Researchers 'closing in' on solving HMS Endeavour mystery

A full scale replica of the Endeavour can now be seen in Whitby. Credit: ITV News

Researchers believe they are close to identifying Middlesbrough's Captain Cook's HMS Endeavour among a group of wrecks off the US east coast.

One of history's most famous ships is thought to lie off Rhode Island with the remains of 12 other vessels scuttled during the American War of Independence.

Marine archaeologists have been analysing the wrecks for 25 years and, after a long process of elimination, announced their latest findings on Friday.

"This is the first time we've been really willing to say we think we're closing in on having the Endeavour," Kathy Abbass, director of the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project, told a press conference.

The team plan on taking measurements, testing timber samples from the wreck and excavating at the site to establish "how she's built and what she's built of".

Their results will then be compared with historical records in the hope ofestablishing Endeavour's resting place once and for all.

Dr Abbass said: "This is science. It's not a documentary. It's not somethingthat will be over in 50 minutes. And we've got a lot more work to do."

The replica Endeavour sails into Whitby Harbour, 2004 Credit: ITV News

HMS Endeavour is famed for carrying then-Lieutenant Cook, born in Middlesbrough on his first voyage of discovery to Australia 250 years ago.

Initially a humble collier, the ship was acquired by the Navy in 1768.

After a refit as a research ship she embarked in August of that year in search of the hypothesised continent of Terra Australis Incognita.

In October 1769 she reached New Zealand and spent six months mapping the North Island's coastline before Lt Cook went ashore and formally proclaimed British sovereignty in March 1770.

The Endeavour then sailed for Terra Australis and arrived in what is now known as Botany Bay in New South Wales on April 29.

After sailing along the continent's east coast she came close to oblivion after running aground on the Great Barrier Reef, and HMS Endeavour and her crew set sail back for Britain, arriving back in Dover in July 1771.

While Lt Cook returned a hero, HMS Endeavour slipped into relative obscurity and was refitted as a naval transport.

She was renamed the Lord Sandwich after passing into commercial ownership, although the ship returned to naval service after the outbreak of the American War of Independence.

Model of Captain Cook's Endeavour Credit: ITV News

According to records at the National Maritime Museum, the Lord Sandwich was one of five ships sunk in Newport Harbour on August 3 1778 in a bid to stop French ships entering the area.

Captain Cook died in Hawaii only a few months later, likely unaware of the fate of his previous ship.

The 250th anniversary of his claiming of Australia will be marked in 2020.

Peter Dexter, chairman of the Australian National Maritime Museum, said itwould be "fabulous" if the wreck was authenticated as HMS Endeavour in time for the anniversary.

The legacy of Captain Cook's voyage to Australia remains a controversial topic Down Under and the potential discovery of the ship is likely to stir the debate over how his arrival is commemorated.

Dr Abbass said: "The Endeavour is considered to be the founding vessel forEuropean Australians. The indigenous populations in Australia are not so happy about it, but that's a political debate that we don't get in to."

Captain Cook was born in Redcar and went to school in Great Ayton. Credit: ITV News