James Cook's Famous HMS Endeavour Has Been Hiding In A Rhode Island Harbor Since 1778

Shelley Hazen

The fate of the HMS Endeavour, which Captain James Cook used to discover Australia and Hawaii and sail around New Zealand, has been discovered at the bottom of a harbor in Rhode Island.

For years, the location of the most famous ship in naval history has been a historical mystery, since after its time exploring the world the HMS Endeavour was christened with a new name to fight in the Revolutionary War.

But thanks to some historical sleuthing, researchers have tracked Captain James Cook's trusty vessel and plan to raise the ship -- and many other shipwrecks found in Rhode Island's Newport Harbor -- from its watery grave for further study.

More details about the discovery will be revealed Wednesday by the group credited with the find -- the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP), Live Science reported.

The journey wasn't an easy one. During its island-hopping journey from Plymouth, England, to Tahiti, the HMS Endeavour famously foundered on the Great Barrier Reef in 1770, and the crew had to throw 40 tons of equipment overboard to break free of the reef. Some of that equipment was found in 1969.

After these famous adventures, James Cook's trusty ship retired from exploration and was sold for civilian use, passing through many different owners. Eventually, the HMS Endeavour was commissioned for use in the Revolutionary War, given a new name -- Lord Sandwich -- and put to work in a blockade of Newport Harbor. The former HMS Endeavour also transported troops.

As part of a blockade with 12 other ships, the HMS Endeavour helped keep the French out of the bay. But leading up to the Battle of Rhode Island between American colonists and the British, the British Navy deliberately sunk the vessel in 1778.

"The American army was assembled on the mainland and the French sent a fleet to help," said RIMAP's executive director Dr. Kathy Abbass. "The British knew they were at great risk so they ordered 13 ships out to be scuttled in a line to blockade the city. They were sunk in fairly shallow waters."

And so, an enduring historical mystery began.

The famous vessel sits among a group of five, four of which RIMAP has mapped already. Abbas said the size and dimension of the ship and its records have helped them determine that "the Sandwich was the Endeavour."

The HMS Endeavour lies along the seabed with 12 other ships that comprised the blockade fleet. The wrecks are spread out in nine different sites and "one group of (five) ships includes the Lord Sandwich transport, formerly Captain James Cook's Endeavour," RIMAP said.

The next step is to explore the site in more detail, including the ship's structure and artifacts. But first, RIMAP needs to build a facility to store, examine, and, most importantly, conserve, artifacts brought to the surface.

Over in Australia, where James Cook's explorations irreversibly changed life for aboriginal peoples and he's considered the country's first invader, some historians hope the HMS Endeavour can be dragged back to their shores, News.com.au reported.

History professor Iain McCalman said that James Cook's voyage is a "sad moment" in history for indigenous people, because it meant an "end of their freedom, in a sense." Nonetheless, the marks left by the captain and the HMS Endeavour on history are incredible.

"Whatever you think of Cook, he sailed that boat — which, as far as I was concerned, was almost unsailable — into what amounts to a kind of minefield of coral without having any charts, and it was absolutely extraordinary."

[Image via David Steele/Shutterstock]