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 down one place.  2nd couple meet and lead up.
A2 1 – 8 1st couple turn by the left hand, face down and cast up one place.  2nd couple meet and lead down.
B1 1 – 4 1st couple lead down through their own 2nd couple and the next second couple [2nd couples move up].  Remain in the middle of the set.
5 – 8 Set or rigadoon, and cast up behind one couple into original second place.
B2 1 – 4 In original minor sets: 1st corner positions change places passing right shoulder [2nd man & 1st lady].  2nd corner positions change places passing left shoulder [2nd lady & 1st man].
5 – 8 Repeat: 1st corner positions change places passing right shoulder [2nd man & 1st lady].  2nd corner positions change places passing left shoulder [2nd lady & 1st man].

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

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.

The Observatory at Point Venus. 1792. George Tobin.

This was the most important scientific mission Britain had ever launched. With advances in mathematics, scientists believed by observing the Transit of Venus from different locations around the world, 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 in Otaheiti (as Tahiti was then known) 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.

Fort Venus. A journal of a voyage to the South Seas by Sydney Parkinson. London, 1784.            Courtesy of State Library of New South Wales

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 to the south seas. 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.


Agnew, V. (2001). A Scots Orpheus in the South Seas: Encounter music on Cook’s second voyage. Journal for Maritime Research, 3(1), 1-27.

Collingridge, V. (2003). Captain Cook Obsession and Betrayal in the New World. Great Britain: Ebury Press.

Cook, James, 1728-1779. The Journals of Captain James Cook on His Voyages of Discovery. Vol. I. The Voyage of the Endeavour, 1768-1771.

Cook, James, 1728-1779. Journal of the H.M.S. Endeavour & National Library of Australia (2008). Cook’s Endeavour journal : the inside story. National Library of Australia, Canberra

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

Mundle, R., & Australian Broadcasting Corporation. (2013). Cook: From sailor to legend. Sydney, NSW: ABC Books.

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


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


The information on this website may be copied for personal use only, and must be acknowledged as from this website. It may not be reproduced for publication without prior permission from Heather Clarke.


This entry was posted in Dance. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *