Captain Cook: Discovery of HMS Endeavour could spark further tourism boom in Whitby

The discovery of wreckage believed to be of Captain Cook’s ship could spark a renaissance of cultural tourism in Whitby, according to a museum leader in the town.

Australian historians and scientists announced earlier this week that they are confident they have found the wreckage of HMS Endeavour off the coast of Rhode Island in the USA, following a 22 year search.

The ship- built and launched in Whitby - was chartered by James Cook on his first voyage of discovery to the Pacific Ocean between 1768 and 1771, resulting in Britain's first encounter with the "unknown southern land" - Australia.

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The Endeavour was deliberately sunk in 1778 in Newport Harbour by British forces around eight years after its key role in Cook's first voyage to the Pacific.

The discovery of HMS Endeavour could bring a further tourism boom to Whitby

A row broke out following the announcement by the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) as American scientists from the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) also involved in the search said the declaration was premature.

Kevin Sumption, chief executive of the ANMM, said:: "We can conclusively confirm that this is indeed the wreck of Cook's Endeavour. This is an important moment. It is arguably one of the most important vessels in our maritime history."

But Kathy Abbass of RIMAP said: “RIMAP recognises the connection between Australian citizens of British descent and the Endeavour, but RIMAP's conclusions will be driven by proper scientific process and not Australian emotions or politics."

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But the discovery has prompted excitement across Whitby, with one cultural leader saying she hopes more tourists will be prompted to explore the town’s museums and heritage sites.

Rebecca Tucker, chair of Museums of Whitby, said: “Hopefully a discovery like this will create a bit of a surge in renewed interest in Captain Cook and his groundbreaking voyage.

“Whitby will certainly welcome interested parties to come enjoy the museums, and hopefully it will encourage people to come enjoy its past.

“The Endeavour was undoubtedly the most important vessel to leave Whitby. It’s culturally and historically significant for the world, but particularly for this town.

“What he did was groundbreaking. For any small town, to have such a significant figure to represent you is such a big thing.

“Captain Cook is not just important here, but globally. I know he can be a bit of a divisive figure in recent times, but the good he’s done for this town - there’s no end to it.”

Some 1.4m people visit the North Yorkshire coast every year, with Whitby being particularly popular for its historic charms, including the Abbey and the 199 steps leading up to it.

But Ms Tucker, who is a curator at the Museum of Whitby Jet, wants tourists to look beyond the amusement arcades and pier to explore more of the town’s past.

She said: “When the replica of the Endeavour arrived in 1997, it brought so much tourism and if this could do something like that, it would be brilliant.

“It’s bringing a whole new generation this awareness of the historical figure, right on their doorstep.

“There’s a lot of people who enjoy the fish and chips, the sun, sand and ice cream - and hen parties and stag dos, but we would like to promote Whitby more as a cultural destination.

“It would be great to get more tourism based on cultural and historic visitors, rather than just sand and sea.”