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Sir Joseph Banks

February 13, 1743 - June 19, 1820


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Banks was born in February 1743 in London to William Banks, a wealthy Lincolnshire country squire and member of the House of Commons, and his wife Sarah, daughter of William Bate.
Early Life
As a boy Banks enjoyed exploring the Lincolnshire countryside, and developed a keen interest in nature, history and botany.

Joseph was educated at Harrow School from the age of 9, and at Eton College from 1756.In late 1760 he was enrolled as a gentleman-commoner at Oxford University.

At Oxford he matriculated at Christ Church, where his studies were largely focused on natural history rather than the classical curriculum.

When he was 17 he was inoculated with smallpox, but he became ill and did not return to school.

Determined to receive botanical instruction, he paid the Cambridge botanist Israel Lyons to deliver a series of lectures at Oxford in 1764.

Banks left Oxford for Chelsea in December 1763.

He continued to attend the university until 1764, but left that year without taking a degree.

His father had died in 1761, so when he turned 21 he inherited the impressive estate of Revesby Abbey, in Lincolnshire, becoming the local squire and magistrate, and sharing his time between Lincolnshire and London.

From his mother's home in Chelsea he kept up his interest in science by attending the Chelsea Physic Garden of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries and the British Museum
Endeavour Voyage
Banks was appointed to a joint Royal Navy/Royal Society scientific expedition to the south Pacific Ocean on HM Bark Endeavour, 1768–1771.

This was the first of James Cook's voyages of discovery in that region.

This voyage went to Brazil, where Banks made the first scientific description of a now common garden plant, bougainvillea (named after Cook's French counterpart, Louis Antoine de Bougainville), and to other parts of South America.

The voyage then progressed to Tahiti where the transit of Venus was observed then on to New Zealand and to the east coast of Australia, where Cook mapped the coastline and made landfall at Botany Bay and at Endeavour River (near modern Cooktown) in Queensland, where they spent almost seven weeks ashore while the ship was repaired after foundering on the Great Barrier Reef.

While they were in Australia Banks, the Swedish botanist Daniel Solander and the Finnish botanist Dr. Herman Spöring Jr. made the first major collection of Australian flora, describing many species new to science.

In March 1779, Banks married Dorothea Hugessen, daughter of W. W. Hugessen, and settled in a large house at 32 Soho Square).

It continued to be his London residence for the remainder of his life.

There he welcomed the scientists, students and authors of his period, and many distinguished foreign visitors.

His sister Sarah Sophia Banks lived in the house with Banks and his wife.

He had as librarian and curator of his collections Solander, Jonas Carlsson Dryander and Robert Brown in succession.

Poor Health
Banks's health began to fail early in the 19th century and he suffered 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, but his mind remained as vigorous as ever.

He had been a member of the Society of Antiquaries nearly all his life, and he developed an interest in archaeology in his later years.

In May 1820 he forwarded his resignation as president of the Royal Society, but withdrew it at the request of the council.
Banks died on 19 June 1820 in Spring Grove House and was buried at St Leonard's Church, Heston. Lady Banks survived him, but there were no children.

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