Endeavouring Banks: Exploring collections from the Endeavour voyage

Reviewed By  Janet Mawdesley       July 28, 2016


Author  edited by Neil Chambers

Distributor:      New South Books
ISBN:                 9781742235004
Publisher:         New South Publishers
Release Date:   May 2016  

Website:    http://www.newsouthbooks.com.au 

Joseph Banks is a name synonymous with Botany, the mapping of Australia and New Zealand and voyaging far and wide with Captain James Cook during the years of 1768-1771 on the Endeavour. But it does make you wonder what it was that enticed a young man to set off on a voyage of discovery, at his own cost, other than the sense of adventure created by going to places that yet, remained largely either undiscovered or unexplored.

Therefore, who was Joseph Banks and what exactly is the legacy he left so many years ago that is still as important today as it was in when he first recorded his findings on this legendary voyage.

The purpose of this work, which is as informative as it is beautiful, brings Banks into Sharpe focus, highlights the incredible work carried out and perhaps even more importantly, brings his remarkable achievements back into the modern arena.

As a young man of independent wealth, an intellect, a man with a strong a fascination for plants and nature which saw him voyage out with friend Constantine John Phipps to Newfoundland, on a collecting expedition while on a fisheries patrol, in 1766,. He was also elected to the Society of Antiquaries and then the Royal Society as his expertise in things Botanical was beginning to see him considered as somewhat of an authority in this area of natural Science.

About this time there was a great interest in scientific findings and when the opportunity to go to the Pacific as a part of a collaborative international recording of the transit of Venus on 3 June 1769 was put forward by the Royal Society, it was far too good an opportunity to miss. King George III also gave his approval of the expedition and donated generously to the cost of the voyage.

The Royal Navy were despatched to take astronomer Charles Green to Tahiti, the ship to be commanded by James Cook and called the Endeavour. Banks was well aware of this voyage and used his influence within the various Societies to talk his way into a role of supernumerary, paying for his own passage and that of his team of illustrators and collectors, along with their luggage and equipment. It was estimated that this voyage would cost in the vicinity of Ten Thousand Pounds; a vast sum, as his yearly income from his estates was only Six Thousand Pounds.

When HM Bark Endeavour set sail on 25 August 1768, Cook and Banks did truly set of on a voyage of discovery, hardship and adventure, which was to last longer than expected, establishing a legacy that is a relevant today as it was in 1771.

Each section of this work has been divided up into the various stages such as The Atlantic Stage, The Society Islands, New Zealand, The East Coast of Australia and Homeward Bound, tracing the route travelled and the work carried out while in these areas.   Using this method of presenting Banks and his work makes an interesting read, as well as a logical progression which is more than helpful for the non-scientific reader, simply interesting in the life and times of this man and the information and species he gathered and recorded.

Each section contains masses of information, beautiful illustrations, pages from his note books, details on the many artefacts recorded and the collections gathered. Each artefact has a detailed description of the item, its usage, construction and current location if known.

It is considered there were many, many more artefacts collected by Banks, which were considered a part of his personal collection that never made it into the various Museums and Societies. Many pieces were passed on to friends and other avid collectors and scientists.

As a comprehensive wok, Endeavouring Banks has wide appeal, presenting to a new audience not just the work of a man, still widely respected for his contributions to Botany and Science, but a time in our history when to venture forth was a time of great adventure, a time when anything could and usually did happen, a time when life was so very different, governed by different rules and a very different society.

Neil Chambers has not only presented the man, but the life and times of a world that was keen to know more, to discover the new, the untamed, the unclaimed and to claim that discovery for King and Country.