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Series Two: The Papers of Sir Joseph Banks, 1743-1820

Part 1: Correspondence and Papers Relating to Voyages of Discovery, 1740-1805

Part 2: Correspondence and Papers Relating to Voyages of Discovery, 1760-1800

Part 3: Correspondence and Papers Relating to Voyages of Discovery, 1743-1853


Publisher's Note

Sir Joseph Banks was a pivotal figure in the growth of scientific inquiry, the upsurge in geographical exploration and the application of the fruits of science to agriculture and industry in the period 1766-1820.

Born in February 1743, Banks inherited considerable wealth and large estates and could easily have settled into the life of a country squire. However, his life was transformed by two voyages. One as pioneer naturalist aboard the HMS Niger as it charted and explored the coast of Newfoundland in 1766. The other as Scientific Leader on Captain Cook’s epic first voyage around the world aboard HMS Endeavour (1768-1771).

Organised by the Royal Society to observe the transit of Venus from Tahiti, the Endeavour voyage further increased knowledge about the Pacific and Antarctic regions and was celebrated for the exploration of the two islands of New Zealand and the east coast of Australia. Banks also achieved celebrity by amassing remarkable botanical, zoological and ethnological specimens which, together with the fine artistic sketches and detailed charts, aroused great interest in the Pacific region and served as a pioneer example for future scientific expeditions.

Banks’s only major expedition after this was to Iceland in 1772, examining Fingal’s cave and the Hebrides en route.

After the Endeavour voyage, Banks employed his knowledge, wealth and talents as a sponsor, a motivator and an organiser. He became a close friend of King George III and many other crowned heads and ministers of state and thus had access to real political power. He corresponded with hundreds of scientists all across the world and used his network for the benefit of science, bringing together people and ideas. He was also a key figure in many organisations.
He was elected President of the Royal Society in 1778 and remained so until 1820 assiduously attending meetings for 42 years and actively directing its operations.

He was the unofficial Director of the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew (1773-1820) and sponsored the collection of specimens for the collection.

He was also a central figure in founding The Linnean Society of London (1788), The African Association (1788), the Board of Agriculture (1793), The Royal Institution (1799) and the Royal Horticultural Society (1804).

There are many more reasons why Banks should claim the attention of modern scholars.

Banks is recognised as one of the founding fathers of modern Australia, having proposed the settlement of the east coast in 1779 and 1783 and advised on the logistical support required for the “First Fleet” which founded the colony in Sydney in 1788. He also played a key role in the later introduction of sheep, wheat and viticulture.

He was an important innovator in agriculture, working with his neighbour Arthur Young. He pioneered drainage schemes, helped to improve livestock strains, averted a wheat crisis, and encouraged the use of stratigraphical geology as an aid to land management and mining.

He acted as the chief patron of William Herschel, discoverer of Uranus, and was a prime mover behind the Baseline Survey, the foundation of modern cartography.

He pioneered economic botany and encouraged the translocation of many food plants. He discovered and described many new plants and animals. He assembled a great herbarium and library, had it catalogued and opened it to scholars who visited from around the world.

Banks also acted as a sponsor and consultant for many of the voyages of discovery which followed the Endeavour, including: the scientific researchers who accompanied Cook on the voyages of HMS Resolution and HMS Adventure (1772-1775) and on HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery (1776-1780); the two breadfruit voyages of Captain William Bligh (1787-1793); George Vancouver’s survey voyage of the west coast of America (1791-1794); Macartney's Embassy to China (1792-1794); Matthew Flinders’ coastal survey of Australia aboard HMS Investigator (1795-1814); Mungo Park’s exploration of the Niger (1795-1805); and the arctic explorations of Phipps, Scoresby, Ross and Parry (1773-1820).

Banks kept in touch with literary and artistic circles. He was a member of the Society of Dilettanti (1774ff.) and of Dr Johnson’s “Club” (1778ff.) with Boswell, Burke, Fox, Garrick, Goldsmith, Malone, Reynolds and Adam Smith.

