Joseph Banks

Sir Joseph Banks, 1st Baronet, GCB, PRS (24 February [O.S. 13 February] 1743 19 June 1820) was an English naturalist, botanist, and patron of the natural sciences.

Banks advocated British settlement in New South Wales and colonisation of Australia, as well as the establishment of Botany Bay as a place for the reception of convicts, and advised the British government on all Australian matters. He is credited with introducing the eucalyptus, acacia, and the genus named after him, Banksia, to the Western world. Around 80 species of plants bear his name. He was the leading founder of the African Association and a member of the Society of Dilettanti, which helped to establish the Royal Academy.

Banks was educated at Harrow School from the age of nine and then at Eton College from 1756; the boys with whom he attended the school included his future shipmate Constantine Phipps.

Banks left Oxford for Chelsea in December 1763. He continued to attend the university until 1764, but left that year without taking a degree. His father had died in 1761, so when Banks reached the age of 21, he inherited the large estate of Revesby Abbey, in Lincolnshire, becoming the local squire and magistrate, and dividing his time between Lincolnshire and London. From his mother's house in Chelsea, he kept up his interest in science by attending the Chelsea Physic Garden of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries and the British Museum, where he met Daniel Solander. He began to make friends among the scientific men of his day and to correspond with Carl Linnaeus, whom he came to know through Solander. As Banks's influence increased, he became an adviser to King George III and urged the monarch to support voyages of discovery to new lands, hoping to indulge his own interest in botany. He became a Freemason sometime before 1769.

The voyage went to Brazil, where Banks made the first scientific description of a now common garden plant, bougainvillea (named after Cook's French counterpart, Louis Antoine de Bougainville), and to other parts of South America. The voyage then progressed to Tahiti (where the transit of Venus was observed, the overt purpose of the mission), to New Zealand.

In March 1779, Banks married Dorothea Hugessen, daughter of W. W. Hugessen, and settled in a large house at 32 Soho Square. It continued to be his London residence for the remainder of his life. There, he welcomed the scientists, students, and authors of his period, and many distinguished foreign visitors. His sister Sarah Sophia Banks lived in the house with Banks and his wife. He had as librarian and curator of his collections Solander, Jonas Carlsson Dryander, and Robert Brown in succession.

His interest did not stop there, for when the settlement started, and for 20 years afterwards, his fostering care and influence were always being exercised. He was, in fact, the general adviser to the government on all Australian matters. He arranged that a large number of useful trees and plants should be sent out in the supply ship HMS Guardian, which was unfortunately wrecked, as well as other ships; many of these were supplied by Hugh Ronalds from his nursery in Brentford. Every vessel that came from New South Wales brought plants or animals or geological and other specimens to Banks. He was continually called on for help in developing the agriculture and trade of the colony, and his influence was used in connection with the sending out of early free settlers, one of whom, a young gardener George Suttor, later wrote a memoir of Banks. The three earliest governors of the colony, Arthur Phillip, John Hunter, and Philip Gidley King, were in continual correspondence with him. Banks produced a significant body of papers, including one of the earliest Aboriginal Australian words lists compiled by a European. Bligh was also appointed governor of New South Wales on Banks's recommendation. Banks followed the explorations of Matthew Flinders, George Bass, and Lieutenant James Grant, and among his paid helpers were George Caley, Robert Brown, and Allan Cunningham.

Banks was elected a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1788. Among other activities, Banks found time to serve as a trustee of the British Museum for 42 years. He was high sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1794.

Banks was a major supporter of the internationalist nature of science, being actively involved both in keeping open the lines of communication with continental scientists during the Napoleonic Wars, and in introducing the British people to the wonders of the wider world. He was honoured with many place names in the South Pacific: Banks Peninsula on the South Island, New Zealand; the Banks Islands in modern-day Vanuatu; the Banks Strait between Tasmania and the Furneaux Islands; Banks Island in the Northwest Territories, Canada; and the Sir Joseph Banks Group in South Australia.

The Sir Joseph Banks Centre is located in Horncastle, Lincolnshire, housed in a Grade II listed building, which was recently restored by the Heritage Trust of Lincolnshire to celebrate Banks' life. Horncastle is located a few miles from Banks' Revesby estate and the naturalist was the town's lord of the manor. The centre is located on Bridge Street. It boasts research facilities, historic links to Australia, and a garden in which rare plants can be viewed and purchased.

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