Part 1: “Explorers and Conquerors”

Astrolabe N° 49
University of Iceland
James Cook and Joseph Banks on “the Endeavour”: From exploration to imperialism
Part 1: “Explorers and Conquerors”

This article deals primarily with the important relationship between the naturalist Joseph Banks (1743-1820) and Captain James Cook (1728-1779) as regards the Endeavour circumnavigation of 1768-1771. This was Cook's first voyage of exploration but Banks's second. He had already been on an expedition to Newfoundland and Labrador collecting specimens of natural history. The Endeavour voyage is considered to be one of the most important voyages of discovery in history. On returning to England it was Banks who received all the glory. Both men went on to go on further expeditions: Cook's two voyages on the Resolution brought him his deserved fame while Banks led the first British scientific expedition to Iceland in 1772, later becoming the influential President of the Royal Society. As such he became the patron of science from a global perspective. Secondly the paper makes an attempt to assess the impact of exploration on imperialism, focusing on Cook's "secret instructions" and Banks's detailed plans for the annexation of Iceland to the British Empire. Both men were agents of empire. Finally, Anglo-French rivalry is discussed and it is particularly interesting to note that that the French began exploring Iceland before the British. Both protagonists kept journals of their voyages. They have now all been published and are first-rate primary sources.

Following the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) there was a period of peace until the onset of the War of American Independence. There was intense rivalry between the major powers - France and Great Britain - regarding the acquisition of new colonies. Now the ships formerly engaged in war could turn to exploration. Both nations, as well as Spain, began sending expeditions to discover new lands, particularly to the Pacific Ocean, still more or less uncharted. The Russians on the other hand were mapping Siberia and the Kamchatka peninsula on the western shores of the Pacific. A new era in empire building was beginning. Despite Britain's military victory and acknowledged naval superiority, the French were undaunted and had been for instance to Otaheite (Tahiti) around the same time as the British, even beating them to Iceland, as will be discussed in this paper.

Cook needs no introduction but Joseph Banks (1743-1820) does.[1]  He was not an aristocrat, but he was a member of the untitled[2] landed gentry, a gentleman. He had been afforded the best education Britain could provide, attending Harrow, Eton and Christ's Church, Oxford, but leaving without a degree as was common for members of his class at the time. He was a very wealthy young man with an annual income of £6000[3] and was thus able to pursue whatever kind of life he liked. In 1782 he wrote: "Botany has been my favourite Science since my childhood",[4] and he chose to devote his life to the advancement of natural history, particularly botany. He was also interested in zoology and entomology as his journals make clear.

Down from Oxford, Banks became a familiar figure at scientific meetings in London, frequented the British Museum and soon became so well-known that in 1766, at the age of 23, he was nominated to the Royal Society.[5] At that point he had not yet completed any expeditions nor had any publications to his name. However, he was described by his sponsors as being "versed in Natural History especially in Botany [...] and likely (if chosen) to prove to be a Valuable Member". And Banks was soon to prove himself worthy of the honour. In February 1766 he had already set off on his first scientific venture, an expedition to Labrador and Newfoundland on the Niger, a naval vessel sent to protect the fisheries. He was well equipped for the collection of botanical and zoological specimens and was accompanied by one assistant, Peter Briscoe, a young servant from his Revesby Estate.

As this article focusses in part on the relationship between Banks and Cook it is appropriate to mention that Dr. Averil Lysaght, who turned Banks's Newfoundland journal into a splendid scholarly book,[6] believed that the two had first met by chance briefly at St. John's Newfoundland. Their mutual friend was Sir Thomas Adams, the captain of the Niger. Their ships (Cook was surveying the Newfoundland coast) had both been in the harbour at the same time for at least 30 hours.[7] In 1766 in a place like St John's where naval ships gathered, those on board must have socialised and exchanged news. It is thus very likely that they would have met.

