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Joseph Banks

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Joseph Banks

Sir Joseph Banks, Bt
Joseph Banks, as painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1773
Born (1743-02-24)24 February 1743 (13 February O.S.)
30 Argyll Street, London
Died 19 June 1820(1820-06-19) (aged 77)
Spring Grove House, Isleworth, London, England
Nationality British
Fields Botany
Institutions Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Alma mater University of Oxford
Known for Voyage of HMS Endeavour, exploration of Botany Bay
Author abbrev. (botany) Banks

Sir Joseph Banks, 1st Baronet, GCB, PRS (24 February [O.S. 13 February] 1743 – 19 June 1820)[1] was an English naturalist, botanist and patron of the natural sciences.

Banks made his name on the 1766 natural history expedition to Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and by sending botanists around the world to collect plants, he made Kew the world's leading botanical gardens.

Banks advocated British settlement in New South Wales and colonisation of Australia, as well as the establishment of Botany Bay as a place for the reception of convicts, and advised the British government on all Australian matters.

He is credited with introducing the eucalyptus, acacia, and the genus named after him, Banksia to the Western world. Approximately 80 species of plants bear his name. He was the leading founder of the African Association and a member of the Society of Dilettanti which helped to establish the Royal Academy.


A 1757 portrait of Banks with a botanical illustration. Unknown artist, but attributed to Lemuel Francis Abbott or Johann Zoffany[2]

Banks was born in London to William Banks, a wealthy Lincolnshire country squire and member of the House of Commons, and his wife Sarah, daughter of William Bate. Joseph was educated at Harrow School from the age of 9, and at Eton College from 1756; his fellow students included Constantine John Phipps. As a boy, Banks enjoyed exploring the Lincolnshire countryside, and developed a keen interest in nature, history and botany. When he was 17, he was inoculated with smallpox, but he became ill and did not return to school. In late 1760, he was enrolled as a gentleman-commoner at the University of Oxford. At Oxford, he matriculated at Christ Church, where his studies were largely focused on natural history rather than the classical curriculum. Determined to receive botanical instruction, he paid the Cambridge botanist Israel Lyons to deliver a series of lectures at Oxford in 1764.[3]

Banks left Oxford for [5]

Newfoundland and Labrador

In 1766 Banks was elected to the Royal Society, and in the same year, at 23, he went with Phipps aboard the frigate HMS Niger to Newfoundland and Labrador with a view to studying their natural history. He made his name by publishing the first Linnean descriptions of the plants and animals of Newfoundland and Labrador. His diary, describing his expedition to Newfoundland, was rediscovered recently in the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia.[6][7] Banks also documented 34 species of birds, including the Great Auk, which became extinct in 1844. On 7 May, he noted a large number of "Penguins" swimming around the ship on the Grand Banks, and a specimen he collected in Chateau Bay, Labrador, was later identified as the Great Auk.[8]

Endeavour voyage

Dr Daniel Solander, Sir Joseph Banks, Captain James Cook, Dr John Hawkesworth and Earl Sandwich by John Hamilton Mortimer.[1] Use a cursor to see who is who.[2]

Banks was appointed to a joint Royal Navy/Royal Society scientific expedition to the south Pacific Ocean on HMS Endeavour, 1768–1771. This was the first of James Cook's voyages of discovery in that region. Banks funded seven others to join him: a Swedish naturalist Daniel Solander, a Finnish naturalist Herman Spöring, two artists, a scientific secretary, and two black servants from his estate.[9]

The voyage went to Brazil, where Banks made the first scientific description of a now common garden plant, bougainvillea (named after Cook's French counterpart, Louis Antoine de Bougainville), and to other parts of South America. The voyage then progressed to Tahiti (where the transit of Venus was observed, the overt purpose of the mission), to New Zealand and to the east coast of Australia, where Cook mapped the coastline and made landfall at Botany Bay and at Endeavour River (near modern Cooktown) in Queensland, where they spent almost seven weeks ashore while the ship was repaired after becoming holed on the Great Barrier Reef.[7] While they were in Australia Banks, Daniel Solander and the Finnish botanist Dr. Herman Spöring Jr. made the first major collection of Australian flora, describing many species new to science. Almost 800 specimens were illustrated by the artist Sydney Parkinson and appear in Banks' Florilegium, finally published in 35 volumes between 1980 and 1990.

