Joseph Banks and His Influence as a Patron of the Arts









Exploration was yet another facet of Joseph Banks scientific repertoire. Not only was he an avid explorer but as president of the Royal Society was one of the most influential patrons of exploration. Neil Chambers is of the opinion that Banks, more than any other writer in his time, covered so vast of a field of correspondence (27). This thought is valid but to elaborate, Banks was not merely a correspondent in conversations concerning exploration but was instead a sort of father of exploration in the time period. Joseph Banks was quite the explorer himself, having traveled to Newfoundland and Labrador the year prior to his famous Endeavour voyage. His exploration success legitimized position at furthering British exploration in the late 1700s and early 1800s. He fostered Mungo Park’s journey along the Niger and in addition inspired Charles Waterton to publish his future book Wanderings in South America. Another Banks’ sponsored voyage includes William Bligh’s breadfruit voyage. Without his financial support voyages such as this could not take place. Bligh states in a letter to Banks, “I am very much obliged to you for granting me the Ephemeris and other things and hope the use I shall make of them will be very much to your satisfaction.” Bligh, in this excerpt is thanking Banks for all the provisions he has provided him with that will enable his voyage to be a success. This voyage in particular was instrumental in learning how to transplant plants from one environment to another and how this could best be done. Banks fervor for exploration was duly noted in poems also. William Cooper in The Task refers to Banks has a bee spreading honey because Banks shared the knowledge he had gleaned over his explorations with a younger generation. Not only did this cause the youth of the age to take an interest in exploration, but in addition caused an older generation to appreciate the fruits of exploration, thus ensuring the popularity of exploration. The above image, The great South Sea Caterpillar, is a satire of Banks development from an inconsequential botanist to the patriarch of exploration.
Banks knew that for most individuals it was impossible to financially support themselves on an exploration of some magnitude. For this reason Banks was a founding member of societies such as the Africa Association, whose primary purpose was to explore Africa and in addition fund exploration in Africa. Mungo Parks’ journeys were some of those financially supported by this organization. Patricia Fara argues that Banks influence British perceptions of sciences, such as exploration (199). This is another very true and relevant claim but does she does not go on to discuss that not only does Banks influence the population’s perception of exploration, but in addition influence the actual science of exploration. By doing so he invokes popular interest in the particular science. Exploration is one of many facets in which Banks displayed patronage and as a result exponentially furthered the science.



Works Cited

William Cowper’s The Task
Bligh’s letter to Banks (1787)
Chambers, N. (1999). Letters from the President: The Correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks. Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 53(1), 27-57.
Fara, P. (1997). The Royal Society's Portrait of Joseph Banks. Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 51(2), 199-210.
Gillray, J. (1850). The great South Sea Caterpillar, transform'd into a Bath Butterfly. London: H. Humphrey.

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