PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island State Historic Preservation officials said Thursday they have reviewed a report claiming that Captain James Cook’s Endeavor is in troubled waters in Newport Harbour. They are not yet on board and have raised concerns about how the report was released.
“The evidence presented in the report to prove that HMS Endeavor has been located is promising, but not yet definitive,” said Jeffrey Emidy, acting executive director of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, in a written statement Thursday.
Emidy’s comments came days after the Australian National Maritime Museum published its draft report on the identification of the Endeavour. Based on a preponderance of evidence, the museum said it identified Captain Cook’s ship at a wreck site north of Goat Island. They pointed to similarities between the wreck site known as RI2394 and the Endeavour’s historical record, and evidence like wood samples taken from the site, which were of European times.
The museum’s announcement last week was met with international headlines, but also with skepticism from some in Rhode Island: the head of a private nonprofit organization that had worked with the museum on research, the Rhode Island Marine Archeology Project, called the find premature and a breach. of the contract between the two groups. Kathy Abbass said RIMAP would publish the “legitimate” report on its website once the study was completed, although the Australian museum supported its work and said it was surprised by the reaction.
Now the state of Rhode Island is officially ringing — also with concern.
The Australian museum “has promised further study and peer review of their findings, and both should move forward,” Emidy said. “The RIHPHC is committed to assisting in any way appropriate, but we are also extremely concerned that the publication of this report has increased the vulnerability of the site.”
The commission is a state agency funded by state and federal dollars.
In official comments to the museum sent Wednesday, Emidy noted errors and other omissions, including credit omissions for Abbass’ work. He also said the museum released its public statement that the Endeavor had been identified without informing the commission. This meant he was unable to consider how this might affect the preservation of the site. The commission, which issues permits for this type of archaeological work, states in its standards and guidelines that information is generally withheld. This is to protect archaeological sites from being disturbed or looted.
And, because the project was written before the final fieldwork report was completed, it is premature, Emidy said. Analysis of artifacts from the 2021 fieldwork is still ongoing.
Captain James Cook’s Endeavor – many modern sources refer to it as HMS Endeavour, but it is more accurately called HMB Endeavor, for His Majesty’s Bark – played a key role in the exploration of the South Pacific by the England. Cook’s voyage from 1768 represented the empire’s first contact with Australia. It also reached New Zealand. It remains an emotional and politically charged subject in modern Australia, parts of which Cook claimed for the empire.
After Cook’s voyage, the ship was sold into private service and renamed Lord Sandwich, according to historians. Then it was used to transport Hessians to the United States and to imprison American rebels during the Revolutionary War. In August 1778 the British scuttled it in Newport harbor to block a superior French fleet, historians say.
Historians have long suspected that the Endeavor was in Rhode Island waters and have spent 20+ years searching for various wreck sites.
The search, Rhode Island experts say, did not end this month.
“While the RIHPHC can agree that there is nothing in the report that precludes the identification of RI 2394 as Lord Sandwich, at this time we are only prepared to say that it is very likely that the ‘wreck be, indeed, the historic vessel,’ Émidy wrote.