BOSTON (Reuters) - U.S. researchers are set to announce on Wednesday that they have found what they believe are the remains of famed 18th century British sailor Captain James Cook’s ship the Endeavour in Rhode Island’s Newport Harbor.
The historic ship is thought to be among 13 vessels scuttled in Newport Harbor during the American Revolutionary War against Britain, according to researchers at the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project. The researchers said they are at least 80 percent certain that Cook’s ship is among the underwater wreckage situated in the harbor.
The organization is set to discuss the findings in Providence, Rhode Island on Wednesday.
The Endeavour was a 105-foot (32-meter) long, three-masted bark that weighed 368 tons when fully laden and was designed to transport coal.
As the captain of the Endeavour, Cook commanded a crew of 94 who became the first Europeans to set eyes on New Zealand and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Later in his career, on a different vessel, he led the first circumnavigation of Antarctica, disproving the theory at the time of a habitable southern continent called Terra Australis.
The ship’s discovery could offer new details on episodes including its near-sinking when it hit the Great Barrier Reef during a 1768-1771 voyage, according to historians.
“Its underside was torn up and it almost sank,” said Edward Gray, a Florida State University history professor and author of a 2007 book about John Ledyard, a Connecticut-born man who served on Cook’s final Pacific voyage.
“It’s possible that we’ll learn a little more about the nature of those repairs and how perilous it was,” Gray said in a telephone interview. “The reporting at the time suggested that the ship almost sank. And the Great Barrier Reef was a long way offshore, so if it had sunk that would have been a catastrophe.”
The Endeavour was later re-commissioned as the Lord Sandwich, which was its name when it was scuttled during the August 1778 Battle of Rhode Island by a British commander aiming to block the harbor.
The retired U.S. space shuttle Endeavour was named after the famed sailing vessel.
Cook stands out for leading one of the first Western explorations of the Pacific that did not end with all or most of the crew dying.
“Every time Europeans did this it was an absolute cataclysm,” Gray said. “There was no record of anyone exploring the Pacific without massive loss of life.”
Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Will Dunham