As regards the Newfoundland-Labrador expedition, suffice to say that on his return Banks had made a name for himself, becoming one of the early British naturalist explorers, the experience proving to be a very good training ground for his subsequent expeditions. Banks, who in his absence had been elected to the Royal Society, now began to gain a reputation, in the words of Professor John Gascoigne as a "scientifically trained Linnean naturalist".[8]

1. Banks and the Endeavour

Banks next planned to go to Lapland and Sweden, to visit the great Swedish botanist Linnaeus, author of the Systema Naturae (1735), the classification of plants, animals and minerals into one system. Banks had begun to correspond with him and  his closest collaborator and friend at the time was the Swedish botanist Dr. Daniel Solander, one of Linnaeus's ablest students who had sent him as an "apostle" to London.[9] As a member of the Royal Society Banks soon heard about a proposed voyage around the world being planned by the society: to observe the transit of Venus across the Sun, due in 1769 (and not again until 1874). These observations, it was believed, were expected to solve the problem of the distance between the sun and earth and would clarify much of relevance to the solar system. This was a much anticipated scientific event and all the major European nations,[10] in a burst of scientific co-operation, were preparing to send scientists to various locations around the world to observe this phenomenon. In all there would be 151 observers in 77 locations. At the request of the Royal Society King George III proved willing to finance a voyage to the South Seas out of his personal funds and the Admiralty would provide a ship, the Endeavour, and crew. The question at the time was: Where to go exactly?

As preparations for the expedition were being made, in May 1768, the naval ship the Dolphin, commanded by Samuel Wallis, arrived back in England having completed his second circumnavigation. Luckily, he had chanced upon Tahiti (Otaheite). He was the first European to claim the island, calling it "King George the Third's Island", in June 1767. This seemed the ideal vantage spot, both for observing the transit and as a base for further exploration of the South Pacific.

The Endeavour voyage was being launched under the leadership of Lieutenant James Cook.[11] This was primarily a voyage of astronomy (observing the Transit of Venus) and discovery (Cook's secret instructions to search for new lands, which will be discussed later).  There were no plans regarding the field of natural history but Banks was determined to go. He famously said: "Every blockhead does that [goes on a Grand Tour]; my Grand Tour shall be one round the whole globe."[12] The  Royal Society supported him by writing to the Admiralty that Banks "a Gentleman of large fortune, who is well versed in natural history", being "Desirous" of joining the Endeavour, it was "very earnestly" requested that "in regard to Mr Banks's great personal merit, and for the Advancement of useful knowledge", he and his seven man entourage be permitted to sail with Cook.[13]

Being so well-connected with those in power, Banks succeeded in being accepted as a 'supernumerary' (those engaged in non-naval work), not only for himself but his entire party of eight, especially when he proved more than willing to pay all the costs of his expedition. Now haste was made to assemble all possibly useful books and vast equipment for collecting and storing specimens was sent on board the Endeavour. The naturalist John Ellis kept Linnaeus up to date on events, reporting just before they left:

No people ever went to sea better fitted out for the purpose of Natural History, nor more elegantly. They have got a fine Library [...] they have all sorts of machines for catching and preserving insects; all kinds of nets, trawls, drags and hooks for coral fishing; they have even a curious contrivance of a telescope, by which, put into the water, you can see the bottom to a great depth [...] They have many cases of bottles with ground stoppers of several sizes to preserve animals in spirits [...] besides there are many people whose sole business is to attend them for this very purpose.

These 'many people' included Dr. Solander, Hermann Spöring, a multi-talented scientist, two artists Sydney Parkinson and Alexander Buchan, and four servants who would double as field assistants. Ellis confided that Solander had told him Banks was spending no less than £10,000 on the venture,[14] a huge sum of money. Banks also took his two greyhounds along (the fate of one was to end up as a gift to the King of Savu, Indonesia).[15]

The Endeavour expedition of 1768-1771 is considered one of the most important voyages of discovery ever made. And it proved to be a model for further scientific voyages of discovery on board naval vessels eventually leading to Darwin's expedition on the Beagle (1831-1836).[16] Though the observations of the Transit of Venus turned out to be disappointing, the map of the South Pacific was radically changed. Cook discovered that New Zealand was two islands and mapped them both as well as the east coast of Australia, identifying 40 new islands in all. When it came to natural history it was no less a triumph. Banks and his assistants collected some 30,000 botanical specimens, including 110 new genera and 1,400 new species. Among the zoological collections were over 1,000 animal specimens, famously including the kangaroo. Most specimens were incorporated into the Linnean system. Besides which Banks had shown great interest in ethnology and ethnography, actually learning Tahitian and lists of words can be found in his journal.[17] His journal is wonderful reading, especially his accounts under the heading of "Manners and Customs of S[outh] Sea Islands, 1769",[18] but there is no room here for further discussion.On their return to England it was the gentleman Banks who was the hero and the darling of London society, young, good-looking, wealthy and charming. Banks became instantly famous while Cook was cast in his shadow at that time.  Cook was just a captain of low birth even though he was an expert surveyor and chartmaker, not to mention having proved himself an exceptional navigator. Banks was soon invited to an audience with the King and Queen and dined with people of note such as Benjamin Franklin.[19] When Linnaeus heard of their return he wrote from Uppsala a fulsome letter in Latin to the "Immortal Banks... man without equals". He wrote

