What did the first HMS “Endeavour” voyage bring back?

In this guest post, Kathleen Pike Jones, University of Washington Press catalog and metadata manager, gives a preview of our spring 2016 book, Endeavouring Banks: Exploring Collections from the Endeavour Voyage, 1768–1771 by Neil Chambers and with contributions by Anna Agnarsdóttir, Sir David Attenborough, Jeremy Coote, Philip J. Hatfield, and John Gascoigne.

Last week we heard the exciting news that wreckage discovered off the coast of Rhode Island is believed to be that of the HMS Endeavour. (After its history making voyage, the Endeavour was sold in 1775 and renamed Lord Sandwich and was used as a troop transport ship during the Revolutionary War.)

The Endeavour voyage of August 1768 to July 1771 was the first captained by James Cook and was commissioned to observe the transit of Venus across the Sun as a means of calculating the distance of the Earth from the Sun. However, it was Joseph Banks that became the real hero of the voyage.

Joseph Banks. Benjamin West RA, 1771–72. Oil on canvas.

Joseph Banks. Benjamin West RA, 1771–72. Oil on canvas.

Joseph Banks, an extremely wealthy but untitled twenty-five-year-old, persuaded the lords of the Admiralty to let him join Cook’s expedition. Banks was a passionate naturalist and on the voyage he took on the responsibility of gathering specimens of every natural thing that the Endeavour encountered. He brought with him four assistants, including Swedish naturalist Daniel Solander, Herman Diedrich Spöring, and Sydney Parkinson; four personal servants; and his two favorite greyhounds. All at his own expense.

The expedition took eight months to sail across the Atlantic, round the tip of South America, and cross the Pacific to reach Tahiti. While the astronomers worked on their observations, Banks (and his many assistants) collected the flora and fauna of the island. After several weeks in Tahiti they headed to New Zealand and Australia. Banks brought back over a thousand zoological specimens, including strange pouched animals that had never been seen in Europe. They also returned with over 30,000 pressed and dried botanical specimens, including 1,400 species new to science. No expedition had ever brought back such a large and important collection.

The Kongouro from New Holland. Commissioned by Joseph Banks and painted by George Stubbs, 1772. Oil on mahogany panel.

The Kongouro from New Holland. Commissioned by Joseph Banks and painted by George Stubbs, 1772. Oil on mahogany panel.

Unfortunately, Banks had a falling out with the Admiralty and did not sail with Cook on his next voyage to the South Pacific. Following the Endeavour expedition, Banks received a baronetcy and an honorary doctorate from Oxford. He went on to be the unofficial manager of Kew Gardens for King George III, president of the Royal Society, and is featured in Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2013 novel, The Signature of All Things. Endeavouring Banks: Exploring Collections from the Endeavour Voyage, 1768–1771 highlights the impressive collection that Banks amassed on this groundbreaking expedition.

Banksia serrata Linnaeus f., Suppl. pl.: 126 (1782). Engraving by Gabriel Smith after watercolor by John Frederick Miller after sketch by Sydney Parkinson.

Banksia serrata Linnaeus f., Suppl. pl.: 126 (1782). Engraving by Gabriel Smith after watercolor by John Frederick Miller after sketch by Sydney Parkinson.

Banksia is a large genus of trees or woody shrubs containing 170 species, all but one being endemic to Australia. The genus Banksia was created to honor Banks by Carl Linnaeus the younger in his Supplementum Plantarum.

Portrait of a New Zealand Man. Sydney Parkinson, ca. 1769. Pen and wash drawing.

Portrait of a New Zealand Man. Sydney Parkinson, ca. 1769. Pen and wash drawing.

A Scene in Tahiti. Tapaia, 1769, unfinished. Pencil and watercolor.

A Scene in Tahiti. Tapaia, 1769, unfinished. Pencil and watercolor.

This depicts a typical scene featuring a longhouse with pandanus, breadfruit, banana, and coconut trees and the taro plant, along with three vessels on which there are armed figures.

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