Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2016 Issue

Archaeologists Closing in on Finding Captain Cook's Ship, the Endeavour

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HMS Endeavour, as portrayed by English artist Thomas Luny in 1790.

Rumors spread across the wires a few weeks ago that the ship that led one of the most important explorations in history, one whose account graces all of the major collections of voyages and travels, had at long last been found. The most important of all British explorations, and of all 18th century voyages, were those performed by Captain James Cook. His three-set (usually in 9-11 volumes) account of his three voyages is a cornerstone of any major collection of voyages of discovery. The ship in question, the Endeavour, led Cook's first voyage.

 

The Endeavour was purchased by the British Admiralty in 1768 for a mission to the Pacific to observe the transit of Venus. Observing the transit would enable scientists to estimate the distance of the Earth from the sun. While this was the mission's stated purpose, and it was a purpose, it was only one. British officials had much more in mind. They wished to reach the imagined large southern continent, that most in those days presumed existed but no one had actually seen. However, back then, the European powers competed with each other in attempts to discover new territories, so Britain wanted to keep its ulterior motive secret. In fact, they kept it so secret not even Captain Cook was informed. He was given a sealed envelope with his further instructions, to only be opened after he reached the Pacific and observed the transit.

 

Cook did not find the large southern continent. That is not surprising, as none exists, at least none of the size imagined. Antarctica pales by comparison. Expectations were fueled by a belief that there must be a balancing amount of land in the southern hemisphere to that in the northern, but without a massive southern polar continent, those two hemispheres were way out of balance. Cook would realize there was no such huge continent when he sailed deeply into the area where one needed to be without sighting land, but that would not come until his second voyage. Nonetheless, the discoveries from his first voyage were of significant importance, particularly to Australia and New Zealand.

 

Cook circumnavigated and mapped New Zealand. Naturally, he recognized it was an island, not part of a southern continent. He then proceeded east and became the first European to sight the eastern side of Australia. Cook also was the first to encounter Australia's indigenous people. He landed in what he named "Botany Bay." Two decades later, a point nearby would become England's first settlement in Australia and site of their first prison camp. The vast majority of Australia's population to this day remains along the continent's east coast.

 

While Cook did not circumnavigate Australia, and realized it was continent sized, he also concluded it was not part of a large southern continent. He began to seriously doubt such a continent existed, but it would take his second voyage to reach a definitive conclusion. His instructions filled, Cook headed north, beginning the trip home. However, they struck a reef on the way, requiring a seven-week stop for repairs, and a landing later in Batavia (Jakarta) for further modifications. The Endeavour then completed the journey back to England.

 

Endeavour's history after that was far less eventful. It took several voyages to the Falkland Islands, first to bring provisions, later to evacuate its residents. After that, she was sold to private owners. However, soon thereafter, the British needed transport ships to carry soldiers to America to control its rebellious colonists. Rechristened the Lord Sandwich, the ship transported troops, including Hessian soldiers, to America. Ironically, like Australia itself, it was also used by the British as a prison, a prison ship for American rebels. In 1778, France's entry into the war on the American side shifted the balance of power. The French and Americans planned a joint operation to capture Newport, Rhode Island, from the British. The Americans would attack by land, the French by sea. Fearing they would soon be outmanned, the British decided to block the harbor by sinking 13 surplus ships in it. One of those was the Endeavour. She sank on August 4, 1778, and has rested on the bottom ever since.

 

It turns out that Endeavour has almost, though not quite, been found. The Rhode Island Marine Archeology Project believes they have isolated it to one of five wreck sites. Remote sensing has established that four of these sites contain wrecks, the fifth probably so. The mystery began to unravel when RIMAP's director discovered a document in the British National Archives in January which specified the Lord Sandwich and four other vessels were sunk in a specific area of the harbor. That led to the search that has located four, maybe five ships. It will still take more research, and visits by divers, to determine with certainty which, if any of these ships is the Endeavour. Recovery will also be a significant undertaking as salvaging whatever is left will not be easy. Still, this is a major historical find, and as exciting as it is in Rhode Island, the excitement is many times as great in Australia, which was to a large extent "discovered" by this ship.

 

This find follows on the heels of another historic ship discovery in September 2014. In that case, one of the two missing ships of Sir John Franklin, lost in the late 1840's off the northern continental coast of Canada, was discovered after more than a century and a half of searching. Its going missing led to a plethora of rescue, then search missions, and dozens of accounts which make up a large library all by themselves. Click here.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.

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