Satire on Banks titled "The Botanic Macaroni", by Matthew Darly, 1772. A macaroni was a pejorative term used for a follower of exaggerated continental fashion in the 18th Century

Return home

Banks arrived back in England on 12 July 1771 and immediately became famous. He intended to go with Cook on his second voyage, which began on 13 May 1772, but difficulties arose about Banks' scientific requirements on board Cook's new ship, Resolution. The Admiralty regarded Banks' demands as unacceptable and without prior warning withdrew his permission to sail. In July of the same year he and Daniel Solander visited the Isle of Wight, the western islands of Scotland and Iceland[7] aboard Sir Lawrence and returned with many botanical specimens. In 1773, he toured south Wales in the company of artist Paul Sandby.[10] When he settled in London he began work on his Florilegium. He kept in touch with most of the scientists of his time, was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1773, and added a fresh interest when he was elected to the Dilettante Society in 1774. He was afterwards secretary of this society from 1778 to 1797. On 30 November 1778 he was elected President of the Royal Society,[7] a position he was to hold with great distinction for over 41 years.

Banks as painted by Benjamin West in 1773.

In March 1779, Banks married Dorothea Hugessen, daughter of W. W. Hugessen, and settled in a large house at 32 Soho Square (now comprising British offices for 20th Century Fox). It continued to be his London residence for the remainder of his life. There he welcomed the scientists, students and authors of his period, and many distinguished foreign visitors. His sister Sarah Sophia Banks lived in the house with Banks and his wife. He had as librarian and curator of his collections Solander, Jonas Carlsson Dryander and Robert Brown in succession.

Also in 1779, Banks took a lease on an estate called Spring Grove, the former residence of Elisha Biscoe (1705–1776),[11] which he eventually bought outright from Biscoe's son also Elisha in 1808. The picture shows the house in 1815. Its thirty-four acres ran along the northern side of the London Road, Isleworth and contained a natural spring, which was an important attraction to him. Banks spent much time and effort on this secondary home. He steadily created a renowned botanical masterpiece on the estate, achieved primarily with many of the great variety of foreign plants he had collected on his extensive travels around the world, particularly to Australia and the South Seas. The surrounding district became known as 'Spring Grove'.

Banks' house in Isleworth

The house was substantially extended and rebuilt by later owners and is now part of West Thames College.

Banks was made a Pacific Northwest), and William Bligh's voyages to transplant breadfruit from the South Pacific to the Caribbean islands. Banks was also a major financial supporter of William Smith in his decade-long efforts to create a geological map of England, the first geological map of an entire country. He also chose Allan Cunningham for voyages to Brazil and the north and northwest coasts of Australia to collect specimens.

Sir Joseph Banks (center), together with Omai (left) and Daniel Solander, painted by William Parry, ca. 1775–76.

Colonisation of New South Wales

It was Banks's own time in Australia, however, that led to his interest in the British George Caley, Robert Brown and Allan Cunningham.

Later life

This 1812 print depicts Banks as president of the Royal Society, wearing the insignia of the Order of the Bath
In The great South Sea Caterpillar, transform'd into a Bath Butterfly (1795), James Gillray caricatured Banks's investiture with the Order of the Bath as a result of his expedition.

Banks was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1788.[13] Among other activities, Banks found time to serve as a trustee of the British Museum for 42 years.[14] He was High Sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1794.

He worked with Sir Macartney Embassy returned to London without obtaining any concession from China, the mission could have been termed a success because it brought back detailed observations. This multi-volume work was taken chiefly from the papers of Lord Macartney and from the papers of Sir Erasmus Gower, who was Commander of the expedition. Banks was responsible for selecting and arranging engraving of the illustrations in this official record.[15]

Banks's health began to fail early in the 19th century and he suffered from gout[7] every winter. After 1805 he practically lost the use of his legs and had to be wheeled to his meetings in a chair, but his mind remained as vigorous as ever. He had been a member of the Society of Antiquaries nearly all his life, and he developed an interest in archaeology in his later years. He was made an honorary founding member of the Wernerian Natural History Society of Edinburgh in 1808. In 1809, his friend Alexander Henry dedicated his travel book to him. In May 1820 he forwarded his resignation as president of the Royal Society, but withdrew it at the request of the council. He died on 19 June 1820 in Spring Grove House, Isleworth, and was buried at St Leonard's Church, Heston. Lady Banks survived him, but there were no children.[7]


1967 Australian paper note obverse featuring Joseph Banks
Sir Joseph Banks by Anne Seymour Damer, British Library
Portrait of Banks by Thomas Phillips (1810).

