The Remarkable Influence of Sir Joseph Banks

This entry is part [part not set] of 2 in the series Intriguing Intellectuals
This entry is part [part not set] of 3 in the series Age of Reason and Enlightenment

Joseph Banks 1743 – 1820

Joseph Banks was, quite possibly, one of the most important and influential men of the late 18th century, early 19th century.

Born into wealth he was able to indulge his interest in botanical science from an early age. In that, he was fortunate but it was his driving intellect, his intense pursuit for scientific knowledge, his ability to communicate and his role as liberal benefactor, that created a personality whose achievements we still enjoy and are amazed at today.

  • He was educated as you would expect at Harrow, Eton and finally studied at Oxford University, although with a professor of botany from Cambridge, although he never completed his degree.
  • He set off on an exploratory expedition to Newfoundland and Labrador where he made his first major collection of plants, rocks and animals.
  • On his return he joined the Royal Society and  although at times it was a controversial relationship, it would last his whole life.
  • His continuing work in botany led him to being asked to join Captain Cook on board the Endeavour, on it’s expedition to Tahiti, indeed he funded the expedition.
  • He made the study of the botany of Australia his life’s work, indeed he is known as the ‘Father of Australia’
  • You can read and explore Sir Joseph Banks journal from the Endeavour here, with thanks to Australian Gutenberg Project.
Sir Joseph Banks

Joseph Banks by Reynolds 1773

Joseph Banks interest in Australia did not end there.

He championed the settlement of New South Wales as a penal colony, from the start and remained connected with this cause all his life. The captains of the ships sailing there, would collect animals and plants for him.

  • He was made President of the Royal Society from 1778 – 1820
  • He was made a Member of the Order of the Bath in 1795, there is a wonderful illustrated cartoon which shows his metamorphosis from a caterpillar to a butterfly. Very witty given his scientific background.
  • He worked closely with other great and emerging scientists of the age, people such as Humphrey Davy were championed by Banks
  • King George asked Banks to set up the Royal botanical collection that would become Kew Gardens, the world’s most important collection of botanical material.
Sir Joseph Banks was made a Knight of the Order of the Bath in 1795.

Sir Joseph Banks was made a Knight of the Order of the Bath in 1795.

His interest in science and life did not stop there he belonged to numerous societies and clubs:

  • The Royal Society
  • Society of Arts
  • Dilettante Society
  • Society of Antiquaries
  • Royal Institute
  • Engineers Society
  • Literary Club, the list goes on.

He was also on the board of many committees, Banks was a practical man whose fine intellect allowed him to converse across a multitude of subjects.

  • the Board of Longitude
  • the Coin Committee
  • and the British Museum are just examples.

An ‘enlightened’ man certainly, whose influence and connections were far reaching.

Find out more at the Joseph Banks Society.



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