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Australian Scientists Announce Discovery of Captain Cook’s Endeavour

Simone Jonker worked in NTD Inspired for two years. She wrote light articles and inspiring stories.
Published: February 9, 2022
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British explorer Captain Jame’s Cook’s sunken research ship, the Endeavour, leaving Whitby Harbour. The discovery of Captain Cook’s Endeavour was announced by a group of Australian Scientists; but their U.S. counterparts claim the announcement to be “premature.” (Image: colin f m smith via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0)

A team of Australian scientists recently announced that they have discovered the last resting place of the British explorer Captain Cook’s Endeavour, a research ship that made multiple trips to Australia. However, the group has met with stark opposition from colleagues in the United States who have called the declaration “premature” and suggested that the assertion was motivated by “Australian emotions or politics.” 

On Feb. 3, Kevin Sumption, director of the Australian National Maritime Museum told reporters in Sydney, “I am satisfied that this is the final resting place of one of the most important and contentious vessels in Australia’s maritime history. We can conclusively confirm that this is indeed the wreck of Cook’s Endeavour,” he said. 

His declaration came after an intense 22-year investigation of a number of 18th-century ships in a two-square-mile area off the coast of the United States. It’s evident the ship is the Endeavour due to the fact that the structure and shape of the skeletal remnants match those of the original ship’s 18th-century designs.

“The last pieces of the puzzle had to be confirmed before I felt able to make this call,” Sumption said.

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Chart showing the track of HM Bark Endeavour during the first voyage of exploration of Lieutenant (later Captain Sir) James Cook. Image: Wikimedia Commons Public domain)

It was between 1768 and 1771, that Cook sailed the Endeavour on his first voyage to the Pacific Ocean towards Australia, which he described as an “unknown southern land.”  

On April 29, 1770, the Endeavour made landfall on Australia’s west coast. The ship is said to have been the first European vessel to reach Australia, contributing to the British colonization of the continent.

Sumption paid tribute to the team at Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) headed by Kathy Abbass for “their ongoing commitment to the site and its history.”

However, opposition from  (RIMAP) labeled the announcement “premature” and a “breach of contract.”

The U.S. experts said though the shipwreck is “consistent with what might be expected of the Endeavour,” there is “no indisputable data” to demonstrate that it is unquestionably true, and added, “there are many unanswered questions that could overturn such an identification.” They said it had “now and always been the lead organization for the study in Newport harbor.”

A century-old mystery

In 1770, the Endeavour narrowly averted a shipwreck on the Great Barrier Reef. Cook and the crew spent around 48 days repairing the ship near the mouth of the Endeavour River in far North Queensland, after which the vessel became largely forgotten. 

As part of their effort to establish a naval blockade in the harbor during the American War of Independence, the British sank the ship in 1778 along with four other vessels. Because of this, the likelihood of discovering artifacts that could be immediately identified was quite low.

James Hunter, who was entrusted with creating a 3D model of the Endeavour, said, “That’s because anything of value would’ve been stripped out of that ship before it was sunk, but what has been recovered up to this point is indicative of an 18th-century time frame.”

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Statue of Captain James Cook, British explorer famous for his voyages to Australia between 1768 and 1779, Randwick, Sydney. (Image: Sardaka via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Only around 15 percent of the ship is still intact, and the focus is now on what can be done to secure and preserve the remaining parts.

According to RIMAP, their Australian counterparts were in breach of their contract, “for the conduct of this research and how its results are to be shared with the public.”

As soon as the study is completed, RIMAP said it would publish its own “legitimate report,” adding that “RIMAP recognizes the connection between Australian citizens of British descent and HMS Endeavour, but RIMAP’s conclusions will be driven by proper scientific process and not Australian emotions or politics.”

Sumption stated that they were still in the process of preparing their study and that they were looking forward to it being peer-reviewed and published as soon as possible after that.

“The archaeological work continues, and we anticipate further discussion of the evidence over the coming months. We look forward to continuing the work in Rhode Island as we move to the next phase. He said, “the museum continues to work closely with maritime experts in Rhode Island and with the Australian, Rhode Island, and U.S. Governments.” 

“It’s an important historical moment, as this vessel’s role in exploration, astronomy, and science applies not just to Australia, but also to Aotearoa New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States,” Sumption said.