Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820)
Sir Joseph Banks inherited his father’s estates in Lincolnshire
and considerable wealth in 1761. His first voyage of discovery was
to the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador on HMS Niger, and on
his return to London in 1767, he was elected a member of the Royal
Society at the age of just 23.
When the Society proposed an expedition to observe the transit
of Venus in the Pacific in 1769, Banks was able to finance his own
team of scientists and assistants, including the botanist Daniel
Solander and the artist Sydney Parkinson. HMS Endeavour under James
Cook left England in August 1768.
Banks’s extensive botanical collections formed the basis
of the herbarium kept at his home in Soho Square. Instead of joining
Cook’s subsequent voyages, he mounted his own expedition
to Iceland, the Hebrides and Orkney in 1772. This was his last major
voyage; thereafter he exercised his influence from home.
Banks became the friend of George III, with whom he shared an interest
in agriculture and rural affairs, and from 1773 he acted as unofficial
director of the Royal Gardens at Kew. Banks organised the first
Kew collectors, including Francis Masson, James Bowie and Allan
Cunningham, and specimens arrived from all over the growing British
empire. Under his supervision Kew became one of the foremost botanical
gardens in the world.
Banks was involved in most British voyages of discovery of his
day, including the Bounty voyage under William Bligh, 1787-1789,
Bligh’s later voyage in HMS Providence, and Matthew Flinders’s
circumnavigation of Australia, 1800-1805. He also organised the
introduction of the first sheep into Australia.
In 1778, Banks was elected President of the Royal Society, a position
he held for the remainder of his life.
Banks Archive (based at the Natural History Museum)
Sir Joseph Banks Building (housing Kew’s Economic Botany
Several portraits of Sir Joseph Banks can be found in the collections
of the National Portrait Gallery.
Further information about Banks and his contribution to the world
of science can be found in Sir Joseph Banks: A Global Perspective,
published by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
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