Artefact of the month - March 2010
Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) and the voyage of HMS Endeavour (July 1768 – July 1771)
To celebrate World Book Day 2010 on 4 March, we are featuring “An account of the voyages undertaken ... for making discoveries in the southern hemisphere …” by John Hawkesworth, 1773, which gives accounts of several 18th century voyages around the world. Two of the three volumes are dedicated to the voyage of HMS Endeavour and are based upon the journals and papers of Captain James Cook (1728-1779) and Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820).
The papers of Sir Joseph Banks were of great use to Hawkesworth as they gave him a different perspective on the voyage than that given in Cook’s papers. In addition to Banks’ writings on natural history, Hawkesworth found “a great variety of incidents which had not come under the notice of Captain Cook, with descriptions of countries and people, their productions, manners, customs, religion, policy, and language”.
Banks had a passion for natural history from a young age and he was particularly interested in botany. When he inherited his family’s Lincolnshire estates he became very wealthy and this gave him greater freedom to pursue his interests. At the age of 23 he went on his first voyage aboard HMS Niger (1766-1767) to collect specimens from Newfoundland and Labrador. Two weeks after his return, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society and in 1768 he joined Captain James Cook on HMS Endeavour for the Society’s voyage around the world. The primary aim of the voyage was to observe the Transit of Venus across the sun however, due to weather conditions this was not successful and Cook focused on his other orders, to search for a southern land mass. By the end of the voyage the coast of New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia had been charted and Banks and botanist Daniel Solander (1733-1782) had collected around 30,000 plant specimens (around 1,300 new to science) and over 1,000 animal specimens. Banks’ collection from the voyage is now housed at the Natural History Museum, London.
Hawkesworth uses Banks’ description of a collecting trip on Teirra del Feugo for one chapter entitled “An account of what happened in ascending a mountain to search for plants” (Vol. 2, Chp. 4). On 16 January 1869, a small party led by Banks and Solander set out to collect alpine plant specimens. The expedition took longer than expected due to unforeseen obstacles, including unexpectedly difficult terrain and the illness of one of Banks’ attendants. A dramatic change in the weather to freezing cold wind and heavy snow forced them search for a site to set up camp for the night. Banks recalls Solander emphasising to his companions the importance of keeping mobile until they reached a suitable camp site where they could light a fire “whoever sits down, says he, will sleep; and whoever sleeps will wake no more”. Several members of the party, including Solander himself, began to suffer from hypothermia and despite the efforts of Banks and the rest of the party, two servants, George Dorlton and Thomas Richmond, tragically did not survive the night. This chapter can be read in full on the National Library of Australia’s South Seas website
With the aid of Solander, Banks had intended to publish a 14 volume work describing his collections from the voyage of Endeavour, however he never completed it. Solander died in 1782 and Banks had become extremely busy with other interests including the establishment of the king’s botanical collections at Kew (now the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew ) and his position of president of the Royal Society 1778-1820.
Although Banks made his third and final voyage at the age of just 30 aboard the HMS Sir Lawrence (July-December 1772) his wealth, influence and passion for natural history, enabled him to provide great support for the voyages of others. Banks became particularly interested in supporting voyages that focussed on plants of economic importance, for example tea, coffee, chocolate and vanilla that could be grown on British colonies. One such voyage was that of the infamous HMS Bounty which Banks was involved in sending to Tahiti to collect breadfruit for cultivation in the West Indies.
Endeavour Botanical Illustrations An online exhibition by the Natural History Museum