There has been considerable interest in the item we published in the October/November issue of Dive regarding the possible final resting place of Captain Cook’s HMB Endeavour.
The Minister of Culture and Heritage, the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has since replied to marine archaeologist Dr Bridget Buxton’s email of the 20th May. Bridget, a New Zealander, holds the position of Associate Professor of Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Rhode Island in the USA.
Bridget was trying to obtain an expression of interest from the New Zealand Government regarding the Endeavour. You may have read/seen/heard New Zealand media reports about the possible discovery of the ship’s hull.
In mid-September 2018 news media around the western world splashed headline variations of the discovery that: “Captain Cook’s missing HMB Endeavour had been discovered off the US coast”.
The New Zealand Herald claimed: “Mystery of Captain Cook’s Endeavour set to be solved”. This “discovery” has been going on for years. A quick search shows the New Zealand Herald reported the discovery of the Endeavour on 2nd May 2016 with a headline: “Captain Cook’s Endeavour ‘found’ at bottom of US harbour”.
You may be wondering what is the delay in identifying 100% that the hull is that of the Endeavour. During my recent visit to Rhode Island I spoke to many people connected with British-blockade wrecks dating back to the American War of Independence (1775–1783) in Newport. I believe the problem comes down to three things: politics, negligence and incompetence.
It’s a VERY long story which I will not put you through the frustration of reading; it’s a complex matter. Since the 1990s the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) has been part of the investigation to locate the Endeavour – renamed Lord Sandwich.
Bridget and others have become frustrated with the lack of progress. It should have been sorted years ago. To me and others it seems our PM and the staff at the Ministry of Culture and Heritage are treading softly due to ‘maybe’ politics and fear of upsetting people!
The PM’s comments in her letter to Bridget I believe reflects this: “We are in regular contact with relevant Australian agencies and, given the participation of the Australian National Maritime Museum, will certainly talk with them about the progress and potential of this work. Thank you for writing, and I wish you well for future projects.”
So Bridget did not get New Zealand Government support for the project even when Bridget is not asking for any financial support from the New Zealand taxpayer! She is only asking for a letter to the Rhode Island Government saying the New Zealand Government will support Bridget and the Rhode Island University in their attempts to verify the hull is the Endeavour.
The Rhode Island Government which owns the wrecks in Newport Harbour have advised they are happy for items from the hull to be put on display in museums.
I am seeing more and more from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage that when it comes to shipwrecks and New Zealand maritime history they look to Australia for leadership. Surely New Zealand can manage its own marine heritage!
I recently visited Te Papa, New Zealand’s National Museum in Wellington. There mounted on a wall in the main entrance is an anchor recovered in 1974 by the late Kelly Tarlton.
Image: On display at Te Papa: Anchor lost in 1769 form the French vessel St Jean Baptist. Recovered by the late Kelly Tarlton in 1974.
On the wall a plaque advises: This anchor is one of three lost on 28th December 1769 under the command of J F M de Surville aboard the vessel St Jean Baptiste. It is almost certain these anchors were the first things left in New Zealand by Europeans. I was very fortunate to work and dive with Kelly. He was a man who just got on with stuff.
How he would cope today, with both hands tied and both legs in “irons” re uncovering New Zealand’s maritime history, I can hardly imagine. I strongly believe if Kelly found St Jean Baptiste’s anchor today it would NEVER see the light of day, such are the restrictions and politics involved.
Thank God we can all enjoy viewing this historic anchor at Te Papa. Unfortunately, I believe hell will freeze over before we see a small section of the Endeavour’s hull on display in Te Papa for all New Zealanders to view and re-discover the impact Captain Cook’s voyages had on the New Zealand we live in today.
Editor at Large