- the adventure is growing™
Skip to page contentHome  |  Explorers  |  Articles  |  Resources  |  About Us  |  Login  |  Site Map 

Home  >  The Explorers  >  Joseph Banks

Joseph Banks 1743-1820

'The Explorer' part II

The journey across the open expanse of the Pacific was largely uneventful, with the Breadfruit - A plant that would become infamous.Endeavour safely arriving at the island of Tahiti by mid-April 1769. This leg of the expedition was marked more by politics and cultural clashes than by any really significant plant collections. The transit of Venus was successfully observed - after Banks had retrieved the astronomical quadrant, a device crucial to the observation. The Tahitian concepts of property and possession were not at all similar to those of the Europeans, and this difference, more than any other, resulted in numerous conflicts and dominated the journal entries of the crewmembers.

Gardenia taitensis - based on the 
original work by Sidney ParkinsonWithin three week Banks and Solander had found all the botanical specimens they were going to find, including the rather fine gardenia pictured here, so their botanising was reduced to exploring the island and occasionally improving upon specimens already collected. Banks followed the advice of Linnaeus and wrote as much about the people, their culture and society, as he did about the plants they used. His notes and descriptions were remarkably detailed, and only marginally coloured by his 18th century European sensibilities, making them a useful record of Tahitian Society in the 1760's. Banks was even able to learn enough of the language to carry on basic conversations.

When it came time for the Endeavour to sail, to complete the rest of her mission by looking for the fabled southern continent, it was none too soon. Relations with the Tahitians were still favourable, but both sides were growing weary of the other's peculiarities. So, on July 9th, 1768 Cook prepared to sail. Departure was delayed four days, however, while two deserters were tracked down. Cook accomplished this by holding much of the Tahitian Royal court hostage, until the two men were found and returned to the ship. Why this worked, and why this did not result in a full-scale war with the Tahitians, is still a mystery.

A Tahitian outrigger canoe as drawn by Sydney ParkinsonSafely under way, the Endeavour continued through the Society Islands and on to New Zealand with the expert guidance of Tiata, a Tahitian Priest who had insisted that he join the voyage. He proved invaluable in translating the many Polynesian dialects they encountered on their journey. When they reached the shores of what would come to be known as New Zealand, their encounter with the local people was rather different from their previous contacts.

'Upon seeing a smaller bird unfledged (without sails) descending into the water, and a number of parti-coloured beings, but apparently in the human shape, also descend, they regarded the larger bird as a houseful of divinities … The astonishment of the people … on seeing Cook's ship was so great that they were benumbed with fear, but presently, recollecting themselves, they felt determined to find out if the gods … were as pugnacious as themselves …'

(J. A. Mackay Historic Poverty Bay (Gisbourn, 1949) as quoted by Richard Hough in Captain James Cook (Hodder & Stoughton, 1994)

They circumnavigated the Islands, but were able to make landfall in only a very few places, so the resulting botanical collections from the islands were not as great as they might have been.

More than a hundred years before, in 1642 and 1644, Captain Abel Janszoon Tasman had sailed around, and roughly charted, most of Australia. He named New Holland, but the eastern coast of the island continent remained uncharted and unknown, and it was Cook's intention to fill in that 3000km (2000 mile) gap. It was a voyage of almost three weeks, but early in the morning of April the 19th, land was spotted. Banks wrote in his journal "The country this morn rose in gently sloping hills which had the appearance of the highest fertility. Every hill seems to be clothed with trees of no mean size…" It would not be until the 28th of April when they came to a bay that appeared to offer safe anchorage. It was originally called Stingray Bay by Cook, after the large rays the sailors had caught and all had enjoyed eating, but it soon became evident that even greater discoveries lay on land.

Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander were able to move about freely and collect vast quantities of plants, none of which had been recorded by Europeans before. Their vast herbarium on the ship was growing so rapidly that Banks despaired that he would even get it sorted before it spoiled. Sydney Parkinson was kept so busy sketching all the specimens he was only able to make notes on the colours to be added later. Some materials were dried while others were wrapped in moist cloths and stowed in metal lined chests to keep them fresh until Parkinson had a chance to draw them.

