Provenanced piece of Capt Cook's Endeavour


Lot 853    SESSION 4 (4.30PM MONDAY 30TH AUGUST)    Provenanced piece of Capt Cook's Endeavour

Estimate $400,000
Bid at

CAPTAIN JAMES COOK'S H.M. Bark Endeavour, a piece of timber (22cm long x 2cm wide) being part of the keel retrieved from the wreck of the ship at Newport, Rhode Island, USA., in a gilt timber framed display case with label attached, written in 18th century hand (probably that of Sir Joseph Bank's sister, Sarah) that reads, 'This is part of the keel of the Ship Endeavour which, under the command of James Cook, Esq, circumnavigated the Globe in 1768-1770, Broken up at Newport, Rhode-Island, U.S.A. 1796.' There are only two pieces of this historic ship in private hands, this one and the other is in a Sydney Collection, excessively rare and of the highest importance to Australian history.

Ex Bristol Baptist College, Clifton, England; private hands; Spink Auctions (Australia), Sale 18 (lot 947) 16-17 April 1986; and R.G. and C. Pratley Collection.

With numerous articles and research documents as well as a variety of postcards, first day cover and photos mostly relating to Captain Cook or the Endeavour, sheet of Cook Bicentenary 5c stamps.

Alan Villiers, the authority on Cook, describes in his book - Captain James Cook, the fate of the Endeavour: 'The Endeavour alone (of Cook's ships) still has some existence. She was wrecked or damaged by stranding and afterwards allowed to fall to pieces at Newport, Rhode Island . She was a French whale ship (known as) La Liberte - really Franco-American, for apparently the French provided the flag and a work subsidy, and the New Englanders the whaling skill - when she arrived there some time in 1795 . Part of her original sternpost is preserved in the Museum of the Newport Historical Society, who provided a piece in 1966 to be built into the proposed Endeavour replica memorial (at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich)'.

Another piece was given by the Newport Museum to the Cook Memorial Museum. It is also interesting to note that a splinter from the sternpost was supplied to NASA and it was transported to the moon on the Apollo 15 mission and the lunar landing model for this mission was named 'Endeavour'. Also a small piece of timber stern post from Cook's Endeavour, on loan to NASA from the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island travelled with the Space Shuttle Endeavour on its maiden voyage in 1992, symbolic of Cook's command on HMS Endeavour's maiden voyage.

The piece of the 'Endeavour' offered in this lot is of great interest and historical importance in that it has an impeccable provenance. It was donated to the Bristol Baptist College at Clifton by Dr. Elton, a contemporary of Joseph Banks, and also a patron and collector of the natural sciences.

The College was founded in the early 18th century as a missionary and theological institution, and throughout the 18th and 19th centuries built up an outstanding library and museum. One benefactor of the 1750s, Thomas Gifford, gave a collection of books including a Caxton, Chaucer and a Tyndal Bible, as well as medieval incunabulae. The Museum housed Pacific and South Sea artefacts, many of which were sent by former staff and students. After the Second World War, the College sold its treasures and it was then that this relic of the 'Endeavour' left the place it had been in for 150 years. It eventually found its way to Sydney, Australia in 1982 when a book dealer purchased a large collection of old books on Australia and the South Seas from an English collector. Then in 1986 it was put up for auction with Spink Auctions (Australia).

An investigation into the fate of the ship in which Captain Cook sailed the South Seas in 1768-1770, landing in Australia in 1770, showed that on Captain Cook's return to England the British Admiralty declared the Endeavour to be unseaworthy. It was restored as a store ship and sent to the Falkland Islands where Britain was maintaining a precarious hold on the outpost. However, the garrison there did fall to Spain in 1774 and the navy then sold the Endeavour to a private operator and it was used as a coal runner for the next 15 years.

The ship was then sold to France and refitted as a whaler in Dunkirk. The revolutionary racked French Government, competing against Britain and Holland for control of the high seas, offered bounties to American whalers who had set up a small colony in Dunkirk. During one of these whaling expeditions in 1793 the Endeavour, now sailing under the French flag as La Liberte, was chased by British gunships towards the American coast and eventually came to grief in the waters of Rhode Island. Eventually the ship was broken up, some parts used in other vessels and the remains of the hull left in the mud until a gale in 1815 destroyed sections of the old hull.

Another theory that evolved in 2016 was that US archaeologists claimed that they had discovered the wreck of the 'Endeavour' off the coast of Rhode Island where they believed it was scuttled during the American Revolutionary War. They believe the 'Endeavour' was renamed Lord Sandwich and used as a troop carrier and prison ship during America's revolutionary war and eventually was one of 13 ships scuttled in Newport harbour in 1778 as part of a blockade to prevent a French attack by sea. This find is not conclusive because over a period of over 200 years the sea water has taken a toll on the timbers and metals, although in September 2018 a team of marine archaeologists claimed that they had identified what they believe to be the wreck.

Nonetheless, whatever the fate of the 'Endeavour', any fragment of timber from its hull is of the utmost rarity.

Estimate / sale price does not include buyer's premium (currently 22% including GST) which is added to hammer price. All bids are executed on the understanding that the Terms & Conditions of sale have been read and accepted. For information on grading and estimates please refer to the Buying at Auction advice.

Quick find

View a lot by number and sale.

Adjacent lots

  • Lot 851  

    N.S.W., Cinema and Theatre tickets, c1953-60, Tivoli Theatre, Liberty Theatre, Prince Edward Theatre Beautiful Castlereagh ...

    Estimate $150

  • Lot 852  

    DUCKWORTH & CO., Manchester, soft drink labels, a small collection of 69 drink labels, unused ...

    Estimate $250

  • Lot 853   This lot

    CAPTAIN JAMES COOK'S H.M. Bark Endeavour, a piece of timber (22cm long x 2cm wide) ...

    Estimate $400,000

  • Lot 854  

    CONVICT TOKEN, 1807 penny with reverse shaved smooth and stiple engraved 'R.W.Cook/1832/FORGET ME NOT'. Fine/very ...

    Estimate $500

  • Lot 855  

    CONVICT LOVE TOKEN, created on a shaved down Great Britain 1797 cartwheel penny, stipple engraved ...

    Estimate $250