This Day in History (21-Aug-1770) – James Cook Declares Eastern Australia for Great Britain

In the first of his three expeditions to the South Pacific, Cook managed to be the first man from western Europe to lay eyes upon what is today New South Wales. When he took on the mission, Cook received a grant from the Royal Society to observe the rare celestial occurrence of Venus passing across the sun in the South Pacific and use the information to determine the distance between the Earth and its nearest star.  Seen in 1761 by scientists from Britain, Austria and France at locations all over the world, the Royal Society wished to see if Edmond Halley’s calculations about the transit of Venus were correct.  Dispatching Cook to Tahiti in 1768 for observations, the following year allowed the young navigator ample time to plan his route and gather supplies.

Leaving Plymouth, England on August 26th, Cook sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and down the coast of South America before turning west into the Pacific after rounding Cape Horn.  In mid-April 1769, a minor collection of observations of Venus’ path were made. But the mission also had a hidden military agenda. Cook carried sealed orders instructing him to seek out the “Great Southern Continent,” an undiscovered landmass that was believed to lurk somewhere near the bottom of the globe. Within a few weeks of leaving Tahiti, Cook sailed the HMS Endeavor along the edges of New Zealand, creating a detailed map of the coastline, proving it was a pair of islands and not connected to a larger landmass.   Then he turned toward New Holland – what is now known as Australia – to serve as his guide back toward Southeast Asia on a westward course to Britain.  Early on the morning of April 19, 1770, the southeastern edge of Australia came into view.  Cook and his men entered history as the first Europeans to record seeing that stretch of coastline as they slowly skirted along to the north around the land mass.

While Cook’s journeys took place during a time when Britain was variously at war with the United States, Spain and France, his reputation as a pioneering explorer allowed him to travel the seas with relative impunity.




This Day in History (14-May-1796) – 1st smallpox inoculation administered, by Edward Jenner

For many centuries, smallpox devastated mankind. In the 18th century in Europe alone, 400,000 people died annually of smallpox, and one third of the survivors went blind For many years. The word variola was commonly used for smallpox and is derived from the Latin word varius, meaning “stained,”. Edward Jenner, a medical practioner, had heard the tales that dairymaids were protected from smallpox naturally after having suffered from cowpox. Pondering this, Jenner concluded that cowpox not only protected against smallpox but also could be transmitted from one person to another as a deliberate mechanism of protection.

In May 1796, Edward Jenner found a young dairymaid, Sarah Nelms, who had fresh cowpox lesions on her hands and arms. On May 14, using matter from Nelms’ lesions, he inoculated an 8-year-old boy, James Phipps. Subsequently, the boy developed mild fever and discomfort in the axillae. Nine days after the procedure he felt cold and had lost his appetite, but on the next day he was much better. In July 1796, Jenner inoculated the boy again, this time with matter from a fresh smallpox lesion. No disease developed, and Jenner concluded that protection was complete.

In 1797, Jenner sent a short communication to the Royal Society describing his experiment and observations. However, the paper was rejected. Then in 1798, having added a few more cases to his initial experiment, Jenner privately published a small booklet on the subject. The Latin word for cow is vacca, and cowpox is vaccinia; Jenner decided to call this new procedure vaccination. Jenner conducted a nationwide survey in search of proof of resistance to smallpox or to variolation among persons who had cowpox. The results of this survey confirmed his theory. Jenner’s work represented the first scientific attempt to control an infectious disease by the deliberate use of vaccination. Strictly speaking, he did not discover vaccination but was the first person to confer scientific status on the procedure and to pursue its scientific investigation.


This Day in History (10-May-1901) – Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose, in the hall of the Royal Society, London, proved that “plants and animal have similar touch sense”

Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose is one of the most prominent first Indian scientists who proved by experimentation that both animals and plants share much in common. He demonstrated that plants are also sensitive to heat, cold, light, noise and various other external stimuli. Bose contrived a very sophisticated instrument called Crescograph which could record and observe the minute responses because of external stimulants. It was capable of magnifying the motion of plant tissues to about 10,000 times of their actual size, which found many similarities between plants and other living organisms. Using the Crescograph, he further researched the response of the plants to fertilizers, light rays and wireless waves.

The central hall of the Royal Society in London was jam-packed with famous scientists on May 10, 1901. Everyone seemed to be curious to know how Bose’s experiment will demonstrate that plants have feelings like other living beings and humans. Bose chose a plant whose mots were cautiously dipped up to its stem in a vessel holding the bromide solution. The salts of hydrobromic acid are considered a poison. He plugged in the instrument with the plant and viewed the lighted spot on a screen showing the movements of the plant, as its pulse beat, and the spot began to and fro movement similar to a pendulum. Within minutes, the spot vibrated in a violent manner and finally came to an abrupt stop. The whole thing was almost like a poisoned rat fighting against death. The plant had died due to the exposure to the poisonous bromide solution. The event was greeted with much appreciation,

Sir J. C. Bose also invented the Mercury Coherer (together with the telephone receiver) used by Guglielmo Marconi to receive the radio signal in his first transatlantic radio communication over a distance of 2000 miles. Guglielmo Marconi was celebrated worldwide for this achievement, but the fact that the receiver was invented by Bose was totally concealed.