Banks, Joseph

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Banks, Joseph (1743-1820): English Naturalist.

As a young naturalist, Joseph Banks accompanied Cook, James on the Endeavour's voyage to Australia, earning the title of "father" of that country for his long-term encouragement of British colonial projects there; eventually, he sustained an extraordinary network of scientific connections that enriched the British Museum's holdings, encouraged naturalists around the world and helped to extend the reach of British influence globally.

Born to an affluent family, Banks attended Eton and Oxford, conceiving a passion for botany at 16. Linnaeus, Carolus's disciple Daniel Solander tutored Banks on his first scientific voyage, to Labrador, Newfoundland and Portugal in 1766-67. The great watershed of his life was the Cook voyage of 1768-71, which, sponsored by the Royal Society of London, allowed him to collect specimens and impressions in Madeira, Brazil, Tierra del Fuego, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Batavia, South Africa and St Helena. In 1772, on the Resolution, Banks and Solander visited Staffa and Iceland. The Fellows of the Royal Society voted Banks President in 1778, and he remained active in the institution, the decadence of which he worked to reverse, for forty-one years. As President of this body, addressing the British House of Commons on penal issues, he recommended Botany Bay, New South Wales, Australia, as an ideal site for prisoners sentenced to a long term; in 1787, the so-called First Fleet sailed for this destination. In 1797, George III appointed Banks officially to his Privy Council.

Further Reading:

H.B. Carter, Sir Joseph Banks, 1988.

Eric Miller