Searching for Endeavour


In search of HMB Endeavour.

In September 2018, SWF joined the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) and the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) in their ongoing work investigating vessels deliberately sunk by the British in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island in defense of the city of Newport during the American War of Independence.

Among these wrecked vessels, lies one by the name of Lord Sandwich. The 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montague, was First Lord of the Admiralty three times and was an avid supporter of James Cook’s voyages of discovery. In fact, Cook named the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) in his honour.

Captain James Cook was ultimately killed in Hawaii. The vessel Lord Sandwich is none other than Cook’s grand old lady, HMB Endeavour.

Working on one of the shipwreck sites, undertaking detail photography for site reconstruction purposes. Footage Irini Malliaros; © 2018 RIMAP

But which one out of 13 lying at the bottom of the sea, is she?

The ANMM and RIMAP have been working on this riddle for several years – each dive into the archives and each season in the field narrowing down the possibilities to fewer and fewer sites.

This season, it was down to two.

We joined the team in undertaking detailed surveys of the sites. Techniques included:

  • metal detecting (the sites are under layers of silt)
  • photography for photogrammetry purposes (reconstructing the subject in 3D with specialised software)
  • detailed measurement of diagnostic structural elements eg. dimensions of ship’s frames
  • timber sampling of appropriate sections of timber for wood species ID purposes

This data, along with archival information has the potential to reveal conclusively which wreck site is that of Lord Sandwich. That of Endeavour.

The 2018 field season has now concluded and the analysis of the collected data has begun. The team has identified what they believe to be the most likely candidate, now it remains for the results of the analysis to support or refute the theory.


Cook Commemorative Medallion

Silver commemorative medallion of Captain James Cook in commemoration of his third and final voyage.

Silver; Diam: 43mm; Obverse: Uniformed bust of James Cook; Reverse: Fortune leaning upon a column, holding a rudder on a globe
Designed by: Lewis Pingo (1743-1830) - chief engraver, Royal Mint

This medallion was issued in London by the Royal Society in 1784 and is one of 322 silver specimens of the Society’s formal memorial to the great navigator. Fellows of the Royal Society were entitled to a free bronze medal, while silver and gold issues were available by subscription only; some were reserved for presentation. L. Richard Smith (in The Royal Society Cook Medal, Sydney, 1982) has suggested a probable final minting figure of 22 gold, 322 silver and 577 bronze medals. An engraving of the medal was printed on the title-page of the second and third editions (and some copies of the first) of the official account.

The commissioning of this medal was due above all else to the efforts of Sir Joseph Banks, who supervised ‘the minting and distribution of the Royal Society Cook medal as a personal task coincident with the publication of the narrative of the tragic third voyage’ (H.B. Carter, Sir Joseph Banks, 1988, p. 168). Cook’s European reputation is borne out by several letters to Banks from the Continent requesting specimens of the medal, including one from Bougainville, who wrote in June 1785 to remind Banks that as a member since 1756 he felt entitled to one (see The Banks Letters, ed. W.R. Dawson, 1958, p. 122).

The profile portrait of Cook on the medallion resembles the Dance portrait rather than those by Hodges and Webber.

Cover: Painting by Keith Shone ‘The Wreck of the Royal Charter’, The Moelfre Partnership

Dunbar & Royal Charter



In light of 2018 commemorations of The Dunbar's loss, Silentworld Foundation has teamed up with Bournemouth University, UK and the Australian National Maritime Museum in a collaborative project that takes in a broader view of that period through the lens of two shipwrecks.

The Australian Gold Rush of the 1850s was arguably one of the greatest economic and social events in Australia’s colonial history. The ‘Rush’ caused a huge influx of people to visit or migrate permanently to the Australian colonies.

Emigrants brought an influx of new political ideas to the young colonies leading to events that would ultimately shape the nation, such as the cessation of convict transportation to the eastern colonies in 1853.

The artefact collections relating to the shipwrecks of The Dunbar and Royal Charter are ‘bookends’ to this economic and social event: The Dunbar carried people and cargo outbound to the diggings, whilst Royal Charter represents the return  voyage to Great Britain.

The loss of both vessels had a massive impact on their respective communities, both at the time of wrecking and in subsequent years. Read more

Timber planks exposed in sandy sea floor.

Shipwreck of South Australian Found

During a severe storm characterised by a wild south-easterly gale, the barque South Australian was violently ripped from its mooring and blown into Black Reef, Encounter Bay, which it struck stern first.

The barque, a South Australian Company vessel, had been at anchor awaiting the arrival of another of the company’s ships, Solway, which was to take cargo held aboard the South Australian. Once it had hit Black Reef, the South Australian was pushed over and into the shallow water beyond, close to the shores of what is today Victor Harbour.

Interestingly, Solway also wrecked there, and fairly close to South Australian, as did one other vessel, the Perie. Colonel William Light briefly surveyed the location, which at the time was a small community primarily involved in the whaling industry, and remarked on his chart that:

“This anchorage, I think is not fit for anything.”

It became

South Australia's first known shipwreck.

Life began as the postal packet Marquis of Salisbury.

Marquis of Salisbury was built at Little Falmouth (Flushing), United Kingdom by shipbuilder Richard Symons. The keel was laid down in 1817, and the vessel was ready for service two years later. It was a vessel of 236 tons, an overall length of 87 feet (26.5 metres), beam of 25 feet (7.6 metres) and draught of 6 feet (1.8 metres). It served as a postal packet for approximately 6 years. In 1824, it was bought by the Royal Navy, converted and renamed HMS Swallow which it remained until 1836 when it was sold to the South Australian Company.

HMS Swallow was once more refitted and renamed South Australian – now a colonisation vessel destined to assist in building the new settlement of South Australia. On its international voyage it carried skilled labourers and also breeding stock including two Devon bulls, two Devon heifers, twenty pigs, and twenty Cashmere goats.

Once it arrived in Australia, South Australian worked between Kangaroo Island and Encounter Bay, resupplying the whaling stations at Rosetta Bay on the mainland. It was, at that time, refitted as a ‘cutting in’ vessel, essentially an offshore whale oil processing platform but did go on to make one more return trip to Kangaroo Island before its wrecking.

Immediately after the wrecking event, the vessel was salvaged. However, the lower hold was flooded and nothing could be saved from it. The South Australian was then abandoned and left to the mercy of the sea.

As time passed, memory faded and the wreck was completely engulfed by the waters. The exact location was slowly forgotten. Some attempts were made in the 1990s to locate the wreck site, however they did not prove fruitful. In 2018, a collaborative venture between the Silentworld Foundation, South Australian Maritime Museum, South Australian Department for Environment and Water, Australian National Maritime Museum, MaP Fund and Flinders University, set out to locate the site. Armed with archival information as well as data from previous searches, a magnetometer and several metal detectors, the team walked, snorkeled and dived the assigned area. The shipwreck was located on the fifth day of fieldwork.

For the larger story on the life and times of the South Australian, visit the SA History Hub.

Lost for over 180 years. Found 2018.