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Botanical Endeavours!

2019 Exhibition - What did Joseph Banks do on Cook’s first voyage?

Joseph Banks was an ardent botanist.  He was young and wealthy but had no particular reputation in 1768. All that changed going on Cook’s first voyage.  He took with him a well-equipped party, making huge collections of plants which they recorded and brought back to Britain, many for the first time.

What sort of equipment did Banks use and how were plants collected, recorded, classified and transported back to Britain?  You can see the chair that Banks used on Endeavour and his own travelling cooking apparatus.  There are colourful displays of the nets, containers, presses and reference books that botanists used.

The exhibitions also focusses on two members of Banks’ team, the Swedish botanist Dr. Daniel Solander, without whom Banks would have found difficulty classifying the huge number of plants collected, and the young artist, Sydney Parkinson, whose beautiful botanical drawings recorded so many plants for the first time.

The ship spent October 1769 to the end of March 1770 circumnavigating both islands of New Zealand. 2019 marked the 250th anniversary of that visit.

New Zealand’s unique flora and bird population was formed through geographical isolation and the fact that there were no native mammals (except two species of bat) until the arrival of Maori.  

Material collected by Banks and Solander forms the first European study of the flora of the islands. Banks was particularly interested in how plants were used by indigenous peoples. He was especially impressed with the ways that Maori used flax and admired their fine workmanship. This was at the heart of his developing interest in what came to be known as ‘economic botany’, which focussed on how plants might be used other than as food or medicine.

The voyage launched Banks on a career which took him to the top of the world of science and learning.  In many ways he defined what it was to be a botanical explorer and collector.

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