As an active Privy Councillor (1797-1820) he was kept abreast of affairs of state. As a friend of industrialists such as Boulton and Wedgwood he championed free trade and technological progress.

But above all else he created an international scientific network that transcended events such as the American Revolution and French Revolution, and he acted as a catalyst and a facilitator, gleaning information from contacts all over the world and putting people in touch with each other to the benefit of science.

The Contents of this Collection

Parts 1-3 of this collection offer materials documenting the full range of Banks’s activities and interests. They fall into three major categories:

First and foremost, the correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks, organised into 16 volumes (in Part 1) with further volumes concerning Mungo Park and other topics in Part 3. Banks’s talents as a letterwriter are revealed - bringing alive an age of hope, progress and enterprise.

The correspondence touches upon affairs of state, technological advances, trade and industry, arts & letters, the management of his estates, voyages of discovery and the running of the institutions with which Banks was connected. Leading correspondents include:

Henry Addington, Charles Babbage, Matthew Boulton, Pierre Broussonet, James Cook, Matthew Flinders, Benjamin Franklin, George III, Edward Gibbon, William Herschel, William Hooker, FAH Humboldt, John Hunter, Edward Jenner, Samuel Johnson, Jean Lamarck, Antoine Lavoisier, Edmond Malone, William Marsden, Archibald Menzies, Mungo Park, Thomas Pennant, William Pitt, Joseph Priestley, Sir Thomas Raffles, Pierre Joseph Redouté, John Rennie, William Roscoe, Lady Hester Stanhope, Carl Peter Thurnberg, Alessandro Volta, Horace Walpole, James Watt, William Wilberforce, John Wilkes, Philip Yorke, 2nd Earl of Hardwick, Arthur Young and Carl Graf von Zeppelin.

The following examples give an idea of the immediacy and liveliness of most of this correspondence:

Banks to Benjamin Franklin
19 November 1784

“Sir ... I am in great hopes that the dissensions of the Royal Society are at an end, at least that the opposition will at last give way to the decided & continual majorities which have appeared against them. Convincd I do not expect to be any more to be whose whole arguments have been founded & supported in misrepresentation. In truth Hutton did not like to Lose twenty pounds a year which he usd to receive without any trouble whatever. Horseley would have been glad to make himself President which I am convincd he thought easy & considerd as a good step towards a Bishoprick. Matys disappointments in Life tho all of his own seeking and arising from a perfect belief that he is a man of very superior talents have rendered him so waspish that his chief pleasure is in stinging about with a feeble Pen which can scarce Penetrate the hide even of Bashfulness & the rest seemd to have espoused the matter as a party affair which they were afraid to desert ...

... I have enclosed you a Pamphlet written by Dr. Kippis who you may remember living in great intimacy with the late Sir John Pringle. It is fair & very well temperd but so very mealy mouthd that it will possibly be right to publish something else as no foreigner can conceive a man right who is not praisd ...”

Banks to a proposed expedition naturalist
12 Dec, 1800

“Sir ... A Ship is today ordered to be fitted out for the purpose of exploring the natural history (among other things) of New Holland & it is resolved that a naturalist & a Botanic Painter shall be sent in her.

The Salary of the naturalist will be £400 a year & I conclude that the expenses of his Mess &c cannot cost him so much as £100 - if you chuse to accept the appointment I will certainly recommend you, but if you do it will be necessary for you to come here as speedily as you can for the Admiralty are inclined to use great expeditious in the outfit & to say that they will be ready for the next convoy, which will sail at the latter end of this month, at all events however you may depend upon it that I will not recommend any other persons till I have heard from you, and I hope you will be the messenger of your own answer - the voyage I conclude will last three years at least. I am Sir with real Esteem and Regards your Humble Servant Joseph Banks”

Banks to Ann Flinders
4 June 1804
(written when Flinders was a captive of the French)

“... I am as anxious to see yor Gallant & Excellent husband as any of his best Friends can be, he has done much since he was employd in his Last expedition to increase my Regard for him & nothing which can in any way diminish it

His present misfortune is one of the Calamities of war which you & I must bear with as much patience as we can muster ...”

