Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)

Perhaps the most influential of Britain’s many botanical explorers, Joseph Banks was born on February 24, 1743 (died 1820).  He explored the world collecting plant specimens, and he led the early development of Kew Royal Botanical Gardens.

Banks was born to a wealthy and privileged family.  He attended the best schools, including Eton, where he learned to love plants, specifically the wildflowers that grew around the school’s grounds.  He went on to study botany at Cambridge, famously paying personally for a botany professor who could advance Banks’ knowledge.  His father died when Banks was 18, leaving him in control of several estates and a large personal fortune.  Rather than dallying in polite society, as many did, Banks applied his funds to his botanical explorations.

Bust of Sir Joseph Banks at Kew Royal Botanical Gardens Herbarium (photo by Larry Nielsen)

His early explorations took him to Labrador and Newfoundland, but it was his voyage with Captain Cook that earned his place in history.  He accompanied Cook on his first voyage to the South Pacific, from 1768 to 1771, sailing on the Endeavour.  Banks contributed 10,000 British pounds to fund the outfitting of the ship for scientific work (equal to many millions in today’s money).  He sailed with Cook for three years, visiting South America, the South Pacific islands, Australia and New Zealand.  He collected specimens of more than 3000 plant species, 1300 of which were new to European science.  The flora of Australia was so astonishing to Banks that he named one collecting point Botany Bay (later to become famous as the location of a prison). The specimens from the voyage formed the nucleus of the botanical collection for the British Museum (those collections were later transferred to the new London Natural History Museum).

Specimen collected by Joseph Banks on voyage with Captain Cook to South Pacific (photo by Larry Nielsen)

Banks had been made a member of the Royal Society before the voyage, but upon returning his status was highly elevated.  He was elected president in 1778, and held that position for the next 42 years until his death.  He became the scientific advisor to King George III.  A particularly important royal duty for Banks was as director of what would become the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens.  Banks dispatched voyages around the world to bring back living specimens for the gardens, thousands of species from across the world.  He was particularly interested in plants that would be useful for economic purposes—agriculture, medicine, textiles, ornamentation.  Since then, Kew has become the world’s leading botanical repository for both growing plants and for seeds preserved in cold-storage.

(Note:  There seems to be some confusion about the actual date of Banks’ birth.  It is stated as February 13 in several references, but this is apparently the “Old Style” of dating from British history.  Other references cite the birth as occurring on February 24, the date I have used.)

References:

Encyclopedia Britannica.  Sir Joseph Banks, British Naturalist.  Available at:  https://www.britannica.com/biography/Joseph-Banks.  Accessed February 14, 2018.

Endersby, Jim.  2014.  How botanical gardens helped establish the British Empire.  Financial Times, July 25, 2014.  Available at:  https://www.ft.com/content/dcd33da0-0e69-11e4-a1ae-00144feabdc0.  Accessed February 14, 2018.

Gilbert, L. A.  1966.  Banks, Sir Joseph (1743-1820).  Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1 (MUP), 1966.  Available at:  http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/banks-sir-joseph-1737.  Accessed February 14, 2018.

PlantExplorers.com.  Joseph Banks 1743-1820.  Available at:  https://www.plantexplorers.com/explorers/biographies/banks/joseph-banks-01.htm.  Accessed February 14, 2018.

This Month in Conservation

June 1
US Announced Withdrawal from Paris Climate Agreement (2017)
June 2
Edwin Way Teale, Nature Writer, Born (1899)
June 2
Rodne Galicha, Philippine Environmentalist, Born (1979)
June 3
The World’s First Wilderness Area Established (1924)
June 4
Gaylord Nelson, Politician and Conservationist, Born (1916)
June 5
World Environment Day
June 6
Novarupta Volcano Erupted in Alaska (1912)
June 7
Thomas Malthus Published His Famous Essay (1798)
June 8
Bryce Canyon National Park Created (1923)
June 9
Coral Triangle Day
June 10
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June 11
Jacques Cousteau, Ocean Explorer, Born (1910)
June 12
Frank Chapman, Creator of the Christmas Bird Count, Born (1864)
June 13
Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, Born (1944)
June 14
Bramble Cay Melomys Went Extinct (2016)
June 15
Global Wind Day
June 16
Gray Whale Delisted (1994)
June 17
World Day to Combat Desertification
June 18
Alexander Wetmore, Ornithologist and Smithsonian Leader, Born (1866)
June 19
Feast of the Forest, Palawan, Philippines
June 20
Great Barrier Reef Protected (1975)
June 21
World Hydrography Day
June 22
Cuyahoga River Burst into Flames (1969)
June 23
Antarctic Treaty Implemented (1961)
June 24
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June 25
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June 26
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June 27
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June 28
Mark Shand, Asian Elephant Conservationist, Born (1951)
June 29
Mesa Verde National Park Created (1906)
June 30
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Created (1940)
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