For this enterprise of yours [the Endeavour voyage] I am certain that, more outstanding than all botanists who lived before you, you are the glory not only of England, but of the whole world. You will be our Oracle! Let all botanists erect in your honour a statue more lasting than all the pyramids of Egypt...[20]

No statues were sculpted until much later,[21] but Banks had two portraits painted by the most celebrated portrait artists of the day, Joshua Reynolds and Benjamin West, the former with a globe and the latter with Banks dressed in a Maori cloak.[22] And it was Banks who commissioned the well-known painting of Captain Cook by Nathaniel Dance which he hung above the mantelpiece in his library.[23]

These first collections from the South Pacific aroused great interest. Cook was presented to the royal couple four days after Banks when he received his well-deserved promotion from lieutenant to commander from the hands of the King.

2. Another Voyage: the Resolution

The Endeavour voyage had been a brilliant success, so it comes as no surprise that another expedition to the South Pacific was being planned for the spring of 1772, again under the able command of Captain Cook. At this point a book Le voyage autour du monde par la frégate La Boudeuse, et la flûte L'Étoile by Count Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, the French admiral and explorer, was published in an English translation in London. [24]  Bougainville had actually been to Tahiti in 1768, after Wallis but before the departure of the Endeavour. This was the first French expedition to circumnavigate the globe (1766-1769). It was a prestigious voyage with two ships. On board were the naturalist Philibert Commerçon, yet another correspondent of Linnaeus, the astronomer Pierre-Antoine Veron and several other scientists and scholars. It had created a sensation in Paris the previous year, and did so now again in London, Bougainville's description of Tahiti (the first ever printed), attracting particular attention as a Garden of Eden peopled by noble savages.

The British, forever competing with their French rivals, would have to do something spectacular, nothing less than the discovery of Terra Australis Incognita, the Great Southern Antarctic Continent, would do - something men had been searching for centuries. Now not one but two ships would be sent (Bougainville had sailed on two ships), the Resolution and the Adventure. This can be seen as a further step in British imperial ambitions. Cook would again be the captain and Banks was overjoyed when he was invited to be the scientific leader of the expedition. "O, how Glorious would it be to set my heel upon ye Pole" meaning the southern pole, Banks firmly believing in the existence of the southern continent.[25]

So yet again we find Banks assembling a party of scientists and artists, again at his own expense. Because of the high mortality rate on the Endeavour he was taking no chances and organized a larger party than before. All in all they were eighteen. But when Banks saw the Resolution he was far from pleased with the accommodation and demanded that changes be made to house his entourage and equipment. He got his wish and modifications were made and an extra deck erected. As has often been observed this was "Banks's voyage". As regards the public, Cook remained in the shadow of Banks and the Gazetter and New Daily Advertiser informed its readers that "Mr Banks is to have two ships from government to pursue his discoveries in the South Seas".[26] Cook himself noted that almost every day "Strangers", both men and women of all ranks came on board simply "to see the Ship in which Mr Banks was to sail round the world".[27] On 2 May 1772 Cook wrote in his journal that Banks "gave an entertainment on board"; among the guests was the French ambassador.[28]

But when the Resolution was sent on a trial run down the Thames in the middle of May Cook found she was so "crank that it was thought unsafe to proceed any further with her."[29] The ship was restored to her original state. That meant there was not enough room for all of Banks's entourage. Banks became simply furious.  A young midshipman and eye-witness, John Elliot, wrote in his memoirs a much-quoted passage that when Banks saw the ship, he "swore and stamp'd upon the Warfe, like a Mad Man; and instantly order'd his servants, and all his things, out of the Ship".[30]  Not one of his biographers has anything positive to say about this childish behaviour. With Banks gone, the expedition now became "Cook's voyage", who would deservedly receive all the glory on its return. The Resolution (1772-1775, another 3-year voyage) was the first ship to cross the Antarctic Circle and Cook destroyed the myth of Terra Australis Incognita by pushing "its possible location into latitudes 'doomed to lie forever buried under everlasting snow.'"[31]

3. To Iceland 1772

Banks was naturally enough "disagreeable disappointed",[32]  and so according to the Gentleman's Magazine of June 1772 were "the Literati of Europe" whose high expectations regarding the Resolution expedition had now been dashed.[33] Banks was in a quandary. He had to engage his men in a new undertaking. The sailing season was advancing, preparations would take time:  Where could he go?  His choice fell on Iceland, an island in the mid-Atlantic, a dependency of the King of Denmark since 1380. Why? Scholars have offered various theories[34] but let Banks himself explain:

