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.
Tahiti had been charted by the British only a year earlier.
Cook's secret orders from the British Admiralty were to find the southern continent about which Northern Hemisphere cartographers had long hypothesised.
As early as the fifth century, although many thousands of years since the first Aboriginal people settled Australia, the great continent Australis, which means south, had begun appearing on maps.
The existence of a land mass to balance Europe, Africa and, later, the Americas had been speculated upon as far back as around 350BC by Greek philosopher Aristotle.
The Dutch East India Company had charted part of the coast of a land they would call New Holland by the early 1600s, with Abel Tasman giving the name Van Diemen's Land to the island which now bears his name.
By the 1760s, Britain was embroiled in the American War of Independence and its custom of transporting criminals to those colonies had been suspended.
Economical and strategic advantages and a different sea trade route lay in having a new colony in the south.
James Cook had demonstrated his considerable skills in cartography, mapping the St Lawrence River (near French-held Quebec) for the British Navy, and thereafter Newfoundland.
Cook's map of the island was so accurate it was still in use last century.
So who was James Cook and how did he come to be the one setting sail for the island continent where around 750,000 indigenous people lived?
Born in the village of Marton in Yorkshire in 1728, Cook was one of four surviving children of a Scottish farm labourer father, In 1736, his father became foreman on the farm of lord of the manor Thomas Skottowe in Great Ayton, Yorkshire. This allowed James to get a formal education, and when he showed aptitude for maths and schoolwork, he was apprenticed to a shopkeeper in the coastal fishing port of Staithes.
Lured by the seafaring life, he moved to the harbour town of Whitby to serve a marine apprenticeship with John and Henry Walker.
The Quaker shipowners encouraged his study of maths and navigation, and in 1747, aged 19, he took his first voyage aboard a collier (coal ship).
Cook was unusually tall, more than 183cm, and older than the other apprentices.
The colliers he served on plying the North Sea made a lasting impression on him.
The vessels, known locally as Whitby cats, had a broad, flat bow, a square stern, and a long boxlike body with a deep hold.
Their flat bottoms allowed the ships to sail in shallow waters and be beached for cargo loading.
Cook's skill as a mariner earned him promotion up the ranks, but in 1755 he joined the Royal Navy as an ordinary seaman, technically a demotion.
Thereafter he learnt cartography, partly teaching himself.
Between 1759 and 1767, he surveyed the St Lawrence River, Newfoundland and St Pierre and Miquelon islands off Canada's east coast.
Chosen to make the great voyage of discovery south, Cook chose a ship that could take him, a complement of crew and passengers and a large amount of supplies to the other side of the world.
It was a Whitby cat, formerly known as the Earl of Pembroke.
Now renamed the Endeavour, it was a large vessel, 29.7m long, built from white oak, elm and pine.
It had the flat-bottomed design so as to be loaded at low tide and floated off, which would eventually allow it to be repaired after it ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef in 1770.
On August 22, 1768, James Cook wrote in his journal that his sailors were making points and gaskets for the sails and masts.
The 40-year-old commander noted "fresh gales with heavy squalls of wind and rain" were preventing Endeavour from leaving Plymouth on her voyage.
Aboard were 12 Royal Marines, 73 sailors, astronomer Charles Green, naturalists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, botanical artist Sydney Parkinson and landscape artist Alexander Buchan.
In the ship's large hold were 6000 pieces of pork, 4000 of beef, nine tonnes of bread, five tonnes of flour, a tonne of raisins, cheese, salt, peas, oil, sugar and oatmeal.
Alcohol for daily rationing comprised 250 barrels of beer, 44 barrels of brandy and 17 barrels of rum.
Cook included three tons of sauerkraut; on his previous voyages he had learned protecting crew from the ravages of scurvy, the fatal vitamin C deficiency, required vegetables.
Goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks and geese were kept in pens at the stern on the upper deck.
Cook would take on board fresh food and water at every port.
When Endeavour reached Madeira, Portugal, just one month into her journey, Cook purchased around 14,000 litres of local wine; officers could keep extra supplies of alcohol.
The ship sailed south and west and rounded Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America, before finally arriving at Matavai Bay, Tahiti on April 13, 1769.
Cook set up a portable Venus transit observatory on shore, and on the morning of June 4 began recording by hand the planet's phases across the sun.
With the Tahitian navigator Tupaia on board, Endeavour sailed south to the 40th parallel, but found no evidence of the fabled Terra Australis.
Cook turned west and circled New Zealand, mapping the entire coastline, becoming the first person to prove it was two islands and not connected to a larger land mass. Tupaia proved vital in helping translate with the Maori people they encountered there.
Endeavour turned west and on August 19, 1770 sighted land which Cook named Point Hicks after his lieutenant, the point being a coastal headland in East Gippsland, Victoria.
This point was the southern coast of what he would name New South Wales.
Continuing north, Cook charted and named landmarks for the next week until they reached a large and shallow inlet he named Botany Bay.
On April 29, Cook and his men made contact with the Gweagal clan of the Eora Nation of Indigenous Australians who lived on the southern shores of Kurnell Peninsula.
