Australians look back to Captain Cook's planetary mission and the discovery of a continent

The spectacle of Venus crossing the Sun had special significance in Australia, discovered by Captain James Cook on his way home from viewing the rare celestial phenomenon in Tahiti in 1769.

The spectacle of Venus crossing the Sun had special significance in Australia, discovered by Captain James Cook on his way home from viewing the rare celestial phenomenon in Tahiti in 1769.

Cook had been dispatched to the South Pacific island with special telescopes to record the transit taking place that year. It was hoped that his observations could be used to answer one of the great scientific questions of the day: the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

While aboard his ship, the Endeavour, Cook opened an envelope to find secret orders from the British admiralty to carry out a second mission: To scour the southern seas for terra australis incognita, the fabled unknown southern land. Scientists believed there must be a huge landmass in the southern hemisphere to balance the large continents in the north.

After leaving Tahiti, Cook sailed to New Zealand and then, in April 1770, reached an anchorage that he named Botany Bay after its lush flora. He discovered Sydney Harbour then charted thousands of miles of Australia's east coast.

Until yesterday, no one alive today in Australia had experienced what Cook saw 235 years ago. Stargazers armed themselves with telescopes, pinhole cameras and special dark glasses to watch the event.

Cook, whose notes about Tahiti are on display at the Sydney Observatory, was blessed with perfect conditions. Yesterday, with the observatory's telescopes focused on the blue skies of the South Pacific, hundreds of people gathered there were rewarded with a clear view as the transit began in mid-afternoon.

One enthusiast, Cathy Rytmeister, queued several times to watch the small dark disc creeping across the face of the Sun. "I'm addicted. I can't stop," she said. Australians were among the first people in the world to glimpse the transit, but they did not catch the entire six-hour, 12-minute show. The sun set about half-way through.

Ms Rytmeister said most Australians had learnt about Venus crossing the Sun in history lessons about Cook's discovery of Australia. "But it was just a phrase," she said. "You didn't know what it meant."

Darren Osborne, a spokesman for the government's scientific agency, said Australia's history could have been different if Cook had not been sent to Tahiti. The transit, he said, was "not as beautiful or exciting as a solar eclipse - but given the historical significance of it ... I think it's a pretty interesting thing to see".

In Sydney, 40 people gathered at the home of Jos Roberts, an amateur astrologer. "I feel very privileged to be alive at the right time, to be in the right place, to have no clouds or monsoons," he said.

As the sun dipped towards the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, stargazers at the observatory savoured one last glance. "To see this great celestial dance happening before your eyes is just so amazing," said Ms Rytmeister.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform