THIS year marks the 250th anniversary of Middlesbrough’s most famous son, Captain James Cook, setting sail on his first voyage of discovery on the Endeavour.

It was a voyage that changed our perceptions of the world. His crew were the first westerners to see the east coast of Australia and only the second to discover New Zealand. They were the first to see kangaroos and surfing; their mathematical observations helped to create the system of longitude.

And Able Seaman Robert Stainsby, from Darlington, became the first westerner to get a tattoo.

What an incredible – and indelible – claim to fame!

Stainsby was born in 1741, the third child of William and Hanna, of Darlington. He was one of the first to join Cook’s crew, suggesting that he had some sea-going experience before.

The HM Bark Endeavour sailed from Plymouth on August 26, 1768, carrying 94 people, and it reached Tahiti on April 13, 1769. They waited to observe the transit of Venus across the face of the Sun, to help with the refinement of longitude.

They also observed the island natives.

In July 1769, Capt Cook wrote in his journal: ““Both sexes paint their bodys Tattow as it is called in their language, this is done by inlaying the Colour of black under their skins in such a manner as to be indelible.”

He said the black oil, collected by burning the candlenut, was pricked into the skin by instruments made from thin pieces of bone or shell.

“One end is cut into sharp teeth and the other fasten’d to a handle; the teeth are diped into the black liquor and then drove by quick sharp blows struck upon the handle with a stick for that purpose into the skin so deep that every stroke is followed (with) a small quantity of blood. The part so marked remains sore for some days before it heals.”

He concludes: “As this is a painfull operation especially the tattowing their buttocks it is perform’d but once in their life time, it is never done until they are 12 or 14 years of age.”

The peoples covered in swirls and stars, and the painful process, obviously intrigued the British sailors. It intrigued them so much that a small party plucked up courage to give it a go.

Sydney Parkinson, a Scottish botanical illustrator, wrote in his diary on July 13, 1769: "Mr Stainsby, myself, and some others of our company, underwent the operation, and had our arms marked.”

And so an inky link can be traced from the tattooed torsos of Premiership footballers right back to the arms of a Darlingtonian 249 years ago who started the craze.

Is it too much to hope that there is still a Stainsby in the area who is descended from the first tattooed man?

With thanks to Philip Sedgwick