Cook famously sailed the ship around the South Pacific before landing on the east coast of Australia in 1770.
Australian National Maritime Museum CEO Kevin Sumption announced that after a 22-year program of archival and archaeological research, “we can conclusively confirm that this is indeed the wreck of Cook’s Endeavour”.
“This is an important moment,” he told reporters at National Maritime Museum in Sydney on Thursday.
“It is arguably one of the most important vessels in our maritime history.”
But the US principal research team behind the find has criticised Australia’s announcement as “premature”.
“The Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) report that the Endeavour has been identified is premature,” it said in a statement.
“The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) is now and always has been the lead organization for the study in Newport harbour.
“The ANMM announcement today is a breach of the contract between RIMAP and the ANMM for the conduct of this research and how its results are to be shared with the public.”
The ship played an important role in exploration, astronomy and science and was an important artefact in the history of Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and now the US, he said.
A “preponderance of evidence” had led to the conclusion that an archaeological site known as RI2394 in Newport Harbour, Rhode Island, “does indeed comprise of the shipwreck of HM Bark Endeavour”, he said.
Since 1999, maritime archaeologists had been investigating several 18th century shipwrecks in a five square kilometre area of Newport Harbor.
The Endeavour was scuttled there by the British 244 years ago and lay forgotten for more than two centuries.
Although only about 15 per cent of the vessel remains, several details on the wreck convinced archaeologists they had found Endeavour after matching structural details and the shape of the remains to those on 18th century plans of the ship.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher applauded the discovery, saying it fulfilled the museum’s mission to record and display the story of Australia’s maritime heritage.
“What the museum has done … over 20 years to verify the location of the vessel … is of extraordinary importance”, he said.
Researchers are now focused on what can be done to protect and preserve the historic remains and the museum is working with maritime experts in Rhode Island as well as the Australian, Rhode Island and US governments to secure the site.
Mr Sumption said the museum was looking to “borrow some material to at a future date to come to Australia and be on display”.
Originally launched in 1764 as the Earl of Pembroke, the ship was renamed Endeavour in 1768 by Britain’s Royal Navy and prepared for a major scientific voyage to the Pacific.
From 1768 to 1771 Endeavour sailed the South Pacific, primarily to record the transit of Venus in Tahiti in 1769.
Cook, who was also an acclaimed navigator and cartographer, then sailed it around the South Pacific searching for “the Great Southern Land”, charting the coast of New Zealand and Australia’s eastern coastline before claiming the land for Great Britain on August 22,1770.
Endeavour was later sold to private owners, renamed as Lord Sandwich and was deliberately sunk in 1778 by British forces during the American War of Independence.
A year later Cook was killed in Hawaii during his third Pacific voyage, 10 years before the First Fleet arrived in NSW to establish a British colony.