Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sir Joseph Banks, "The Father of Australia",

Recently my sister, Denise who lives in New York sent me two books that she had obtained in Sydney at the State Library. She has a passion for early Australian history, as do I. One book was “The Life of William Dampier” who started his career in 1676 as a poor buccaneer, preying on ships on the Spanish Main. He could easily have ended up on the gallows for piracy, but instead his sense of adventure about the world led him to become the first person to circumnavigate the world three times (I didn’t know that). He landed in Australia 80 years before Cook (I knew that) and visited the Galapagos Islands 150 years before Darwin.

The other book she sent me was “The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks”, about the voyage Captain James Cook made in the Endeavour and his discovery of the east coast on New Holland (later to become Australia).

I had learnt of both persons during my early school days and reading through the journal, I thought some of the discoveries made by Joseph Banks could make for a interesting post.

The voyage of the Endeavour, commanded by James Cook, from 1768 to 1771, inaugurated the history of European settlement in Australia.

Cook had been instructed to sail to Tahiti to observe the transit of the planet Venus across the face of the sun, an event that was predicted to occur on the 3rd June 1769. These observations would help scientists calculate the distance of the sun from the earth, providing a greater understanding of the extent of the solar system.

Cook was further instructed to search for the legendary southern continent. The west coast of New Zealand, discovered by Abel Tasman in the summer of 1642-43 was thought by some to be the west coast of a vast landmass. Cook demolished this supposition by circumnavigating New Zealand, proving it to be two islands and producing a map of remarkable accuracy.

...................................Captain James Cook

He then turned west and sailed up the east coast of Australia - the first European to do so - naming it first `New Wales' and then `New South Wales' and taking possession of it in the name of King George III at an island he named 'Possession Island' off the tip of Cape York. The voyage had been undertaken at the urging of the Royal Society, a distinguished assembly- of those interested in all aspects of science. One of its fellows was Joseph Banks, young, rich and passionate about natural history.

Joseph Banks was born in London into a wealthy family, on the 13th February 1743. Joseph Banks received his earliest education at home under private tuition. At age nine he attended Harrow School and was then enrolled at Eton School which he attended from the age of 13 until 18. From an early age, his declared passion was natural history, and in particular, botany. He successfully lobbied the Royal Society to be included on what was to be James Cook's first great voyage of discovery, on board the Endeavour.

Portrait of Joseph Banks after his return in 1774.

The Endeavour sailed from Plymouth on Thursday the 35th August 1768 with 94 people on board. Throughout the voyage, whenever it was calm, Banks and his assistants were out in a small boat, catching fish and plants in a net, or shooting birds. When the ship landed their first task was to go 'botanizing' on shore. Banks was always busy as his party set to work examining, sketching, and preserving.

Banks brought a substantial library of over 100 volumes preserving bottles, nets, hooks, trawls, devices for catching insects, a sort of underwater telescope, artists' materials, pap for drying and storing specimens - all the paraphernalia - the natural historian. He also took a guitar which he was skilled in playing, and his dogs - including greyhounds for chasing game. It was alleged that he spent 10,000 pounds on the voyage.

He was promptly appointed to a joint Royal Navy/Royal Society scientific expedition to the South Pacific Ocean on HM Bark Endeavour. This was the first of James Cook's voyages of discovery into that region. This voyage went to Brazil were Banks made the first scientific description of a now common garden plant, bougainvillea (named after Cook's French counterpart, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville) and other parts of South America. It went on to Tahiti (where the transit of Venus was observed, the primary purpose of the mission), New Zealand, and finally to the east coast of Australia where Cook mapped the coastline and made landfall at Botany Bay near present-day Sydney and at Cooktown in Queensland, where they spent almost seven weeks ashore while their ship was repaired after being holed on the Great Barrier Reef.

The Endeavour beached after being holed on the Great Barrier Reef.

The condition of the Endeavour made sailing back to South America in winter too hazardous and so the decision was made to seek the east coast of New Holland and the strait which was thought to exist between it and New Guinea. Australia was first sighted on the 20th of April 1770 at Cape Everard, Victoria. From here Endeavour sailed up the east coast and eventually in August 1770 passed through Torres Strait by way of the Endeavour Strait, between Prince of Wales Island and the mainland.

On the return to England Banks had around 30,000 plant specimens, revealing 1,400 species new to science, and about one thousand species of animal were collected. Drawings of nearly 1,000 plants and 398 of animals had been made.

Two drawings by Banks taken along the East Coast.