Banks was a major supporter of the internationalist nature of science, being actively involved both in keeping open the lines of communication with continental scientists during the Napoleonic Wars, and in introducing the British people to the wonders of the wider world. He was honoured with many place names in the South Pacific: Banks Peninsula on the South Island, New Zealand; the Banks Islands in modern-day Vanuatu; the Banks Strait between Tasmania and the Furneaux Islands; Banks Island in the Northwest Territories, Canada; and the Sir Joseph Banks Group in South Australia.[16]

The Canberra suburb of Banks, the electoral Division of Banks, and the Sydney suburbs of Bankstown, Banksia and Banksmeadow are all named after him. An image of Banks was featured on the Australian paper $5 note before it was replaced by the later polymer currency.

Banks' house was used for the offices of the Zoological Society of London.

In 1986 Banks was honoured by his portrait being depicted on a postage stamp issued by Australia Post.[17]

In Lincoln, England, The Sir Joseph Banks Conservatory is located at The Lawn, Lincoln adjacent to Lincoln Castle. Its tropical hot house has numerous plants related to Banks's voyages, with samples from across the world, including Australia. A plaque was installed in Lincoln Cathedral in his honour. In Boston, Lincolnshire, Banks was Recorder for the town. His portrait, painted in 1814 by Thomas Phillips, was commissioned by the Corporation of Boston, as a tribute to one whose 'judicious and active exertions improved and enriched this borough and neighbourhood'. It cost them 100 guineas. The portrait is now hanging in the Council Chamber of the Guildhall Museum.

The Sir Joseph Banks Centre is located in Horncastle, Lincolnshire, housed in a Grade II listed building which was recently restored by the Heritage Trust of Lincolnshire to celebrate Banks' life. Horncastle is located a few miles from Banks' Revesby estate and the naturalist was the town's Lord of the Manor. The centre is located in Bridge Street. It boasts research facilities, historic links to Australia, and a garden in which rare plants can be viewed and purchased.

At the 2011 Chelsea Flower Show, an exhibition garden celebrated the historic link between Banks and the botanical discoveries of flora and fauna on his journey through South America, Tahiti, New Zealand and eventually Australia on Captain Cook's ship Endeavour. The competition garden was the entry of Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens with an Australian theme. It was based on the metaphorical journey of water through the continent, related to the award-winning Australian Garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Cranbourne. The design won a gold medal.[18]

In 1911 the London County Council marked Banks' house at 32 Soho Square with a blue plaque. This was replaced in 1938 with a rectangular stone plaque commemorating Banks as well as botanists David Don and Robert Brown and meetings of the Linnean Society.[19]

Banks appears in the historical novel Mutiny on the Bounty, by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. He is also featured in Elizabeth Gilbert's 2013 best-selling novel,The Signature of All Things.

See also


  1. ^ Sir Joseph Banks, Baronet. Retrieved on 22 June 2013.
  2. ^ O'Brian, Patrick (1993) Joseph Banks: A Life. London: David R. Godine, pp. 23–24, ISBN 0-87923-930-1.
  3. ^ John Gascoigne, Banks, Sir Joseph, baronet (1743–1820), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004 doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/1300.
  4. ^ Banks was however awarded an honorary degree by Oxford University upon his return from his voyage to the South Seas. See; Banks, Sir Joseph,Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Scribner, 1970.
  5. ^ Jackson, John (October 2007). "Specialist Lodges". MQ Magazine (27): ns. 
  6. ^ Tuck, Leslie. Montevecchi, William. Nuttall Ornithological Club (1987). Newfoundland Birds, Exploitation, Study, Conservation, Harvard University.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Gilbert, L. A. (1966). "Banks, Sir Joseph (1743–1820)".  
  8. ^ Lysaght, Averil M. (1971) Joseph Banks in Newfoundland and Labrador, 1766 Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 168, ISBN 0-520-01780-3.
  9. ^ Richard Holmes (2009). The Age of Wonder. HarperPress. , p. 10. Holmes incorrectly states that Green's first name was William, not Charles.
  10. ^ Colley, Linda (2009), "Men at arms", The Guardian, 7 November 2009.
  11. ^ Susan Reynolds (editor) Heston and Isleworth, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 3: Victoria County History, 1962
  12. ^ Journals of the House of Commons, 19 Geo. III, 1779, Vol. 37, p. 311. [1]
  13. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 17 May 2011. 
  14. ^ Anderson, R. G. W. (2008). "Joseph Banks and the British Museum, The World of Collecting, 1770–1830". Journal of the History of Collections 20: 151.  
  15. ^ Banks, Joseph. Papers of Sir Joseph Banks; Section 12: Lord Macartney's embassy to China; Series 62: Papers concerning publication of the account of Lord Macartney's Embassy to China, ca 1797. [State Library of New South Wales.]
  16. ^  
  17. ^ Australian 90c postal stamp. JPG image.
  18. ^ Gadd, Denise (25 May 2011). "In full bloom at Chelsea". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  19. ^ "BANKS, SIR JOSEPH (1743–1820), BROWN, ROBERT (1773–1858), DON, DAVID (1800–1841)". English Heritage. Retrieved 22 March 2013. 
  20. ^ "'"Author Query for 'Banks.  


