Even though the Great Age of Sail ended more than 150 years ago, famous shipwrecks from that era still turn up from time to time. Recently, marine archaeologists discovered what is believed to be The Queen Anne’s Revenge, the flagship of famous pirate Blackbeard.
Now, an equally significant ship may have been discovered: the HMS Endeavour, the vessel of famed British explorer and naval captain James Cook. Cook is most famous as the man who “discovered” Australia, sighting its east coast (what is today called New South Wales) in 1770, after mapping New Zealand. He also recorded the first official sighting of indigenous Australians, was the first westerner to visit the Hawaiian Islands, and made detailed maps of Newfoundland, making a total of three expeditions to the Pacific, on the ship, HMS Endeavour. On his third expedition in 1779, he was killed by native Hawaiians when he went onshore.
The Endeavour had a few near-misses in its sailing career, not least during its expedition to Australia, where it ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef. Following the accident, the crew sailed cautiously into a river mouth, where they beached the Endeavour for seven weeks to make repairs.
However, in spite of Cook’s — and the Endeavour’s — fame forever being tied to the discovery of Australia, the ship was found off the coast of Rhode Island, only a few hundred feet from shore.
Like many ships in the Great Age of Sail, the Endeavour led an interesting life, starting out as a bark called the Earl of Pembroke. The British Admiralty (the non-military merchant and exploratory department of the British fleet) bought the ship about 3 and ½ years after it first launched; it was then that it was rechristened the HMS Endeavour. When the Australia expedition ended in 1771, and after its near-miss on the Great Barrier Reef, the ship, to some extent, disappears into the shadows of history. It is believed that it sailed to the Falkland Islands before being sold to a private company, only to be transferred back again to the British Navy, which used it first for troop transport under the name Lord Sandwich and later as a prison ship.
It is also believed that the Endeavour was part of the blockade of Rhode Island, one of the battles in the American Revolutionary War. A number of ships were sunk trying to prevent enemy ships from reaching Rhode Island, and the Endeavour, or the Lord Sandwich as it was known by then was one of them. A total of 13 ships went down that day, and when the Endeavour was found, it was located in a cluster of four other ships.
So, while the Endeavour discovery is of great marine-archaeological interest, it won’t shed much more light on the ship’s most famous captain, or his global expeditions. However, simply knowing the location of one of the most famous ships in history is of historic significance, as is having some confirmation of its fate.