He actively supported the proposal of Botany Bay as a site for British settlement. He proposed William Bligh to command two voyages for the transportation of breadfruit and other plants, including the ill-fated voyage on the Bounty which ended in mutiny in April 1789. He had a role in choosing the governors of the settlement in New South Wales, founded in January 1788 with the arrival of the First Fleet. It was Banks who later recommended Bligh to succeed Philip Gidley King as the fourth Governor of New South Wales.

As befits someone with such a role in opening the South Pacific to Europe, his name dots the map of the region, Banks Peninsula on South Island, New Zealand, the Banks Islands in modern-day Vanuatu and Banks Island in the Northwest Territories, Canada.

Because of his keen interest in the colony Banks has been called 'the Father of Australia'. The Canberra suburb of Banks and the Sydney suburb of Bankstown are named after him; a monument to his memory is at Kurnell; and the north headland of Botany Bay was named Cape Banks by Cook. His name has been commemorated in the notable plant, Banksia and by some Australian plant species, e.g. a red spider flower, Grevillea Banks.

The Banksia, was named after the botanist Sir Joseph Banks, consists of approximately 70 species of shrubs and trees. All are Australian natives except for one species from New Guinea. Banksias are found in all states of Australia however the majority of the species are native to the south western corner of Western Australia.

Flowers are tightly-packed, candle-like spikes that gradually open from the base upwards. These are followed by woody seeds cones that often contain the remnants old flowers. Flowers, foliage and seed capsules are prized by the cut flower industry. The flowers are an abundant source of nectar for honeyeating birds and insects, which in turn attract other insect-eating birds. Larger birds such as parrots and cockatoos feed on the seeds.
His photo also appeared on the paper five dollar note in the Australian currency before it was replaced by the new plastic currency.

Banks health began to fail early in the nineteenth century and he suffered much from gout every winter. After 1805 he practically lost the use of his legs, and had to be wheeled to his meetings in a chair. His mind remained as vigorous as ever. On 19th June, 1820, Sir Joseph Banks died. Lady Banks survived him but there were no children.

This is just a small selection of the life of Sir Joseph Banks. More detailed writings can be viewed by searching in Google or Yahoo. The journal of the voyage of the Endeavour by Joseph Banks, and edited by Paul Brunton is well worth the read. The original journal is preserved in the Mitchell Library at the Sate Library of New South Wales.


Puss-in-Boots said...

I can remember being taught about Joseph Banks at school, but as it was in those days, it was a dry dusty lesson that none of us were interested in. However, since then I have read a lot about him and realise that we have a lot to thank him for.

Another interesting figure of history connected with Australia is Matthew Flinders...of course, he isn't heard about as much, but is an interesting character regardless.

Thanks for the trip back in time, Warren. Your research is great.

Cliff said...

I try not to learn much at this hour of the AM but you've forced the issue here. He's sort of the Lewis and Clark of that area. A great read and I thank you for all of this.
The paintings of the man would indicate a case of chronic constipation however.

Peter said...

Hi Wazza, another well researched article that you have made interesting for us all thanks.

B said...

Hey thanks for checking out my blog and for the camera advice- I just went to a fitness show last evening and all my pics are blurry???!!! I need a new camera that or I need to learn how to use one LOL

have a great day:)

Merle said...

Hi Warren ~~ Another good post that
was more interesting than when we had to learn about it at school. One of
our earliest gardeners. Thanks for your comments at my place and also for the joke.Take care, Warren,
Kindest regards, Merle.

Walker said...

I know quite a bit about James Cook from my love of history but I didn't know who Banks was but now I do thanks to you.

Great post
Have a nice day

Margaret said...

Hi Warren it is great to be back, although I was unable to comment on Merle's site as well as some others Grrrrr!!. Thanks for visit. I really enjoyed the post it was most interesting. Also loved the Trams, I have a real passion for Trams and old trains.
Cheers Margaret

Jamie Dawn said...

Banks was quite a good artist. His drawings are very detailed.
I suppose if science had not worked out for him, he could have taken up painting portraits instead.
I share his interest in botany. I am a lover of plants and trees and flowers. Just give me trees and water, and I'm a happy camper. I would not do well in the desert.
I really like the tights men wore back then. They really showed off their legs.
(Actually, they look like GOOBERS!)

Lee said...

Great post, Wazza and they must be very interesting books. Friends of mine who came out here to Australia back in the fifties from Germany would enjoy reading them as they're extremely interested in Australian history. So I must remember to tell them about these two books.

Willowtree said...

I grew up in Bankstown, seriously.

Sabine said...

Good for people to know.