sandwich. However, their efforts showed that the team’s methodology could identify the ex-Endeavour if it was found.
In 2000, the team conducted a remote sensing survey of Newport Harbour to identify potential wreck sites. A limited test excavation was done on one possible site, GAMMA, revealing a large transverse timber (possibly a frame) lying directly over what appeared to be the keelson of a ship.
Measurements indicated that the wreck was an 18th-century vessel, between 300 and 400 tons and of similar construction to some of the scuttled transports.
In 2001, the combined team excavated further at the GAMMA site. They found the remains of the keelson, stem post and additional floor timbers which can be compared to the original plans of the Endeavour drawn up by the Deptford Dockyard in 1768.
The team also uncovered additional timbers, including internal or ceiling planking, iron fastenings and treenails, floors and futtocks (the components that make up the frame of a ship) and, eventually, the keel itself.
The scantlings (timber measurements) of the excavated remains were compared to the four known sets of ship’s plans of Endeavour, along with construction drawings of other known transports.
Of the transports known to have been scuttled in Newport Harbour, the results compared favourably with:
American-built ship Britannia of 374 tons
two English-built ships, the 320-ton Rachel and Mary
the 368-ton Lord Sandwich, formerly HMB Endeavour.
With the potential archaeological and historical significance of the site, further investigations were carried out in 2002, 2004 and 2007. Find out more at The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) website.
The archaeological work continues and Dr Abbass has asked the ANMM’s continued involvement in the project. The ANMM director has been invited to join the board of the Foundation for the Preservation of Captain Cook’s Ships, a USA organisation providing administrative and fundraising support for RIMAP’s work. The museum is committed to further collaboration with RIMAP in this research, subject to obtaining the necessary funding support.
The Endeavour Sestercentennial Project seeks to raise funds in Australia for that express purpose, and to work towards the 250th anniversary celebrations in the year 2020.
See also campaign by Hon Greg Hunt MP to obtain for Australia Flinders’ maps, Australia’s “birth certificate”.
(source acknowledgement: Australian National Maritime Museum)