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The rise and rise of Sir Joseph Banks

Dr Jordan Goodman discusses the plants, taonga and artefacts collected by Joseph Banks during the *Endeavour* voyage to the Pacific.
Banks’ presence ensured that the science that was being followed was as broad and as possible and that it would also produce the kind of materiality of what, by then, voyages of explorations were supposed to produce, that is, specimens and pictures. And he had the right artist for that, Sydney Parkinson. They would have been plants from New Zealand. And remember, nobody had collected anything from New Zealand. Nobody knew it was two islands. Nobody’d ever seen the– I mean, the breadfruit had been seen before, but Banks had it, collected it, and had Parkinson draw it, and it survives, that amazing drawing of the breadfruit.
But I guess the most exciting thing was the kangaroo, which they had spotted but didn’t know what it was the second or third day that they were in Botany Bay. And they managed to shoot one. And what Banks brought back with him was the pelt of this bizarre animal, which they thought looked like a greyhound because they had two greyhounds onboard. So they referred to it as about the same size of a greyhound, moving swiftly like a greyhound, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And that pelt becomes the model for Stubbs’ famous painting of the kangaroo, which is the first painting ever done of that animal.
Cloaks and feathers and all the other stuff of the indigenous cultures, which he also collected– so did everybody else. Cook– forgotten about. Banks and Solander are the hit of society, not to mention Banks’ own experiences with Tahitian intimate society. So everything was in his house. OK. He acquired other people’s collections so that it was a rival to and complementary to the British Museum. So if a botanist, say, any of Linnaeus’ students– and they did this– would come through London. They would go to the British Museum and very quickly end up at Soho Square where they could stay.
In this video Dr Jordan Goodman of UCL describes Joseph Banks’ collection of plants, taonga and artefacts acquired during the Endeavour voyage.
Joseph Banks was an incredibly wealthy landowner who joined the Endeavour expedition age 25. He self-funded his place on the ship, as well as the places of
  • Botanists Daniel Solander, Herman Diedrich Spöring
  • Artists Sydney Parkinson, Alexander Buchan
  • Servants Peter Briscoe, George Dorlton, Thomas Richmond and James Roberts
  • Two greyhounds
On the voyage Banks and the scientists collected specimens of plants and animals that were then recorded by the artists. The voyage returned with 30,000 plant and 1000 zoological specimens.[1]

Returning to Britain [2]

Back in Britain Joseph Banks’ wealth and class meant that he had a higher social standing than his shipmates, including James Cook. The British press celebrated the voyage, but mostly credited Banks, who was welcomed into the most influential circles of society and became a friend of King George III.
Banks intended to travel again to the Pacific as part of the Resolution and Adventure expeditions, and demanded that the Admiralty refit the Resolution to accommodate an even larger party of scientists and artists. Following the refit the ship wasn’t seaworthy and when the Navy Board removed the alterations Banks removed himself, and his staff, from the voyage.

So What Next?


Banks and his team arranged a scientific expedition to Iceland instead of their Pacific voyage. They stayed for six weeks. This was the last time Banks undertook a voyage of exploration.

New Burlington Street and Soho Square

Banks’ residences became hubs for those interested in the Pacific. Visitors came to view his botanical specimens, and the taonga (treasures) he had acquired.


The young Banks was painted by Benjamin West surrounded by the taonga (treasures) that he had taken, collected, been gifted and exchanged during the course of the voyage.
Banks wrote sparingly about the taonga in his possession and how he acquired them. It is suspected that along with the pieces that were given to him (or taken by him), he would have taken possession of taonga brought by, and gifted to Tupaia, as well as the men in his team who died on the voyage.
These taonga are now dispersed among European museums and it is difficult (often impossible) with current knowledge to identify them with any certainty.
We will discuss the display of Pacific collections further in Week 4.

Royal Society

Banks was elected to the Royal Society (the oldest national scientific institution in the world) at age 23, before his voyage on the Endeavour. He became the president of the Society in 1778 (age 35). He held the influential post for more than 40 years, until his death in 1820.[4]

Kew Gardens

From 1773 Banks became the unofficial director of Kew Gardens, on behalf of King George III [5]. While he did not travel, he ensured that other botanists did, and they traveled widely, collecting specimens for Kew.
Banks also became the unofficial government advisor on policies relating to the Pacific. We will consider these in the next steps.


  1. (Coote, 2009) p61, and (Agnarsdóttir, 2016) p269
  2. (Agnarsdóttir, 2016) p269-272
  3. (Agnarsdóttir, 2016) p273 – 274
  4. (Chambers, 2016) p275
  5. (Chambers, 2016) p275
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