Joseph Banks (1743-1820)

Sir Joseph Banks 1743-1820

Well known from his adventures on the HMS Endeavour, this 1st baronet was a world class and well known English botanist / naturalist was one of the right hand men of Captain James Cook. He sailed with Cook from 1768 until 1771 exploring the flora and fauna of Australia and the realms inbetween there and England. He is credited for classifying and identifying the acacia, eucalyptus, and many other plants. The Acacia’s genus “Banksia” was named after him as well as over 80 other species of plants. He was founder of the African Association, that was a British chapter focalized on explring Africa. He was also a member of the Dilettanti Society which gave birth to the Royal Academy of Sciences.

Banks was born in London, England to Sarah and WIlliam Banks, wealthy royalty in London Society. He was educated the early age of 9, in the Harrow School and from there at Eton College. Classmates with other well known contributors to science in the world, such as Constantine John Phipps, etc. his inspiration in the sciences was always satiated. He explored his local woods and the Lincolnshire countryside, increasing his interest in botany, nature, and history. By age 17, he was inoculated with small pox which didn’t work for him as he fell ill and had to drop out of school. By late 1760, he became a gentleman-commoner at Oxford University whre he matriculated at Christ Church, focusing his studies on natural history and desiring botanical instruction. He went to Chelsea in 1763, leaving Oxford, through 1764 again leaving school without taking a degree. He inherited a fortune from his father’s passing in 1761, including the Revesby Abbey in Lincolnshire taking on position of local magistrate and squire. He continued with the sciences, and attended the Chelsea Physic Garden of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries as well as the British Museum where be became friends with Daniel Solander, corresponded with Carl Linnaeus, eventually leading to advising King George III. He urged the King to support discovery of the new worlds upon which he would take passage to continued his explorations in botany.

By 1766, as elected member of the Royal Society, he travelled on the HMS Niger to Newfoundland and Labrador exploring the natural histories of those realms. He began publishing the first Linnean descriptions of plants from that region. He documented over 34 species of birds during this exploration. He was later appointed to a joint Royal Navy scientific expedition to the south Pacific Ocean on the HMS Bark Endeavour alongside Captain James Cook and Daniel Solander from 1768-1771. They explored Brazil where he founded the bougainvillea garden plant, onwards around South America, to New Zealand, the east coast of Australia, ending in Botany Bay at the Endeavour River exploring the Great Barrier Reef. He co-authored the first major collection of Australian flora with Daniel Solander and Dr. Herman Spöring Jr. which illustrated over 800 species.

He returned to England in 1771 where fame and fortune welcomed him. Due to ego and demands he had for the next voyage with Cook aboard the Resolution, he was opted out of the expedition. He instead went with Daniel Solander to the Isle of Wight (Scotland) and to Iceland exploring the flora and fauna of those lands followed by a trip of South Wales with the illustrator Paul Sandby where he worked on his 35 volume work the Florilegium. He went on to work as the elected President of the Royal Society for over 41 years. He married in 1779 the Dorothea Hugessen settling in London’s Soho Square where he remained for the rest of his life, hosting scientists, working on his identifications, and publishing his works. He hired Solander as librarian and curator of his collections who were followed by Honas Carlsson Dryander then Robert Brown through the years. During this time, he also owned the estate known as “Spring Grove” consisting of 34 acres along the north side of London Road which was home to a natural spring he was obsessed with. He also spent much of his time here as well as his London home, creating a renowned botanical masterpiece on the estate called “Spring Grove”. He became baronet in 1781 as informal advisor to King George III on the Royal Botanic Gardens (Kew), formalized as a position in 1797, dispatching explorers around the world to gather specimens for his research and identification. This made Kew Gardens one of the pre-eminent botanical gardens in the world. He fostered many famous voyages besides the Endeavour and Australia, such as that of George Vancouver to the Pacific Norwest of North America, William Bligh’s voyage to transplant breadfruit from the South Pacific Rim to the Carribean Islands, and Allan Cunningham’s voyage to Brazil and the north/ northwest coasts of Australia collecting specimens.

Later years he became obsessed with the British Colonization of Australia, and had alot of influence of settling in New South Wales. He recommended Botany Bay to be the best place to place the convict camps. He influenced all returning vessels from New South Wales to bring back trees, plants, and geological specimens for his collection.

He had failing health by the 19th century suffering from gout every winter, and by 1805 lost use of his legs. He became inspired by archaeology around this time and while a member of the Society of Antiquaries most of his life, didn’t take on such a large attraction to the study of human kind until this time. He became founding member of the Wernerian Natural History Society of Edinburgh by 1808. He died on June 19, 1820 in his Spring Grove estate.

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