[I] saw no place at all within the Compass of my time so likely to furnish me with an opportunity as Iceland, a countrey which [...] has been visited but seldom & never at all by any good naturalist to my Knowledge. The whole face of the countrey new to the Botanist & Zoologist as well as the many Volcanoes with which it is said to abound make it very desirable to Explore[35]

Thus Iceland was near, relatively unexplored and full of volcanoes. His passport hastily issued by the Danish envoy in London, recorded the major aim of the voyage being as "observing Mount Hekla", the most famous of the Icelandic volcanoes and in medieval times (Christendom) believed to be the gateway to Hell. As Banks was now the leader of the Iceland expedition, the master of all decisions, he was free to add more men to his retinue, and he added an astronomer, a gardener and a French chef, Antoine Douvez.[36]

The Banks expedition spent about six weeks in Iceland.[37] Alas, there was no volcanic activity, but they climbed Hekla, the account of the ascent of the volcano being the highlight of Banks's  Iceland journal, erroneously believing that they were the first to do so.[38]  At Geysir Banks found his volcano, a spouting hot spring, but it was a volcano of water, not lava. They led an active social life, the French chef delighting the Icelandic elite with his cuisine, not to mention the wines that accompanied the meal. When they left they were loaded down with old Icelandic manuscripts and specimens of lava. Banks had also purchased two Icelandic dogs, appropriately named Hekla and Geysir. So pleased was Banks with this expedition that he had a new visiting card designed showing his name above a map of Iceland with an image of Mount Hekla erupting in pride of place.[39]

Banks was, however, wrong in his assumption that no "good naturalist" had ever visited Iceland. The spirit of the Enlightenment had made is way to Denmark and several Danish scientists had been sent to explore the island, publishing their results. When Diderot and d'Alembert published the Encyclopédie the article on "Islande"[40] was based on the publication of Niels Horrebow.[41]  Moreover, the French had already sent an official expedition to Iceland "par ordre du Roi".  At the beginning of 1767 a Breton nobleman Yves Joseph de Kerguelen-Trémarec was summoned to Versailles and ordered to sail off to the North Atlantic to explore the islands there. He published an account of his voyage in 1771, saying that while in Iceland "I neglected nothing in making myself acquainted with what was remarkable in this island, such as the mode of living of its inhabitants, their manners, their religion and government". He had probably been ordered to do so. He also remarked that a botanist would find much to observe in Iceland.[42] It is known that Banks possessed a copy of this recently published book and took it with him to Iceland.[43] And this botanical remark might have been a factor in his choice of destination. It is worth mentioning that the French sent another expedition to the North Atlantic, visiting Iceland in 1772. This was led by  the Marquis Jean-René Verdun de la Crenne with the mathematician the Chevalier de Borda and the astronomer Alexandre Guy Pingré as well as other scientists.[44] This was the same summer that Banks was in Iceland but he had no idea until 1812.[45] The French were in the west, he in the south.

4. From Exploration to Imperialism

The Endeavour voyage was of extreme importance to both Cook and Banks, establishing their respective reputations. Banks was one of the first British naturalist explorers and Cook himself has very often been called a scientist, which in eighteenth century terms he certainly was. Their exploration was not only a question of natural curiosity but had more pragmatic aims. As Professor Gascoigne has written: "A loyal servant of the British crown, Cook encountered the Pacific with the aim of advancing British interests over those of his country's traditional adversaries, notably France and Spain."[46]  Exploration led to the growth of empire - to trade and subsequently to colonisation. The Admiralty spelt this out quite clearly to its commanders: "Making discoveries of countries hitherto unknown ...will redound greatly to the Honour of this Nation as a Maritime Power, as well as to the Dignity of the Crown of Great Britain, & may tend greatly to the advancement of Trade and Navigation".[47]

When the Endeavour set sail Cook had two sets of instructions, as before-mentioned, those regarding the observation of the Transit of Venus and secondly secret instructions to be opened after the completion of that event. Those ordered him to search for the southern continent. Cook's instructions are interesting as they differentiated sharply between whether the place was inhabited or not. If inhabited he had to have "the Consent of the Natives" to take possession in the "Name of the King of Great Britain''. If uninhabited he was to "take Possession for His Majesty [...] as first discoverers and possessors." It was also pointed out that this only applied to islands that "have not hitherto been discover'd before by any Europeans". [48] In Cook's journal there are many examples of this. The most famous episode is when he annexed eastern Australia. The Dutch had explored and mapped the west coast of Australia in the seventeenth century but on 22 August 1770 Cook was stationed on an island named Possession Island:

