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Joseph Banks

Joseph Banks Photo

Sir Joseph Banks, born on 13 February 1743, was a British explorer, botanist, and naturalist, known for promoting the natural sciences. Banks was born in London in the household of an affluent Lincolnshire landowner – William Banks. He was initially educated at home through private tuitions before acquiring his primary education at Harrow School, London (1752) and then moved on to Eton College, Windsor (1756). Banks then enrolled at Christ Church (1760), a constituent college of the University of Oxford.

In Banks’s words, he chose Botany while at Eton because the adjacent wildflowers and foliage had managed to capture his attention long enough for him to ponder over them. Banks kept his fascination alive with reading as much as he could about plant life and exploring during vacations. When Banks expressed an interest in continuing his education in Botany, he was informed that Oxford didn’t provide successive lessons in Botany. Banks then acquired permission for a lecturer/botanist Israel Lyons from Cambridge to teach him botany at Oxford.

Upon his father’s death, Banks moved to London in 1761 and eventually left Oxford without completing his degree. He instead chose to continue to study natural science. Banks’ father had also left him a noteworthy inheritance and a significant title that consumed his energies and time. It was through his acquired wealth, title and resources that Banks came in close association with Daniel Solander (a Swedish naturalist) and Carl Linnaeus (a Swedish botanist) who helped him expand his interest his Botany and establish his legacy.

In 1766, Banks, at the age of 23, was designated as a member of the royal society while the same year marked his illustrious expedition aboard the warship HMS Niger to Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Banks’s intention with the expedition was to study the area’s natural history and surrounding and managed to bring back various specimens and samples of his findings along with an abundance of material that would go on to contribute to England’s collection. Banks also, upon the insistence of the Royal Society, went on a Royal Navy scientific expedition to the South Pacific Ocean on HMS Endeavour in 1768. The expedition was led by Captain James Cook and navigated through the waters of South America, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, and Java. This expedition added great value to Banks’s study of natural surroundings and facilitated the collection of specimens to be brought back to London.

With all his findings and collections, Banks set up the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew – a botanical garden in southwest London. he sent botanists and collectors to countries far and wide and his efforts reaped a diverse and distinguished botanical garden, the first of its kind. In 1781 Banks was made a baronet and served as an advisor to King George III.

Through his position in the Royal Society, Banks was able to influence the promotion of science in the country and help many a scientist gain recognition and contact with the progressive nature of work being committed to by other nations.

To his credit, Banks was honored for introducing the genus – a taxonomic classification of living species – which was named Banksia in his honor. Banks is also credited with the first scientific description of the bougainvillea – a genus of thorny ornamental vines, bushes, and trees. Banks is also known for his support for William Smith’s efforts to create the first geographical map of England which also served as the first of its kind. It was the first map to have been drafted of an entire country.

Along with all the honors conferred upon him, Joseph Banks was knighted in 1781 and was appointed as a member of the Privy Council in 1797.

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