May 16, 2006

US researchers find 18th-century British warships

By Richard C. Lewis

NEWPORT, Rhode Island (Reuters) - Four ships from a British
fleet used during the U.S. Revolutionary War have been found
off Rhode Island, and one may be the vessel 18th century
explorer Captain James Cook sailed on his epic voyage to
Australia, archaeologists said on Tuesday.

Researchers with the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology
Project said they believe the four ships, and two others
previously discovered, are part of a 13-vessel transport fleet
intentionally sunk by the British in Newport Harbor in 1778 to
keep French ships from landing to aid the Americans' drive for

Using historical materials and sonar, the archaeologists
discovered the ships in Narragansett Bay, within a mile (km) of
Newport, Rhode Island's shoreline.

Divers found ballast piles about 30 feet underwater, with
the ship's keel and other parts embedded in the sea floor. They
also found at least one cannon, an anchor with a 16-foot
(4.9-meter) shank and a cream-colored fragment of an
18th-century British ceramic teapot.

According to the team of archaeologists, one of the 13
ships in the sunken British fleet was the "Lord Sandwich,"
which records show was once the Endeavour, the vessel Cook used
to sail the Pacific Ocean, map New Zealand and survey the
eastern coast of Australia in 1768-1771.

Cook, acknowledged by historians as one of the greatest
navigators of all time, is credited with surveying Australia's
east coast on the Endeavour expedition.


Archaeologists said it was unclear which ship could be the
Endeavour. Seven of the ships in the British fleet have not
been found. But they said the latest find raises the chances
that one of the discovered ships is the Endeavour.

"There is a 47 percent chance that we have our hands on the
Endeavour," said D.K. Abbass, executive director of the Rhode
Island Marine Archaeology Project, a nonprofit organization
devoted to studying the state's maritime history.

She added it was unlikely anything on the ships would
provide a direct link to Cook.

"Quite frankly, we could be working on her right now and
never be able to prove it," Abbass said.

It may take years to fully investigate the shipwrecks found
so far, Abbass said.

Historically, the finding is significant because it helps
tell the story of the siege of Newport, marking France's first
attempt to aid the American insurrection against the British.

Though the effort failed, leaders from each side, George
Washington representing the Americans and Comte de Rochambeau
for America's French allies, met in Newport two years later, to
formalize their cooperation for subsequent battles.

The French ultimately helped the Americans entrap British
forces on a peninsula at Yorktown, Virginia.

"So, what you have here is the British are geared up for
the colonial rebellion and now they're looking at an
international conflict," said Rod Mather, a British citizen and
associate professor of maritime history and underwater
archaeology at the University of Rhode Island.

The shipwrecks are Rhode Island property, Abbass said.
There are no plans to raise them. Officials estimate more than
two dozen ships from the Revolutionary War period lie beneath
Rhode Island's waters. They include British Royal Navy
frigates, vessels from the Continental Navy and a French ship.