CAPTAIN James Cook’s ship HMS Endeavour, on which he first reached the eastern coastline of Australia, may have been found at the bottom of the ocean in a US harbour.

The British explorer commanded the Endeavour on his first voyage to Australia and New Zealand between 1769 and 1771.

It was last seen in 1778, by which time it was being used as a transport ship during the American Revolution and renamed the Lord Sandwich.

US archaeologists now say they may have come across the ship’s wreck off the coast of Rhode Island, at Newport Harbour, where they believe it was scuttled by British troops during the American Revolution.

Iain McCalman, a history professor at the University of Sydney, said Cook is considered the founding father of European-settled Australia, where England eventually set up a penal colony.

But to the country’s indigenous people, Cook is considered the first invader.

“For some people, it would be a really wonderfully kind of exciting thing to have the Endeavour raised and brought, if possible, to Australia — whatever’s left of it,” McCalman said.

For many indigenous people, the celebration of Cook’s voyage “is a kind of sad moment. It’s the end of their freedom, in a sense”.

Still, he said, there is no disputing Cook pulled off a remarkable feat of navigation.

“Whatever you think of Cook, he sailed that boat — which, as far as I was concerned, was almost unsailable — into what amounts to a kind of minefield of coral without having any charts, and it was absolutely extraordinary,” McCalman said.