Find the past “On This Day in History” here.
August 25 is the 237th day of the year (238th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 128 days remaining until the end of the year.
On this day in 1768, James Cook began his first voyage to travel to the Pacific Ocean to observe and record the transit of Venus across the Sun. This would be the first of three voyages that would be hailed as heroic by the scientific community.
The routes of Captain James Cook’s voyages. The first voyage is shown in red, second voyage in green, and third voyage in blue. The route of Cook’s crew following his death is shown as a dashed blue line.
In 1766, the Royal Society hired (James) Cook to travel to the Pacific Ocean to observe and record the transit of Venus across the Sun. Cook was promoted to Lieutenant and named as commander of the expedition. The expedition sailed from England in 1768, rounded Cape Horn and continued westward across the Pacific to arrive at Tahiti on 13 April 1769, where the observations were to be made. However, the result of the observations was not as conclusive or accurate as had been hoped. Cook later mapped the complete New Zealand coastline, making only some minor errors. He then sailed west, reaching the south-eastern coast of the Australian continent on 19 April 1770, and in doing so his expedition became the first recorded Europeans to have encountered its eastern coastline.
On 23 April he made his first recorded direct observation of indigenous Australians at Brush Island near Bawley Point, noting in his journal: “…and were so near the Shore as to distinguish several people upon the Sea beach they appear’d to be of a very dark or black Colour but whether this was the real colour of their skins or the C[l]othes they might have on I know not.” On 29 April Cook and crew made their first landfall on the mainland of the continent at a place now known as the Kurnell Peninsula, which he named Botany Bay after the unique specimens retrieved by the botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander. It is here that James Cook made first contact with an Aboriginal tribe known as the Gweagal.
After his departure from Botany Bay he continued northwards, and a mishap occurred when Endeavour ran aground on a shoal of the Great Barrier Reef, on 11 June, and “nursed into a river mouth on 18 June 1770.” The ship was badly damaged and his voyage was delayed almost seven weeks while repairs were carried out on the beach (near the docks of modern Cooktown, at the mouth of the Endeavour River). Once repairs were complete the voyage continued, sailing through Torres Strait and on 22 August he landed on Possession Island, where he claimed the entire coastline he had just explored as British territory. He returned to England via Batavia (modern Jakarta, Indonesia), the Cape of Good Hope and the island of Saint Helena, arriving on 12 July 1771.
1248 – The Dutch city of Ommen receives city rights and fortification rights from Otto III, the Archbishop of Utrecht.
1537 – The Honourable Artillery Company, the oldest surviving regiment in the British Army, and the second most senior, is formed.
1580 – Battle of Alcantara. Spain defeats Portugal.
1609 – Galileo Galilei demonstrates his first telescope to Venetian lawmakers.
1758 – Seven Years’ War: Frederick II of Prussia defeats the Russian army at the Battle of Zorndorf.
1768 – James Cook begins his first voyage.
1814 – Washington, D.C. is burned and White House is destroyed by British forces during the War of 1812.
1825 – Uruguay declares its independence from Brazil.
1830 – The Belgian Revolution begins.
1835 – The New York Sun perpetrates the Great Moon Hoax.
1894 – Shibasaburo Kitasato discovers the infectious agent of the bubonic plague and publishes his findings in The Lancet.
1898 – 700 Greek civilians, 17 British guards and the British Consul of Crete are killed by a Turkish mob in Heraklion, Greece.
1910 – Yellow Cab is founded.
1912 – The Kuomintang, the Chinese nationalist party, is founded.
1916 – The United States National Park Service is created.
1920 – Polish-Soviet War: Battle of Warsaw, which began on August 13, ends. The Red Army is defeated.
1921 – The first skirmishes of the Battle of Blair Mountain occur.
1942 – World War II: Battle of Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea.
1942 – World War II: second day of the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. A Japanese naval transport convoy headed towards Guadalcanal is turned-back by an Allied air attack, losing one destroyer and one transport sunk, and one light cruiser heavily damaged.
1944 – World War II: Paris is liberated by the Allies.
1945 – Ten days after World War II ends with Japan announcing its surrender, armed supporters of the Communist Party of China kill Baptist missionary John Birch, regarded by some of the American right as the first victim of the Cold War.
1948 – The House Un-American Activities Committee holds first-ever televised congressional hearing: “Confrontation Day” between Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss.
1950 – President Harry Truman orders the US Army to seize control of the nation’s railroads to avert a strike.
1980 – Zimbabwe joins the United Nations.
1981 – Voyager 2 spacecraft makes its closest approach to Saturn
1989 – Tadeusz Mazowiecki is chosen as the first non-communist Prime Minister in Central and Eastern Europe.
1989 – Voyager 2 spacecraft makes its closest approach to Neptune, the outermost planet in the Solar System.
1989 – Mayumi Moriyama becomes Japan’s first female cabinet secretary.
1991 – Belarus declares its independence from the Soviet Union
1991 – The Battle of Vukovar has begun. An 87-day siege of a Croatian city by the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), supported by various Serbian paramilitary forces, between August-November 1991 during the Croatian War of Independence.
1997 – Egon Krenz, the former East German leader, is convicted of a shoot-to-kill policy at the Berlin Wall.