...the Eastern Coast... I am confident was never seen or viseted by any European before us, and Notwithstand[ing] I had in the Name of His Majesty taken posession of several places upon this coast, I now once more hoisted English Coulers and in the Name of His Majesty King George the Third took posession of the whole Eastern Coast [...] by the name of New South Wales...[49]

Usually the annexation ceremony consisted of hoisting the flag the "English Jack" and volleys of muskets would ring out. Amazingly Banks does not, in his journal, mention the annexation of New South Wales

It is noteworthy that there is a remarkable collection of so-called "Hints" drawn up by the current President of the Royal Society, Lord Morton, for the consideration of Cook and "the Gentlemen" travelling on the Endeavour, a detailed supplement to the instructions. The "hints" for instance deal with how to treat the "Natives" and are written from a very enlightened viewpoint. Killing the natives was deemed a "crime of the highest nature", Morton adding: "They are human creatures, the work of the same omnipotent Author, equally under his care with the most polished European", they owned their land. He stated baldly that "No European Nation has a right to occupy any part of their country, or settle among them without their voluntary consent." However, should they prove hostile, he suggested "many" ways of convincing them of the "Superiority of Europeans" without having to resort to killing them. He also reminded them that after the Transit of Venus their object was to discover a new continent: "Particularly, the discovery of a Continent in the Lower temperate Latitudes, not one in the higher as "a rigorous climate, could be of little or no advantage to this nation." He hoped they would find a well populated continent, so that "many new subjects in Natural History might be imported, and usefull branches of Commerce set on foot, which [...] might prove highly beneficial to Brittain." Lord Morton listed everything he wanted information on, for instance everything pertaining to the inhabitants, their dress, habitations, religion, morals and government. [50] Such were the hopes of the architects of the British Empire. It is quite clear from the journals of Banks and Cook that they took these hints seriously - lengthy accounts on these fascinating subjects are to be found in their brilliant journals.To return to Bougainville: he had of course also been ordered to take possession of lands should they offer items useful to France's trade and navigation. Bougainville claimed Tahiti for France and named it Nouvelle Cythère, only later to discover that Wallis had been there ahead of him. According to the instructions given to Bougainville, the French had a similar principle. If another country had prior claim that should be respected but if "no European nation has any establishment or claim over these lands it can only be in France's interest to survey them and take possession of them should they offer items useful to her trade and her navigation."[51] No power wanted a war over a small island dispute. When the Endeavour reached Savu, an island group in Indonesia, on 17 September 1770 they saw the Dutch flag hoisted and the Dutch India Company in command. They of course made no attempt to annex the island but they were certainly interested in trading[52]. Trade was crucial to empire; it was the wheels of commerce that made the world go around. 

The landing the Endeavour made at Botany Bay, named for the great number of unique flora found there, for example inspired a new imperial venture. This was the spot chosen for the settlement of New South Wales, a colony of young white convicts, transported for life. This was Banks's idea. He presented it to a committee in the House of Commons in 1779 as suitable for a penal colony as it boasted a good harbour and fertile soil. [53] Another aspect of imperialism that can be mentioned was for instance the transportation of plants between imperial possessions, native to one region and transported to another in the hope it would thrive to the benefit of the British Empire. A good example is the breadfruit, so abundant in Tahiti, which was sent on the Bounty with Captain Bligh to the West Indies in 1789 to serve as cheap food for the slaves.[54] It was Banks's idea and sponsored by the Royal Society.

5. The Iceland voyage 1772 - plans for annexation

Finally, we turn to Banks's great interest in annexing Iceland to the British Crown, in the spirit of imperialism. The Iceland expedition was Banks's last. He paid a brief visit to Holland the following year, 1773,[55] but apart from that he remained in England, troubled by gout. When it comes to Banks's Iceland voyage, it becomes very clear that this island was exactly what he considered a worthy object of annexation to the British Empire. Partly because he apparently genuinely felt that the Icelanders had been miserably treated by the Danes and that they would be much happier and better off under British rule. Imperialism - being under the benign government of a great imperial state would much improve life for the natives. And partly because Iceland offered advantages, if not immediate, then long-term: primarily cod and sulphur. He wrote many lengthy memoranda on this subject, always when Denmark and Britain were at war, as they were during the Napoleonic Wars, when annexation was more acceptable among erstwhile friendly nations. In his opinion, probably rightly, Iceland was easy prey. In 1801 he wrote that 500 soldiers would "subdue the Island without striking a blow". He continued: 