It was around this time that Captain Cook decided to call it Botany Bay and to name a point to the south of the entrance 'Point Solander' and the peninsula to the north became 'Cape Banks'. ('Point Solander' was the location where Cook ordered an inscription to be carved in a tree to commemorate their landing, and was later renamed 'Inscription Point', while further to the south is 'Cape Solander')

During the eight days they remained in the bay, Banks and Solander were able to collect more plants than from any other location they had explored. From the marshes on the shore, to eucalyptus forests inland, their collection of plants would become one of the greatest ever made. But Banks was not content with just plants, and so he collected birds, animals and sea life from the bay, as he had done at every opportunity before on the expedition.

It was early May and the Captain wanted to continue on charting the unexplored western coast of this land they called New Holland. So on May 6th, 1770 the Endeavour set sail and headed north. Soon after entering the labyrinth of the Great Barrier Reef the ship grounded on some coral and it took a very anxious 23 hours to set the Endeavour free. The damage was extensive, with repairs lasting more than two months, but they were eventually able to set sail and reach the open ocean, however their relief at being free of the reef was short lived, as powerful currents threatened to dash the ship against the outer reef. It was only by the amazing skill of the Captain and crew, and great good luck, they were able to return to the relative security of the inner reef and its thousands of shoals and islands.

Navigating the endless shoals and shallows meant that travel was painfully slow, with the Captain often having to 'warp' the ship from one place to another. 'Warping' may sound fast, but was in fact a slow and laborious method of traveling. Several sailors would carry the anchor ahead in a longboat, with an officer carefully surveying the seafloor to look for hazards. Then, after reaching the fullest extent of the anchor's cable, the anchor was weighed and the ship was then winched ahead.

By the end of August 1770 they were free of the 'Insane Labyrinth', as Cook referred to the Great Barrier Reef in his journal, and free to sail for Batavia, on the island of Java. Batavia, the once and future Djakarta, was the centre of all trade in the Dutch East Indies. A highly developed colony, Batavia was designed like a city in the Netherlands, complete with canals, Dutch architecture, shipyards and plenty of stores to replenish the ship and crew. It was also wracked with fevers and illness.

The journey up to this point had been a great adventure. An adventure with the requisite trials and tribulations mixed with wondrous discoveries of strange new lands, cultures, exotic animals, and plant collections unlike the world had seen before. But the journey turned into a nightmare. As they sailed the Indian Ocean toward the African Cape and home, the ship was gripped by fever more than once, with malaria, dysentery and the ever-present tuberculoses taking their toll on the weakened sailors. Five had died in Batavia, but relapses of malaria and renewed bouts of dysentery took their toll on the remaining crew. By the time they reached the Cape in March of 1771, thirty-four had died, including Herman Spöring, Solander's assistant, Charles Green the astronomer, and Sydney Parkinson, the talented botanical artist.

Cape Town offered them a brief respite and a chance to recover, for both Banks and Solander had fallen deathly ill more than once during the voyage across the Indian Ocean. It was only two days before the Endeavour was to sail for home that they were well enough to do a little botanizing. South Africa has the greatest diversity of plant life recorded on earth, yet their collections here were small compared to what they had gathered in Australia.

Although Banks' remarkable enthusiasm for making collections never seemed to wane, there is no doubt that even he, along with the Captain and crew of the Endeavour, was glad to see the shores of England once again. On July 12th, 1771, the Endeavour sailed into the harbour at Deal, just a few miles from the mouth of the Thames.

Joseph Banks would never again undertake such a journey, although plans were already under way for him to accompany Captain Cook on his second voyage. Banks was famous now, and gained more praise than even Cook for the success of the mission, so it was with a swelled head that he placed huge demands for the outfitting of the ship for the second mission.

When Cook refused to allow his ship to be so vastly altered and made so utterly top heavy, it was up to the Admiralty to decide what should be done. Joseph Bank had been an invaluable part of Cook's first voyage, but it had been the Captain, and his hand selected crew, who had saved the first expedition on innumerable occasions, not Mr. Banks. For the Admiralty the choice was an easy one, Captain James Cook would command the Resolution, and Mr. Banks would have to be content with some other occupation.

Banks and Cook nonetheless remained friends.

Next: Sir Joseph Banks the Leader


Selected by the SciLinks program, a service of
the National Science Teachers Association.
Home  |  Explorers  |  Articles  |  Resources  |  About Us  |  Login  |  Site Map
Copyright © 1999 -™ and Lindenleaf Enterprises Inc