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Sir Joseph Banks

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About Sir Joseph Banks

British explorer and naturalist.

Joseph Banks (1743-1820) was a man of considerable means and talent. He studied at Harrow and Oxford, during which time he inherited a large fortune. His primary interest was plants, particularly those that could be used for practical purposes. His first expedition was to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1766, Banks returned with a huge number of plant and insect specimens. He was just 23 and already he was acknowledged as an expert field botanist.

Shortly after his return, Banks was admitted as a Fellow of the Royal Society(in 18th-century England he was known as the uncrowned king of the study of natural history) and, in 1768, when the Society proposed an expedition to study the Transit of Venus, using his own money, he joined the voyage with a team of scientists. He took with him the illustrator Sydney Parkinson to make drawings of plants in their natural landscape. He also took his great friend and scientist Daniel Solander. The expedition to the Pacific was in the Endeavour, James Cook was Captain.

The Endeavour anchored on the southern coast of Australia, where Banks and Solander got their first glimpse of kangaroo, and were excited by the diversity of plants they were able to collect. It was this excitement which caused Cook to christen the place Botany Bay! The journey took three years and was a great success, the Transit of Venus was viewed from Tahiti, Cook was able to further his progress charting the oceans of the world and Banks returned with a wealth of plants and illustrations, quite beyond his wildest
dreams. In 1771 the party were welcomed home as heroes. Joseph Banks was feted, and his home in Soho Square, where he housed his huge collection became a focus for scientists and one of London's brightest social centres.

Banks began to widen his interests, he became the unofficial director of Kew Botanic Gardens, the development of which had begun at Kew Palace by the Royal family. It was at Banks suggestion that Kew sent Francis Masson to undertake Kew's first ever overseas mission to hunt for plants, bulbs and exotic flowers. It was the first of many such journeys, news of which encouraged the French, Louis XV to despatch his botanists off to the Pacific. Through his work at Kew, Banks met George III, they discussed agricultural matters and the fact that Kew was rapidly becoming the foremost botanical garden in the world, which was largely due to the dedication and effort of Banks who had furnished Kew with plants from all around the globe.

In 1778, Banks was elected President of the Royal Society. From this position, which he held for 41 years, he furthered the cause of science, set up exchanges with scientists abroad, encouraged an interest in plant-life and the developing careers of such men as Robert Brown who later became famous for his discovery of Brownian motion. His written works did much to encourage Europeans to travel to the Pacific and it is this period that is deemed to be the start of European settlement in the Pacific regions.

Banks prominence grew, he was instrumental in promoting further British voyages of discovery which brought much credit to England. He was made a Baronet in 1781, and in 1795 he received a Knighthood. Two years later he was invited to join the Privy Council, and later his name was given to the Banks Islands in the Pacific by Captain Bligh (Mutiny on the Bounty) who had first discovered them.

The life-times work of Joseph Banks lives on, his collection of shells can be seen in the Department of Zoology, and the collection of books amassed during his life are in the British Library. Joseph Banks may have started out as an amateur of natural history, but he ended his life as a celebrated human being who had attained high office. No man during his era had done more to further the cause of English scientific exploration and research into natural history, exotic flowers, plants and bulbs. On his death in 1820 at the age of 77, Sir Joseph Banks was still President of the Royal Society, a post he had held for 41 years. To-day, his contribution to the science of natural history ranks amongst the greatest in the world.

Other famous people alive at the time of Sir Joseph Banks

Thomas BewickBorn August 1753, died 8th November 1828 aged 75
William BlakeBorn 28th November 1757, died 12th August 1827 aged 69
Capability BrownBorn 1716, died 6th February 1783 aged 67
John ByngBorn 29th October 1704, died 14th March 1757 aged 52
George CanningBorn 11th April 1770, died 8th August 1827 aged 57
Charles John CanningBorn 14th December 1812, died 17th June 1862 aged 49
Henry CavendishBorn 10th October 1731, died 24th February 1810 aged 78
Captain James CookBorn 27th October 1728, died 14th February 1779 aged 50
Elizabeth GaskellBorn 29th September 1810, died 12th November 1865 aged 55
Robert HawkerBorn 3rd December 1803, died 15th August 1875 aged 71
Robert OwenBorn 14th May 1771, died 17th November 1858 aged 87
John PeelBorn 1776, died 1854 aged 78
Robert PeelBorn 5th February 1788, died 2nd July 1850 aged 62
Joseph PriestleyBorn 13th March 1733, died 8th February 1804 aged 70
Humphry ReptonBorn 21st April 1752, died 24th March 1818 aged 65
Peter Mark RogetBorn 18th January 1779, died 12th September 1869 aged 90
Queen VictoriaBorn 24th May 1819, died 22nd January 1901 aged 81

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