By Ken Shayne - Jamestown Press
A fascinating 20-year journey through the history of this region took a major step forward Sunday.
The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project announced that eight of the 13 sites from the 18th century that they have been seeking in Newport Harbor have been identified.
The sites are the final resting places of 13 British transport ships that were scuttled into the harbor in 1878.
While all of the sites are potentially important, by far the most interesting aspect of the search is that one of the ships that was sunk by the British in an effort to blockade the harbor against the French fleet was known as the Lord Sandwich.
That ship, in an earlier part of its career, was known as Endeavour, and it was on that bark that Capt. James Cook accomplished his first circumnavigation of the globe.
According to Dr. Kathy Abbass, director of RIMAP, the findings mean that there is now a 63 percent chance that Endeavour has been found.
While work will continue in an effort to locate the remaining five sites – which may no longer exist – the priority for RIMAP now is excavation of the sites that have been located, which means that funds will be needed to create a lab in which artifacts from the sites can be analyzed, and a museum to house them.
The organization, which takes no state or federal funds, has launched a capital campaign to raise the required funds.
“The search for the Endeavour is a really big deal,” Abbass said. “It is also a big deal for international heritage tourism, and in this economy that could be very signifi cant for the state.”
Although the fundraising process is expected to take several years, Abbass hopes that the building can be open by June 3, 2019, a date that would mark the 250th anniversary of Cook’s observation of the transit of Venus while in Tahiti.
Cook’s Endeavour is of great importance with regard to the maritime history of the United States, but the ship has even greater meaning to the people of Australia.
It was Endeavour, sailing between 1668 and 1671 with a group of scientists aboard, that first surveyed the eastern coast of Australia.
Their work allowed Great Britain to lay claim to the continent and colonize it. It is often said that Endeavour is to Australia what the Mayflower is to the United States.