A second major category of material is material relating to Voyages of Discovery in the period 1740-1853. The following major voyages are documented:

* Anson and the Centurion (1740-1744), circumnavigation, stopping in West Africa and China and plundering Spanish ships

* Cook and the Grenville (1764-1767), and the charting of Newfoundland

* Wallis and the Dolphin (1766-1768), circumnavigation and discovery of Tahiti

* Cook and the Endeavour (1768-1771), circumnavigation and charting of New Zealand and the western coast of Australia

* Cook and the Resolution (1772-1775) accompanied by the Adventure, circumnavigation and exploration of Antarctic and Pacific waters

* Banks and the Sir Lawrence (1772) to Fingal’s Cave, the Hebrides and Iceland

* Cook and the Resolution (1776-1780) accompanied by the Discovery, circumnavigation, search for the North-West Passage and exploration of the west coast of America and the Pacific

* Woodcock and the King George (1785-1788), circumnavigation

* Vancouver, Menzies and the Discovery (1791-1795), circumnavigation, exploring Australia, New Zealand and the West coast of America

* Colnett and the Rattler (1793-1794) - exploring the Pacific

* Flinders and the Resistance (1798-1799), exploring Tasmania

* Flinders, Franklin and the Investigator (1800-1806), charting the coast of Australia

* Franklin’s exploration of North America, the Arctic and the North West Passage (1824-1845)

* Peard and the Blossom (1825-28), to the Pacific

* Biscoe and the Tula (1833), to the South Seas

* Franklin search expeditions (1846-1853)
Documentation of these voyages is in the form of journals kept by various members of the crew, logbooks and charts and pictures recording topography and significant items of botanical, zoological and ethnological interest. They paint a compelling picture of early exploration.

There are also Col. John Barrow’s records concerning Arctic exploration; some records of Macartney's 1792 Embassy to China; and a considerable amount of material relating to Mungo Park’s exploration of the Niger (1805-1806) including his African Journal for 1805 and Sharif Ibrahim’s statement concerning Park’s death.

Two additional early voyages described are those of Gallego, exploring the South Seas in 1566, and Tasman, who explored the South Pacific (1642-1643), discovering Tasmania, New Zealand and Tonga. Solander acquired a manuscript copy for Banks in 1776 and arranged for a translation into English. Both versions are included.

Material within these journals and related papers is particularly strong on Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, the South Pacific in general, Hawaii, the West Coast of America, Arctic and Antarctic regions. There is also material touching on Africa, Iceland, South America, Newfoundland and the Far East.

Some extracts will give a flavour of the material contained in these records of exploration:

Extracts from Captain Cook’s Journal of the Resolution
(ADD MS 27888)

“The exploring the Southern Hemi-sphere has at different Periods attracted the attention of most of the Maritime Powers in Europe. The great object of their research was the discovery of a Southern Continent which was supposed to lay between South America and Asia in the Great South Sea and altho there have been no less than ------ voyages made to these parts expressly for this purpose, the discovery has not been made nor the supposition confuted, nor can this be wondered at if we do but consider that the discoverers have only as it were trodden in the steps of one another, making their passage thro’ the South Sea always within the Tropicks and in a parallel that a few degrees different from those who had gone before them: we are not wholly to attribute this to the want of Resolution and Conduct in the Commanders but to the want of Vessels every way fitt for the undertaking, such as from their construction will carry a great quantity of Provisions and Stores, draw but little water and can be Navigated with few hands, are only fit to make discoveries in very remote parts - such a one was the Endeavour Bark in which I made my late Voyage and altho discovery was not the first object, I was nevertheless enabled to make far greater discoveries, to traverse a greater extent of Sea and further to the South than any one had attempted before by this means the probability of there being a Southern Continent and its supposed boundaries was greatly lessen’d though not wholly confuted, some room being still left to suppose that there is one and to authorise a prosecution of the discoveries in order to put the matter out of all manner of doubt. With this view, his Majesty, always attentive to the improvement of Navigation and Geography and whose Reign will be famous fro the many Voyages made for that purpose, soon after my arrival from my late Voyage signified his direction to the Admiralty to equip two Ships every way fit for such an expedition and committed the care of the equipment to the Earl of Sandwich at this time first Lord of the Admiralty, who was a great promoter of the expedition and had it but at heart.”

