In 1768, Captain James Cook set sail for the Pacific island of Tahiti. Cook had been hired by the Royal Society to help their study of the transit of Venus. His ship, the HM Barque Endeavour, transported a group of British astronomers to observe and record the planet Venus as it moved across the sun on 13 April 1769.
On 20 April 1770 the Endeavour reached Australia. On 29 April Captain James Cook landed at Botany Bay, where he first met members of an Aboriginal tribe, the Gweagal. On Wednesday 22 August, just before sunset, Cook laid claim to the east coast of Australia.
I now once more hoisted English Coulers and in the Name of His Majesty King George the Third took possession of the whole Eastern Coast ... by the name New South Wales... after which we fired three Volleys of small Arms which were Answerd by the like number from the Ship.
It is often said that Captain Cook ‘discovered’ Australia. He didn’t. The Aboriginal peoples of Australia had lived there for thousands of years. Captain Cook was the first European to lay claim to Australia.
In 1606 Willem Janszoon, the Dutch captain of the Duyfken, had charted part of the Australian coastline. Australia became known as Terra Australis Incognita - the unknown southern land. Merchant ships of the Dutch East Indies Company traded with Aboriginal peoples during the 17th and 18th centuries. Terra Australis Incognita was named ‘New Holland’.
In 1768 King George III ordered Captain Cook to claim the unknown southern land for Great Britain.
James Cook was given secret instructions by King George III. He was to take possession of the 'Continent or Land of great extent’ that was known to exist in the southern oceans. Cook’s secret instructions authorised him 'with the Consent of the Natives to take possession of Convenient Situations in the Country in the Name of the King of Great Britain'.
When Cook arrived back in England in 1771 he was promoted to the rank of commander.
The First Fleet, commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip, laid anchor at Botany Bay between 18 and 20 January 1788. Phillip’s second-in-command was Captain John Hunter, a Scot born in Leith. They sailed north, making landfall at Port Jackson on 26 January. Around 1350 convicts and marines, aboard 11 ships, had arrived to establish a British Colony in Australia.
In 80 years, between 1787 and 1868, around 166,000 convict men, women and children were transported to Australia.