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Cook Museum Whitby

2020 Exhibition - The celebrated Mr. Banks: reputation and legacy

Why this topic?

This exhibition will be the second to focus on Joseph Banks’ career – last year ‘Botanical Endeavours’ explored his work and importance on Cook’s first voyage. That voyage was a game changer in Banks’ career, and he lost little time in capitalising on it despite the fiasco of withdrawing from Cook’s second voyage.

Banks undertook a brief voyage to Iceland (1772), started to advise George III on the development of Kew (1773), joined learned society life in London, and most important, became President of the Royal Society in 1778. A formidable organiser, networker and correspondent on a global scale, his significance is hard to underestimate.

Banks died 200 years ago in 1820 and still remains the longest serving President of the Royal Society.

From youthful adventurer to scientific Statesman

How did Banks go about building a reputation in London and the wider world? What was his
influence on the establishment of a colony in Australia and how did he help sustain it during the
uncertain early years?

Why was Banks so passionate about the global exchange of plants, especially those with useful
applications such as flax, breadfruit or tea? Did the development of horticulture in Britain owe
anything to his encouragement? The British love of gardening was enormously encouraged by the
flood of new and exotic plants from distant places.

Being an enormously successful and influential statesman of course attracted criticism and satire.
What did it mean to be a celebrity at that time? We pick out some of the satirical depictions of
Banks as a celebrity, as well as his reputation in Europe and beyond.

We are grateful to Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the National Portrait Gallery, Leeds Museums &
Galleries and other lenders for their generous support

Reynolds print showing Banks as youthful adventurer

Banks (as in Parry, Reynolds print as youthful adventurer, South Sea Caterpillar).

Watering Can

Watering can

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