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Sir Joseph Banks (1743 - 1820)

Sir Joseph Banks

(Source BBC History)

British explorer and naturalist who, as long-time president of the Royal Society, London, became known for his promotion of science.

Joseph Banks studied at Oxford from 1760 to 1763, during which time he inherited a considerable fortune. After graduating, he travelled to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1766, collecting plant and other specimens. In 1768 he led the Royal Society delegation on a voyage around the world with Captain James Cook, during which time they landed in New Zealand, at Poverty Bay, in 1769. While there, Banks described a great number of plants found in the area and wrote detailed descriptions of the Maori people who lived there. His scientific account of the voyage and its discoveries sparked considerable interest in Europe, encouraging European settlement near the Pacific islands.

Banks was interested in plants that could be used for practical purposes and be introduced into other countries for possible commercial use. After he became president of the Royal Society in 1778, he promoted science and encouraged exchanges with scientists abroad. As president, he cultivated the career of many scientists, including Robert Brown, who would later become famous for his discovery of Brownian motion, the natural continuous motion of minute particles in solution.

In 1781 Banks was made a baronet, and in 1795 received the order of Knight Commander of the Bath; two years later he was admitted to the Privy Council. In 1793 his name was given to the Banks Islands, a volcanic group of islands near Vanuatu in the Pacific, by Captain Bligh (famous after the mutiny on the 'Bounty'), who first explored them. Banks's herbarium - considered one of the most important in existence - and library are now at the British Museum. In 1805 Banks was the first to suggest the identity of the wheat rust and barberry fungus. In his capacity as honorary director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, he sent many botanists to various countries to find new plants and extend the Garden's collection.



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