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Captain James Cook

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Science and natural history on Cook's voyages

Joseph Banks

Sir Joseph Banks Bt. President, F.A.S,
View full size imageSir Joseph Banks (1743-1820). © NMM
Scientists travelled on all three of Cook's voyages. Sir Joseph Banks was a wealthy amateur botanist and member of London's Royal Society who went on the Endeavour voyage.

Banks is shown here in his London home in Soho Square, surrounded by objects he brought back from the Pacific on Cook's voyage. He is wearing a cloak made from tapa, the cloth produced by Pacific islanders from the paper mulberry tree.  At his feet is a drawing of New Zealand flax – a plant that was thought to be commercially useful.

Banks collected so many new plants in the Pacific Islands, New Zealand and Australia that when he returned he had increased the number of species known to European science by a quarter. Banks was painted shortly after being elected President of the Royal Society, a position he held until his death in 1820.

Sydney Parkinson

Eucalyptus alba
View full size imageEucalyptus alba.
Sydney Parkinson was one of two artists employed by Joseph Banks to draw the landscapes, people, plants and animals of the Pacific on James Cook's first voyage. 

Parkinson's speciality was botanical illustration. His normal working method was to make sketches of the plants and take notes of their colours, which would allow him to finish the drawings later.

A kangaroo
View full size imageA kangaroo. © NMM
Parkinson died on the return to Britain, but other artists employed by Banks made high quality engravings of his sketches. Banks kept his collections at his house in Soho Square. They were a valuable resource for other scientists. After his death they were moved to the British Museum and later to the Natural History Museum, where they can still be seen today.

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