It has been a very long time since I last posted posted. In part because I have been busy writing, with the result I have two books published this year. Yale University Press published The Multifarious Mr. Banks back in May. The biography is my contribution to the rehabilitation of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), an overlooked yet fascinating and pivotal Enlightenment figure.
If, at all, he seems to be remembered by the Brits as the natural historian who sailed with James Cook on his first circumnavigation in the Endeavour. But there is so much more to the man, not least establishing the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew on a scientific footing and being the driving force behind the establishment of the penal colony at Sydney Cove. As such is is much better remembered in Down Under where he is often called the Father of Australia.
But there is much, much more to the man. Just a few of his achievements are: President of the Royal Society for an unequalled 42 years; co-founder of the (what is now called the) Royal Horticultural Society and the African Association that sent out Mungo Park to search for the source of the River Niger; agricultural pioneer; the man who arranged the theft from Portugual of Merino sheep and thus secured their into the British flock; the founding father of scientific plant hunting; pioneer of ensuring scientific studies were included as a core component to voyages of discovery (Vancouver, Flinders and Scorsbey to name but three); and driving force behind the establishment of the Ordnance Survey mapping of Britain. And of course he was the organiser of the voyage of economic plant transfer that ended with the Mutiny on the Bounty.
At his London home, 32 Soho Square, Banks established what may be described as his own private research institute which housed his collections of specimens (now held by the Natural History Museum - the link gives a good summary of Banks and his work) and what was then the greatest natural history library in Europe (now in the British Library). Here he welcomed in scientists from across Europe, irrespective if whether the two countries were at war, and corresponded globally.
So I welcome you to dive into The Multifarious Mr. Banks and discover that while Sir Joseph had no single scientific discovery on which to hang his reputation, he was not only a fascinating character but also instrumental in forging history in a number of ways, the repercussions of which are still felt today.
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