On Wednesday 6 June, 2012, we marvel at an astronomical rarity – the transit of Venus across the face of the sun.

This phenomenon is predictable – it usually occurs in pairs separated by eight years (the last one was in 2004). A pair of transits occurs every 121.5 years or 105.5 years in a 243 year cycle.

The transit of Venus is very important in the history of Australia. The main aim of Captain James Cook’s Endeavour voyage was to observe the transit of Venus from Tahiti in June, 1769. The transit observations were used to calculate the size of the solar system which assisted in nautical navigation.

Cook and the Endeavour crew contstructed a fortified observatory at Point Venus in Tahiti, from where Cook, naturalists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander and the expedition's astronomer, Charles Green, all observed the transit on June 3, 1769.

After the transit had been observed, Cook opened a packet of secret instructions from the British Admiralty to seek 'a Continent or Land of great extent' and to take possession of it ‘in the Name of the King of Great Britain'.

He failed to discover the proposed Great Southern Land or Terra Australis; instead he circumnavigated and charted New Zealand, then moved on to the East Coast of New Holland in April 1770, becoming the first European to chart this part of Australia.

On Possession Island in the Torres Strait, Cook claimed the coast he had just charted for the British Crown, opening the way for the European colonisation of Australia in 1788.

The Australian Museum Research Library holds several books relating to Cook’s Endeavour voyage in its rare book collection. They include:

  • A journal of a voyage to the South Seas, in His Majesty's Ship, The Endeavour Faithfully transcribed from the Papers of the late Sydney Parkinson, Draughtsman to Joseph Banks, Esq. on his late expedition with Dr. Solander, round the World. Embellished with views and designs, delineated by the author, and engraved by capital artists. London, Stanfield Parkinson, 1773. RB D919.4/PAR/RARE BOOKS
  • An account of the voyages undertaken by the order of His present Majesty, for making discoveries in the southern hemisphere, and successively performed by Commodore Byron, Captain Wallis, Captain Carteret, and Captain Cook, in the Dolphin, the Swallow, and the Endeavour : drawn up from the journals which were kept by the several commanders, and from the papers of Joseph Banks, Esq. In three volumes. by John Hawkesworth ... London, Printed for W. Strahan and T. Cadel, 1773. RB D910.41/HAW/RARE BOOKS
  • A new, authentic, and complete collection of voyages round the world, undertaken and performed by royal authority ... : Capt. Cook's first, second, third and last voyages ... for making discoveries in...the southern and northern hemispheres, &c. &c. &c. and successively performed in the years 1768-1780 ... the whole of these voyages of Capt. James Cook &c. being newly written by the editors from the authentic journals ... now publishing under the ... direction of George William Anderson ... assisted ... by a principal officer who sailed in the Resolution sloop and by many other gentlemen of the Royal Navy. London, Printed for Alex. Hogg, 1784. RB D910.41/COO/FOLIO RARE BOOKS

Find out more about our Rare Books collection.