Wednesday, July 25, 2012

B is for Joseph Banks

I’ll admit to being at a bit of a loss this week: What could I tell you about from this part of the world that begins with B? Then I decided to take a cue from Mr. Parrot and tell you about a person, and today that person is Joseph Banks.

Joseph Banks, that dashing fellow in the painting at left,  from 1773, is someone that most people from this part of the world have heard of, and are still influenced by him, whether they know it or not.

Banks accompanied James Cook as naturalist on Cook’s first voyage (1768-1771). They went to Brazil, where Banks “discovered” the now common garden plant, bougainvillea. They then sailed on to the South Pacific, where they were to witness the Transit of Venus (in Tahiti), the supposed purpose of the voyage (though it was supposedly more about asserting British sovereignty in the region, since France was sniffing around there, too).

They also explored the coast of New Zealand and the east coast of Australia. Their ship was damaged on the Great Barrier Reef, so they spent around seven weeks near what is now Cookstown in Queensland while the ship was repaired.

Back in England, Banks became a champion of “transporation”, that is, shipping prisoners to Australia. He advocated Botony Bay (at modern-day Sydney) as the best spot for a penal colony. He maintained an active interest in the continent, sending plants there and having plants and animals collected for him.

He became president of the Royal Society, at the time the world’s most prestigious scientific organisation, and later also became head of the Royal Gardens at Kew, and sent explorers all over the world to collect specimens. He directly sponsored some voyages, such as that of George Vancouver to the Pacific Northwest of North America. He’s credited with helping to turn Kew into the world’s preeminent botanical collection.

Among other plants, he introduced the world to eucalyptus, acacia and mimosa. He also has a genus of the plant family Proteaceae named after him, Banksia, which is now a popular garden plant.

Banks Peninsula, part of Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand, is named after him, as is the Canberra, Australia suburb of Banks, the Sydney suburbs of Bankstown, Banksia and Banksmeadow, and Banks Island in Canada.

So, Joseph Banks was a big deal in his day, and in many ways, he still is.

The image accompanying this post is a public domain photo of a painting of Joseph Banks in 1773, available from Wikipedia.

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Roger Owen Green said...

Did not know this guy. Ah, the things that happen in the name of "progress."

ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Chubskulit Rose said...

Never heard of him but thanks for sharing it to us.

Set of B's
Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

Meryl said...

Great post. In my visit to Christchurch a few years ago I learned a lot about him!