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Joseph Banks’ Herbarium Sheet from Cook’s First Voyage to Australia

Joseph Banks' Herbarium Sheet from Cook's First Voyage to Australia - Natural History Museum, London - Joy of Museums
Joseph Banks’ Herbarium Sheet from Cook’s First Voyage to Australia

This sample of Joseph Banks’ Herbarium Sheet is from Cook’s First Voyage to Australia. Banks was appointed to a joint James Cook’s scientific expedition to the south Pacific Ocean on HMS Endeavour, 1768–1771. It was the first of Cook’s voyages of discovery in that region. Banks funded seven others to join him, two naturalists, two artists, a scientific secretary, and two black servants from his estate.

The voyage went to the east coast of Australia, where Cook mapped the coastline. While they were in Australia, Banks led the first significant collection of Australian flora, describing and collecting many species. Almost 800 specimens were illustrated by the artists finally published in 35 volumes between 1980 and 1990. Many plant specimens were collected and dried for mounting on sheets of paper to Herbarium Sheets. By the end of the voyage, Banks and his team collected more than 30,000 plants and 1,000 animals.

Banks used his fame from this voyage of discovery to become a preeminent scientist. In 1778 he was elected president of the Royal Society, England’s leading scientific body. He became the longest-standing president and held this high prestige for 42 years. Banks was a major supporter of the internationalist nature of science and was actively involved in keeping open the lines of communication with continental scientists during the Napoleonic Wars. He gave away many of his Endeavour specimens to scientific institutions but held his plant collection until his death in 1820.

Joseph Banks

Sir Joseph Banks (1743 – 1820) was a wealthy English naturalist, botanist, and patron of the natural sciences. Banks took part in Captain James Cook’s first grand voyage (1768–1771), visiting Brazil, Tahiti, New Zealand, and Australia. He held the position of President of the Royal Society for over 41 years, and nearly 80 species of plants bear his name.

Banks advocated British settlement in New South Wales and the colonization of Australia and advised the British government on all Australian matters. He has been honored with many place names in the South Pacific.


A herbarium is a collection of preserved plant specimens and associated data used for scientific study. The samples may be whole plants or plant parts; these will usually be in dried for mounting on a sheet of paper. The specimens in a herbarium are often used as reference material in describing plants

Joseph Banks’ Herbarium Sheet from Cook’s First Voyage to Australia

  • Title:            Joseph Banks’ Herbarium Sheet from Cook’s First Voyage to Australia
  • Date:           1770
  • Origins:      Australia
  • Museum:    Natural History Museum, London

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Photo Credit: 1) JOM

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