In conquering Iceland and Ferroe [Faroe], the United Kingdom would annex to itself the Dominion of all the Respectable Islands in Northern Europe, a proud Pre-eminence for the British Isles to obtain. - She would emancipate from an Egyptian Bondage a Population, consisting entirely of Fishermen, and consequently of Seamen, that would rapidly increase under her mild Government, and [...] would furnish in a short time a supply of Seamen to the British Navy, of no inconsiderable importance...[56]

The Royal Navy was perennially short of sailors, often having to resort to press-gangs, thus this was a real resource from his point of view. The only problem was that Banks did not understand that the Icelanders were primarily farmers or farmworkers and fishing was a subsidiary occupation, while through the ages the English, Dutch and French had availed themselves more or less freely of the fishing grounds.

In 1807 Banks reminded the British government that the Icelanders had in medieval times been "active & adventurous Sailors"; they had discovered America long before Columbus but centuries of Danish rule had killed "the hardy & enterprising nature of the Icelanders who had gradually degenerated to their present torpid character". When he was in Iceland in 1772 he had seen no Icelander laugh. Banks was convinced that if liberty were restored to them (which meant British rule), "they will recover the active & intelligent character of their early ancestors" and would become "animated, active & zealous subjects".[57] Banks, perhaps mindful of Lord Morton's "Hints", was now unwilling to subject Iceland to what he called "the horrors of conquest". Instead a negotiator would be sent to the island explaining the benefits of British rule and offering the Icelanders the splendid option of voluntarily becoming British subjects. All it would involve was a change of governors.[58] The British government discussed Banks's proposals but never seriously contemplated annexing Iceland. Denmark had been driven to the French side because of Britain's ill-advised bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807 but enmity between the true countries was not deep. And was Iceland a desirable colony?  Banks believed that "the Conquest of Iceland [...] will in due time extend the Commerce, add to the Revenue, and increase the Nautical Strength of the United Kingdom".[59] This was in fact the rationale of imperialism. But the British government thought not.

6. The End - Banks and Cook

As we have seen, it was the Endeavour voyage that catapulted Banks to prominence among natural historians both in Britain and Europe.[60] A tradition was created linking scientific research with naval exploration. Eventually in 1778 he would be elected President of the Royal Society, a post he held until his death in 1820, the longest-serving president its history. George III made him the unofficial director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, where the seeds gathered on the voyages of discovery were sown and the plants brought back in tubs planted. He was appointed to the Privy Council in 1797, thereby becoming both the confidant of king and ministers. As president of the Royal Society he would organise many voyages of discovery, for instance George Vancouver's to the Pacific Northwest and Matthew Flinder's voyage on the Investigator, which circumnavigated New Holland in 1801, more than a century and a half after Tasman. It was Flinders who gave the continent its name, Terra Australis or Australia. Banks sent botanists all over the world to collect plants and corresponded with all the major European scientists. He has often been called "the scientific statesman" or "the patron of science", elected to 72 learned societies during his lifetime. He did not distinguish between British and foreign scientists, keeping contact with the French throughout the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, especially the naturalist Pierre Broussonet, who was soon made a fellow of the Royal Society.

Finally, a few words on the relationship between Banks and Cook. They remained friends. In 1776, a year after his return from his second voyage Cook was unanimously elected a fellow of the Royal Society, having won the society's Copley Medal for his paper entitled "The Method Taken for Preserving the Health of the Crew of His Majesty's Ship the Resolution."[61] Cook became deservedly famous for his three voyages, tragically meeting his end in Hawaii in 1779.  Five years later Banks, on behalf of the Royal Society, commissioned a commemorative medal of his old friend and fellow traveller Captain James Cook.[62]