Cook's secret instructions if he found a "continent or land of great extent" were he "with the consent of the natives to take possession of convenient situations in the country".
As Endeavour neared the shore, Gweagal warriors stood on rocks "threatening and menacing with their pikes and swords".
When Cook tried to land in a small boat, the warriors warned them off with spears and sticks until crewmen fired their muskets, wounding one in the leg.
For eight days into early May 1770, Endeavour was anchored in the bay.
Cook and Joseph Banks unsuccessfully tried to make close contact, as the warriors trod warily by the crew.
Banks and Solander went about collecting botanical specimens, animals and spears and other items from the Gweagal.
When Endeavour left, it sailed past Sydney Harbour which Cook named Port Jackson but had not further explored.
Sailing north, Cook made his second landing at what he named Bustard Bay, now the town 1770, 100km south of Gladstone.
On June 11, 1770, Endeavour ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef.
Repairs took seven weeks to be carried out at the spot which is now Cooktown, at the mouth of the Endeavour River.
While there, Banks and Solander amassed a large haul of Australian flora.
Cook's men had mostly peaceful encounters with the local Guugu Yimidhirr people, learning words such as "gungurru" for the large grey marsupial which hopped about.
The patched up Endeavour and sailed off by Cape York and through the Torres Strait, which had been navigated by Spanish explorer Luis Váez de Torres in 1606.
On August 22, Cook landed on Possession Island, part of the Torres Strait Islands and claimed the entire coastline for the British Crown.
The ship put in at Batavia (now Jakarta), capital of the Dutch East Indies where some in Cook's company fell ill with malaria and dysentery, including Tupaia, astronomer Green and artist Parkinson who all died from their illnesses.
Endeavour left and rounded the Cape of Good Hope on Africa's southern tip and then home, anchoring on the Kent coast.
The journals of Cook and Banks were published and both gained fame and acclaim, though Banks was more celebrated.
In 1762, Cook had married Elizabeth Batts who bore him six children over 13 years. Three died in infancy, two others, James and Nathaniel, died while serving in the Royal Navy, and the youngest, Hugh, died while at college in Cambridge. None had children of their own so there are now no direct descendants of Captain Cook.
Cook made a second scientific voyage on behalf of the Royal Society, to again search for the hypothetical massive southern continent.
HMS Resolution and HMS Adventure set off, with Cook narrowly missing discovery of Antarctica, and landing at Easter Island, Norfolk Island, New Caledonia and Vanuatu.
He returned home in 1775 and was given an honorary retirement from the Royal Navy, but set out again the following year on Resolution with HMS Discovery.
This trip's aim was to find a northwest passage around America.
Cook became the first European to officially make contact with inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands, which he named the Sandwich Islands.
He explored North America's west coast, mapped part of Alaska and according to reports fell ill and became irritated with his crew.
In 1779, he returned to Hawaii and sailed around it for two months before stopping in at Kealakekua Bay on the big island of Hawaii.
The locals were celebrating the harvest festival of the Polynesian god Lono and may have initially mistaken Cook as an embodiment of the god.
After a month's stay, Resolution sailed but its foremast broke and during repairs Cook's crew and the Hawaiians began fighting.
A small boat was stolen and on February 14, 1779, Cook attempted to kidnap the King of Hawaii and was struck on the head with a club and then stabbed, dying with four other marines.
What happened to Captain Cook's remains after his death has been subject to much speculation, including a story that Hawaiian cannibals ate him.
What occurred was the Hawaiian tribesmen removed Cook's body from the beach, disemboweled it and baked it.
These actions, which historians do not dispute, were the traditional mortuary rites performed by the indigenous Polynesians on Hawaii Island for those of high status.
Bones were considered sacred because in them resided a person's spiritual essence or 'mana' which the native Hawaiians greatly valued.
Following death, supreme care was accorded to the bones which were guarded, respected, venerated, and even deified.
So the Hawaiians cooked Cook's body to enable the bones to be easily removed, and then distributed the bones across their villages.
It was the cooking of his body which gave rise to the rumour of cannibalism, but these islanders were not cannibals.
Unsurprisingly, Cook's crew translated this act of respect for a revered leader as a hideous desecration by the Hawaiians of their fallen enemy.
Amid simmering tensions between the two groups in the wake of Cook's death, his successor as commander, Charles Clerke, attempted to negotiate for the return of the body for a traditional naval burial.
Crew members suggested attacking villages and taking back Cook's body by force.
After a few minor skirmishes, the Hawaiians returned enough of Cook's corpse to satisfy the enraged crew.
After performing a Christian burial at sea, the Resolution sailed.
With Cook's physical remains lost to the sea, or preserved in Hawaiian villages, the crew departed the Hawaiian islands for England to report their captain's death.
The expedition returned to England in October 1780.
One of Cook's crew of Resolution described him posthumously as modest, "rather bashful … sensible and intelligent" and who could hold "lively conversation".
Cook's widow Elizabeth lived a further half century, dying aged 93 in 1835.