Transit of Venus

Listen to Transit of Venus  Arr. by Roland Clarke.

Country dance: longways duple minor

A1 1 – 8 1st couple turn by the right hand, face up and cast one place.
2nd couple lead up and cast into 1st place on bars 5-8.
A2 1 – 8 1st couple turn by the left hand, face down and cast up one place.
2nd couple lead down and cast into 2nd place on bars 5-8.
B1 1 – 4 1st couple lead down through the next second couple [2nd couples move up].  Remain in the middle of the set.
5 – 8 Set or rigadoon, and cast up into original second place.
B2 1 – 4 1st corner postions change [2nd man & 1st lady].  2nd corner postions change [2nd lady & 1st man].
5 – 8 Repeat B2 bars 1- 4.

Bride’s Favourite Collection of Two Hundred Country Dances. 1775.

Fort Venus, constructed by the Endeavour’s people to secure themselves during the Observation of the Transit of Venus, at Otaheite. Samuel Middiman, 1750-1831. Courtesy of National Library of Australia.

This dance celebrates Captain Cook’s great scientific voyage of exploration aboard the Endeavour.  In 1768, urged by the Royal Society, the British government decided to send an expedition to the newly discovered island of Tahiti to observe the transit of the planet Venus across the sun.

This was the most important scientific mission Britain had ever launched. With advances in mathematics, scientists believed by observing the Transit of Venus the distance between the Earth and the Sun could be calculated and thus, the size of our solar system could be defined.
After a voyage of eleven months, Cook was proud to record that his crew had arrived as fit and healthy as when they left England, thanks to a regime of regular dancing to fiddle, fife and drum and frequent issues of sauerkraut to combat scurvy. At Tahiti they were welcomed by the friendly and happy people who may have benefited from the list of handy ‘Hints’, compiled by the President of the Royal Society, recommending that the natives ‘should not at first be alarmed with the report of Guns, Drums, or even a trumpet. – But if there are other Instruments of Music on board they should be first entertained near the Shore with a soft Air.’
In six weeks, a large fort was constructed including a forge, bakery and space to house 45 men in tents.  On 3rd June, 1769, the transit, which would not occur again for more than a century, was observed from three points. This imperative task completed, Cook opened the secret instructions from the Admiralty which directed him to discover and chart the mythical great southern land, Terra Australis Incognito.

The Endeavour’s return to England was met by a flurry of press reports which highlighted the work of Joseph Banks, the wealthy, influential botanist who had accompanied Captain Cook. Whilst Cook himself continued with more voyages and was not in England to receive the accolades he deserved, Banks, the handsome and articulate scientist, noted member of the London salon scene, was feted by royalty and high society and proclaimed a hero of the Enlightenment.  His charming aristocratic manner was like a magnet to the opposite sex .

It is quite possible the charming Joseph Banks inspired this dance.

Bride’s Favourite Collection Of Two Hundred Country Dances. 1775.  Courtesy of Kate Van Winkle Keller.


The Brisbane-based dance group Kaleidoscope has an animation of the Transit of Venus which shows the basic pattern of the dance.
Visit them at


British Maritime Museum. Journal for maritime research. A Scots Orpheus in the South Seas.

Cook, James, The Journals of Captain James Cook on His Voyages of Discovery. Vol. I. The Voyage of the Endeavour, 1768-1771.

Cook’s Endeavour Journal, the inside story. National Library of Australia.

Keller, Kate Van Winkle. Copy of original from Bride’s Favourite Collection Of Two Hundred Country Dances. 1775.

National Library of Australia. Venus Fort, Erected by the Endeavour’s People to secure themselves during the Observation of the Transit of Venus, at Otaheite. By Samuel Middiman (1750-1831), after drawings by Sydney Parkinson and possibly Herman Diedrich Sporing. Engraved for inclusion as plate iv within Sydney Parkinson’s Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas…, London, 1773. Location: South Seas Digital Version

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