  1. ^ Many biographies of Banks have been written, the most comprehensive is Harold B. Carter, Sir Joseph Banks 1743-1820, London, British Museum (Natural History), 1988.
  2. ^ The 'Sir' was bestowed on him when he became a baronet in
  3. ^ Today worth about £800.000.
  4. ^ November 1782, Banks to Edward Hasted, The Indian and Pacific Correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks, ed. Neil Chambers, London, Pickering & Chatto, 2008, I, letter 237.
  5. ^ The Royal Society, founded in 1660, is the oldest scientific academy still in existence.
  6. ^ Joseph Banks, Joseph Banks in Newfoundland and Labrador, 1766: His Diary, Manuscripts and Collections, ed. Averil Lysaght, London, Faber & Faber, 1971. 
  7. ^ Ibid., p. 41, 47, 229-230.
  8. ^ John Gascoigne, 'Banks, Sir Joseph, baronet (1743-1820)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 3, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 691.
  9. ^ On Daniel Solander see Edward Duyker's excellent biography and correspondence, Nature's Argonaut. Daniel Solander, 1733-1782, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press and the Miegunyah Press, 1998.
  10. ^ Sweden, Denmark, Russia, France, Germany, Spain and Great Britain. See Andrea Wulf, Chasing Venus. The Race to Measure the Heavens, New York, Vintage Books, 2012.
  11. ^ See both Joseph Banks, The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks 1768-1771, ed. J. C. Beaglehole, Sydney, Public Library of New South Wales,1962, I-II and James Cook, The Voyage of the Endeavour 1768-1771, ed. J. C. Beaglehole, Cambridge, The Hakluyt Society, 1955, vol. 1 in The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery.  
  12. ^ Edward Smith, Life of Sir Joseph Banks (London, 1911), p. 15-16.
  13. ^ Beaglehole, "Introduction", Banks, Endeavour Journal, I, p. 22.
  14. ^ 19 August 1768, John Ellis to Linnaeus, quoted by Duker, op. cit., p. 94. A list of the entourage is in Banks Documents, Appendix 1.
  15. ^ Banks, Endeavour Journal, II, p. 151-152.
  16. ^ Endeavouring Banks, ed. Neil Chambers, London, Paul Holberton Publishing, 2016, p. 275.
  17. ^ Banks, Endeavour Journal, I, 372-373, II, p. 35-37.
  18. ^ Ibid., I, 333-386.
  19. ^ Carter, op. cit., p. 96.
  20. ^ 8 August 1771, Linnaeus to Banks, Scientific Correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks, 1765-1820, ed. Neil Chambers, London, Pickering & Chatto, 2007, I, p. 42-43.
  21. ^ There is for instance a large statue of Banks in the Natural History Museum, Kensington and a bust in the British Library.
  22. ^ The West portrait is the frontispiece to Endeavouring Banks and the Reynolds is a frontispiece in Banks Documents.
  23. ^, last accessed 25 February 2020.The portrait was commissioned by Banks, apparently 'a most excellent likeness'. The portrait is dated 1776. 
  24. ^ The Pacific Journal of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville 1767-1768, ed. John Dunmore, London, The Hakluyt Society, 2002.
  25. ^ 6 December 1771, Banks to Comte de Lauraguais, Joseph Banks, The Letters of Sir Joseph Banks. A Selection, 1768-1820, ed. Neil Chambers, London, Imperial College Press, 2000, p. 21. Letter 6.
  26. ^ 26 August 1771, quoted by Richard Hough, Captain James Cook, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1994, p. 178. 
  27. ^ J. C. Beaglehole, "Introduction", James Cook, The Voyage of the Resolution and Adventure 1772-1775, vol. 2 of The Journals of Captain James Cook, ed. J. C. Beaglehole, Cambridge: The Hakluyt Society, 1959, II, p. xxviii.
  28. ^ Ibid., p. 5.
  29. ^ Ibid., p. 6
  30. ^ Ibid., p. xxx.
  31. ^ Felipe Fernández-Armesto, Pathfinders. A Global History of Exploration, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 301.
  32. ^ Uno von Troil, Letters on Iceland, London, W. Richardson in the Strand, 1780, p. 1.
  33. ^ Carter, op.cit., p. 101
  34. ^ Anna Agnarsdóttir, 'Introduction', Sir Joseph Banks, Iceland and the North Atlantic. Journals, Letters and Documents 1772-1820, ed. Anna Agnarsdóttir, London, Routledge and the Hakluyt Society, 2016, p. 8-9. [Hereafter Banks Documents]
  35. ^ Introduction, Banks, Iceland journal, Banks Documents, p. 47.
  36. ^ Passport dated 2 July 1772 issued to Banks by Baron Diede von Fürstenstein, Banks Documents, p. 155-158.