Menzies Journal Aboard the Discovery together with Vancouver and the Chatham.
Add.MS 32641 Folio 164

“We continued passing several Villages on the South Shore as already mentioned, but hitherto the Natives remaind so shy that we had no intercourse with them. We were now however visited by some Canoes & Natives from whom we procured a quantity of Salmon. We found that they spoke the Nootka language, & it was evident to us at first sight that they were of the same Tribe by their crying out Wakash Wakash as they were coming along side, which is their expression for friendship, & as it so readily distinguishes the Individuals of this extensive Tribe to a Stranger, I think they may be very aptly named as Captain Cook has already hinted the Wakashion Nation.”

The third category of material contained in this collection are the Papers of James West (1704?-1772), the politician and antiquary. West was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in November 1726 and acted as Treasurer from November 1736 to November 1768. He was elected as President of the Royal Society in November 1768 and continued in that post until his death in July 1772. His period of office closely precedes that of Banks and he was a signatory to the document electing Banks to the Royal Society. He also amassed a fabulous library, much of which was sold to Lord Shelburne and formed a part of the Lansdowne manuscripts. The papers presented here are a mixture of West’s contemporary records and correspondence (including material relating to the Endeavour and the Bounty) and historical materials.

Sir Joseph Banks remains the focal point of this collection, but his own correspondence and papers, and the provision of records relating to other contemporaries and voyages of discovery in the period 1740-1853, make this a source that will attract attention from a wide variety of scholars and a source which will provide documentary evidence for many dissertations and special project papers.

William Pidduck
February 1995


Brief Bibliography

Badger, G. The Explorers of the Pacific. Kenthurst, 1988 Bellwood, P. Man’s Conquest of the Pacific. Auckland, 1978 (two valuable guides to Pacific exploration).

Beaglehole, JC (Ed). The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks, 1768-1771. Sydney, 1962 (The Definitive account of the Endeavour voyage).

Beaglehole, JC. The Discovery of New Zealand. Oxford, 1961; and The Exploration of the Pacific. London, 1966 (two valuable accounts of exploration in this period).

Beaglehole, JC. The Life of Captain James Cook. London, 1974 (the standard Cook biography).

Carr, DJ (Ed). Sydney Parkinson: Artist of Cook’s Endeavour Voyage. London, 1983 (an interesting sidelight on the Endeavour voyage).

Carter, Harold. Sir Joseph Banks, 1743-1820. London, 1988 (a meticulously researched biography by the leading modern authority on Banks - very good on Banks’s career and accomplishments other than the Endeavour voyage).

Carter, Harold. Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820). A guide to biographical and bibliographical sources. London, 1987 (the best bibliographic source on Banks).

Dawson, Warren (Ed). The Banks Letters: A Calendar of the Manuscript Correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks ... London, 1958 (a very useful introduction to the value and range of Banks’s correspondence).

Gascoigne, J. Joseph Banks & The English Enlightenment. Cambridge, 1995 (excellent on Banks’s networking skills).

O’Brian, Patrick. Joseph Banks: A Life. London, 1988 (a very readable biography by the leading novelist of the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars).



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