In search of HMB Endeavour.

In September 2018, SWF joined the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) and the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) and participated 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.


Remembering Cook's Final Voyage


What happened to Endeavour after the famous voyage?

How did she end up on the bottom of the sea? This part of her tale is the least well known.

After the voyage with Cook, Endeavour spent a few more years in Royal Navy service sailing to and from the Falkland Islands before being sold. In private hands, she was renamed Lord Sandwich – her new owner very likely aware of the connection between the vessel, Cook and the First Lord of the Admiralty. She was then chartered by the Royal Navy to carry Hessians (German mercenaries) across to the American colonies to help the war effort there. Once she arrived and landed the troops, she was put to use as a prison ship in Newport to house American revolutionaries captured by the British.

In 1778 a French naval force – allied with the Americans – sailed into Narragansett Bay intending to take Newport from the British. In response, the British scuttled several vessels in order to create a blockade and keep the French from landing. After the threat passed, the British re-floated a number of them but 13 that were of no immediate use were left on the bottom. Among them was Lord Sandwich.


Learn more about the larger story


But which of the 13 wrecks is Lord Sandwich?

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, around and beyond visible remains
    → metal signatures in a linear formation may be indicative of iron fasteners in timbers, cannon and kentledge (ballast) beneath the silt
  • photography for photogrammetry purposes (reconstructing the subject in 3D with specialised software)
    → reconstructing elements and sections of the site allows for closer and more complete inspection without the constraints of visibility and air supply
  • detailed measurement of diagnostic structural elements eg. dimensions of ship’s frames (floors and futtocks) and spacing between them
    → building plans exist for Endeavour with very clear measurements of all structural elements
  • timber sampling of various hull elements for wood species ID purposes
    → the cluster of wreck sites among which Lord Sandwich is thought to lie consists of 2 vessels built in the US and 3 built in the UK – of the latter only one – Lord Sandwich – was built on the east coast; it is expected that the wood species will reflect the region of manufacture

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

The 2018 field season has now concluded and the analysis of 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.

For even more information, check the RIMAP press release and press conference.

Crustacean living by one of the timbers on site. Image: Irini Malliaros-SWF; © 2018 RIMAP

ALL FOOTAGE: Irini Malliaros-SWF; © 2018 RIMAP