  37. ^ For the Iceland expedition see: Anna Agnarsdóttir, 'Sir Joseph Banks and the Exploration of Iceland', eds. R. E. R. Banks et al., Sir Joseph Banks: A Global Perspective, London, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 1994, p. 31-48; Anna Agnarsdóttir, 'This Wonderful Volcano of Water'. Sir Joseph Banks Explorer and Protector of Iceland 1772-1820, Hakluyt Society Annual Lecture for 2003, London, The Hakluyt Society, 2004.
  38. ^ 25 September 1772, Iceland journal, Banks Documents, p. 106. They all had a tendency to believe this, e.g. Uno von Troil wrote in Letters on Iceland that they had 'at last the pleasure of being the first who ever reached the summit of this celebrated volcano.' (p. 5). Of course nobody knows who was the first person to climb Hekla but historically the honour goes to Eggert Ólafsson and Bjarni Pálsson in 1750.
  39. ^ Plate 12 in Banks Documents.
  40. ^ Denis Diderot and Jean d'Alembert, Encyclopédie, Berne and Lausanne, Sociétés Typographiques, 1772-1781, viii, p. 915.
  41. ^ The Danish Royal Society sent Niels Horrebow to Iceland in 1749-51 to make astronomical and meteorological observations. His book Tilforladelige Efterrretninger om Island, published in 1752, was the first general account of Iceland that could be considered reliable and would be translated into the major European languages including French. It was a first-hand account, used as the main source for the article on Islande in the Encyclopédie, first published in 1751-72, where it says that most accounts of Iceland until now 'ont donné des notions très peu exactes', p. 106.
  42. ^ Yves Joseph de Kerguelen Trémarec, Relation d'un voyage dans la mer du nord, aux côte d'Islande, du Groenland, de Ferro, de Schettland, des Orcades et de Norwége, fait en 1767 et 1768, Paris, 1771; Pinkerton, John, A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in all Parts of the World, Many of Which are now First Translated into English. London, 1808-1814. The quotations are from Pinkerton, p. 744, 747.
  43. ^ Appendix 4, Banks Documents, p. 603.
  44. ^ Jean-René Verdun de la Crenne, Jean-Charles Chevalier de Borda, and Alexandre Guy Pingré, Voyage fait par ordre du roi en 1771-1772, en diverses parties de l'Europe, de l'Afrique et de l'Amérique..., Paris, 1778.
  45. ^ 1 July 1812, Banks to William Jackson Hooker, Banks Documents, p. 498.
  46. ^ John Gascoigne, Captain Cook, p. 147.
  47. ^ Additional Instructions", 30 July 1768, the Commissioners of the Admiralty to Lt James Cook, marked "Secret", Cook, Endeavour journal, cclxxxii-cclxxxiv.
  48. ^ bid.
  49. ^ Cook, Endeavour journal, p. 387-388.
  50. ^ "The Hints", Cook, The Endeavour Journal, p. 514-519.
  51. ^ Instructions, The Pacific Journal of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville 1767-1768, ed. John Dunmore, London, Hakluyt Society, 2002, p. xlv.
  52. ^ Banks, Endeavour journal, II, p. 151.
  53. ^ See a recent book on this episode in history, where Banks figures prominently: David Hill, 1788. The Brutal Truth of the First Fleet, Sydney, William Heinemann Australia, 2009.
  54. ^ As is well-known, the Bounty voyage ended in mutiny. However, Captain Bligh, was sent on a second mission in 1791 on the Providence, which proved relatively successful. Almost 700 breadfruit seedlings survived the voyage from Tahiti and were planted in St Vincent and Jamaica.  
  55. ^ His journal has been published: 'Joseph Banks, Journal of a Tour in Holland, 1773', ed. Kees van Strien, SVEC [Studies on Voltaire and the eighteenth century] 2005:01, Oxford, 2005, p. 83-183.
  56. ^ Banks Documents, 30 January 1801, Memorandum from Banks to Henry Dundas. Remarks concerning Iceland, document 38, p. 222-223.
  57. ^ Ibid.,30 December 1807, Banks to Lord Hawkesbury, document 63, p. 257-265.
  58. ^ Ibid., p. 263-264.
  59. ^ Ibid., p. 224.
  60. ^ John Gascoigne, Joseph Banks and the English Enlightenment, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 8.
  61. ^ Gascoigne, James Cook, p. 29-30.
  62. ^ A description of the medal is to be found in Endeavouring Banks, p. 289.

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Anna AGNARSDOTTIR, « Part 1: “Explorers and Conquerors”  », Astrolabe [En ligne], Captain Cook after 250 years: Re-exploring The Voyages of James Cook (Avril 2020), mis en ligne le 24/04/2020, URL :