Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820)

British explorer and naturalist known for his promotion of science.

The son of a wealthy landowner, Banks' passion was natural history, and in particular botany. Having graduated from Oxford University and inherited his father's fortune, he travelled to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1766 to collect plants, animals and rocks. In the same year he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society.

Banks joined Captain Cook's 1768 voyage to the South Pacific on board the HMS Endeavour. He made extensive collections in South America, Tahiti and New Zealand before reaching Australia. His specimens accounted for approximately 110 new genera and 1300 new species. Some 75 different species bear his name.

Banks also wrote detailed descriptions of the Maori people he and his crew encountered in New Zealand. Later, Banks travelled around Great Britain and to Holland and Iceland, collecting ever more 'curiosities'. Among many other activities, he was honorary director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and a Trustee of the British Museum. In 1778 he also became President of the Royal Society, an office which he held until his death in 1820. He was knighted in 1781.