Primary resources

Secondary resources

  • Carter, Harold Burnell (1988) Sir Joseph Banks, 1743–1820 London: British Museum of Natural History ISBN 0-565-00993-1;
  • Durt, Tania (2007) "Joseph Banks", pp. 173–181 in The Great Naturalists, edited by Robert Huxley. London: Thames & Hudson with the Natural History Museum.
  • Fara, Patricia (2004) Sex, Botany & Empire: The Story Of Carl Linnaeus And Joseph Banks. New York: Columbia University Press ISBN 0-231-13426-6
  • Gascoigne, John (1994) Joseph Banks and the English Enlightenment: Useful Knowledge and Polite Culture Cambridge: Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-54211-1
  • Gascoigne, John (1998) Science in the Service of Empire: Joseph Banks, The British State and the Uses of Science in the Age of Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-55069-6
  • Holmes, Richard (2009) 'Joseph Banks in Paradise', in The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science.
  • Kryza, Frank T. (207) The Race to Timbuktu: In Search of Africa's City of Gold. New York: HarperCollins ISBN 0-06-056065-7
  • O'Brian, Patrick 1993 Joseph Banks: A Life. London: David R. Godine, 1993. ISBN 0-87923-930-1, reprinted by University of Chicago Press, 1997 ISBN 0-226-61628-2
  • ——— 1987 Sir Joseph Banks London: Harvill Press. ISBN 0-00-272340-9

Select unpublished monographs

  • Cameron, H. C. (1952) Sir Joseph Banks, K.B., P.R.S.; the Autocrat of the Philosophers, University of London.
  • Carter, H. B. (1964) His Majesty's Spanish Flock: Sir Joseph Banks and the Merinos of George III of England, University of Sydney.
  • Dawson, W. R. (ed) (1958) The Banks Letters, University of London.
  • Duncan, A. (1821) A Short Account of the Life of the Right Honourable Sir Joseph Banks, University of Edinburgh.
  • Gilbert, L. (1962) Botanical Investigation of Eastern Seaboard Australia, 1788–1810, B.A. thesis, University of New England, Australia.
  • Mackaness, G. (1936) Sir Joseph Banks. His Relations with Australia, University of Sydney.


Novels based on a mix of historical fact and conjecture about Banks' early life include:

External links

  • Works by Joseph Banks at Project Gutenberg Australia (note, might still be copyright in other countries)
  • Dictionary of Canadian Biography OnlineBiography at the
  • Correspondence concerning Iceland: written to Sir Joseph Banks, 1772–1818, from the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
  • Lovell, Jennifer. "A Bath Butterfly Botany and Eighteenth Century Sexual Politics." National Library of Australia News 15.7 (April 2005).
  • Sir Joseph Banks Society. "New Society based in Lincolnshire, England"
  • British Museum: Bronze portrait bust of Sir Joseph Banks by Anne Seymour Damer (1814)
  • BBC: Historic figures; BBC-Radio4: Science at Sea
  • Archival material relating to Joseph Banks listed at the UK National Archives
  • Papers of Sir Joseph Banks — State Library of New South Wales
  • William Bligh's letters to Sir Joseph Banks concerning the first Breadfruit Expedition
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