Joseph Banks

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Sir Joseph Banks, (1743- 1820), English naturalist, is best known for accompanying James Cook on his first circumnavigation of the world in the barque, “Endeavour” from 1768 to 1771. What is less well known is that the scientific setting up of the voyage was financed by Banks’ own fortune, an inheritance from his father.

He came from rural Lincolnshire, was educated at Harrow, Eton andOxford which, while not giving him much of a formal education in his life’s passion of natural history, enabled him to develop it into part of an organisation that others could pursue under his patronage.

His first botanical foray was in 1766 – to Newfoundland and Labrador - but fame found him upon his return with Cook and his massive array of plants and animals in 1771.

It was his last major voyage, apart from a look at Iceland in 1772. Thereafter he served at home as administrator and sponsor. He would become president of the Royal Society in 1778 and, until his death, this made him the main government advisor in colonial matters to do with science and exploration. (He sent William Bligh to collect breadfruit that would culminate in the famous mutiny on the Bounty. On a more successful note, he was behind Matthew Flinders’ circumnavigation (and ultimate naming) of Australia from 1801 to 1803.)

His enthusiasm for the furthering of hand in hand exploration and science was a major factor in the marriage between the Royal Navy and scientific bodies that would ultimately open up knowledge of the world’s oceans for all nations.

Reference: The Oxford Encyclopedia of Maritime History.

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