IT WAS 250 years ago, August 26, 1768 that Captain James Cook set sail on the HM Bark Endeavour from Plymouth to discover the fabled Great Southern continent. Cook’s voyage was meant to be a trip to Tahiti in the southern ocean to observe the transit of the planet Venus across the face of the Sun. It was a rare event, happening every 243 years, that Venus could be observed as a black disc passing across the Sun. It was an 18th century obsession, with the outlying planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto as yet undiscovered, just how far was the Earth from the Sun? England’s Royal Academy had sponsored the Endeavour to chart the transit in the belief it would then be able to measure the size of the solar system. But Cook also had a second mission commissioned by King George III, contained in sealed orders he read only when his ship had sailed. His voyage would change the course of history for the inhabitants of the great land, dubbed in the English press at the time Terra Incognita in the south. What Cook did has been likened to space travel, although blasting off for Mars even back then would at least have been heading for a seen object. Cook and his ship of 94 occupants — including gentleman botanist Joseph Banks — were sailing towards a remote island in the Pacific in the hope of finding something Europe wasn’t sure even existed. A look at the man who set sail for Australia 250 years ago Dear Australia, how do you not know who Captain James Cook is?