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Vibrant Treasures: Botanical Illustrations from the 16th to 20th Centuries: Joseph Banks Florilegium

This guide provides more information about the plant-centric illustrations, herbals and books displayed in the exhibit in the MSU Libraries Murray and Hong Special Collections Reading Room, March-May, 2011.

About the Banks Florilegium


Banks' Florilegium: A publication in thirty-four parts of seven hundred and thirty-eight copperplate engravings of plants collected on Captain James Cook's first voyage round the world in H.M.S. Endeavour, 1768-1771; the specimens were gathered and classified by Sir Joseph Banks, Bart., and Daniel Solander and were accurately engraved between 1771 and 1784, after drawings taken from nature by Sydney Parkinson. Sir Joseph Banks, 1743-1820, Sydney Parkinson, 1745?-1771. London : Alecto Historical Editions in association with the British Museum (Natural History), <1981 >-1988.

Two plates are on display. 
One is of Berberis Ilicifolia Linnaeus f. B. semperviens. Tierra del Fuego, plate 676. Joseph Banks and his party saw this species at: Tierra del Fuego, 1768.
(online image).

The second is of Crataeva Religiosa. G. Forester. C. frondosa. Society Islands, plate 586.  Joseph Banks and his party saw this species at: Otaheite, Society Islands (13 April-1 June and 4 June-13 July 1769). (online image).

Banks' Florilegium is a collection of copperplate engravings of plants collected by Sir Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander while they accompanied Captain James Cook on his voyage around the world between 1768 and 1771. They collected plants in Madeira, Brazil, Tierra del Fuego, the Society Islands, New Zealand, Australia and Java.

Banks' and Solander's specimens were studied aboard the HM Bark Endeavour by Sydney Parkinson. He drew each specimen and made notes on their colour, and for some species he completed watercolour illustrations. When they returned to London, Banks hired 5 artists to create watercolours of all of Parkinson's drawings (Parkinson died on the voyage). Between 1771 and 1784 Banks hired 18 engravers to create the copperplate line engravings from the 743 completed watercolours at a considerable cost. The Florilegium was not printed in Banks' lifetime and he bequeathed the plates to the British Museum. - Source

The engravings are printed in color à la poupée, up to ten colours being worked directly into the single plate before each print is pulled, with additional details added in watercolour.
Each sheet is identified by a blind embossed stamp on the recto, recording the publishers' and printer's chops, the copyright symbol and date. The initials of the individual printer, the plate number and the edition number are recorded in pencil.

The plates - The plates are virtually uniform in size: 18 x 12 inches (457 x 305 mm)

The paper - Somerset mould-made 300gsm, each sheet watermarked 'AHE', produced in a special making by the Inveresk Paper Company : 28 1/2 x 21 7/8 inches (724 x 556 mm).

The compilation of the botanical information was made under the direction of the British Museum (Natural History). It consists of the relevant botanical, geographical and historical facts (including the names of the artists and engravers) which are printed on the individual mounts. Each of the engravings is protected within a double-fold sheet of Somerset mould-made 300 gsm paper, acid free and cut to form a window mount. These superlative line engravings were made under Joseph Banks' personal direction between 1772 and 1784.

The first edition from the original copper-plates was published in thirty-five Parts by Alecto Historical Editions, in association with the British Museum (Natural History) between 1980 and 1990. The edition of one hundred numbered sets was fully subscribed. --Source

In 2009 the MSU Libraries acquired a partial set of the Banks Florilegium, namely   the sets of the Society Islands, Tierra del Fuego, and the Supplemental Plates set.

Additional items on display

The letters of Sir Joseph Banks: A selection, 1768-1820. Ed. Neil Chambers; foreword by David Mabberley; introduction by Harold Carter. London: Imperial College Press, 2000.

A collection of letters written by and to Sir Joseph Banks.  The letter on display is from Banks to Carl von Linné, the younger, dated December 5, 1778.  The letter is in regards to Linné’s father’s Latin binomial nomenclature system of naming plants, and how Banks was using the system to name and label the plants that were collected on his travels and printed as plates.

Sir Joseph Banks, 1743-1820. Harold B. Carter. London: British Museum (Natural History), 1988.

Harold Carter has conducted a comprehensive survey of Sir Joseph Banks' papers, both published and unpublished, his specimen collections and all relevant biographical material. The latter includes satirical writings both by him and at his expense, and a description of all known portraits and possessions. Arranged in sections broadly by subject, each listing is preceded by an historical overview, followed by bibliographical details of collections and the whereabouts of holdings. In association with the British Museum (Natural History), Carter  has traced, listed and summarized virtually every known holding of Banks papers throughout the world. This volume provides an invaluable reference work, as a basis for further research on the scientific and economic history of Western Europe and the Pacific in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Sir Joseph Banks

Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), naturalist and patron of science, was born on 13 February 1743 (2 February, O.S.) at Westminster, England. Banks maintained that he first became interested in botany at Eton, through the beauty of the local wildflowers. He read avidly in his leisure, not to improve his Greek and Latin which were regrettably weak, but to learn more about plant life. In the next vacation at Revesby, Banks was delighted to find John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes (London, 1597), but at Oxford he was shocked to learn that tuition in botany was unavailable because the Sherardian professor of botany, Humphrey Sibthorpe, did not lecture. Banks thereupon prevailed upon Sibthorpe for permission to seek a botany teacher at Cambridge, and taking letters of introduction to the Cambridge professor, John Martyn, he returned with Israel Lyons, a botanist and astronomer. He later left Oxford University without taking a degree, and he joined H.M.S. Niger and between May and October 1766 studied and collected rocks, plants and animals in Newfoundland and Labrador. He returned in January 1767 with a mass of material, destined to become part of one of the most remarkable collections in Europe, and with valuable experience of the difficulties of transporting specimens by ship in bad weather. In 1766 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and attended his first meeting on 15 February 1767. Soon afterwards he began a series of extensive tours to study plants, animals, rock formations, archaeological sites and historic ruins.

When the Royal Society persuaded the Admiralty to send James Cook in command of an expedition to observe the transit of Venus, it urged that 'Joseph Banks … a Gentleman of large fortune … well versed in natural history' should be permitted to join the expedition 'with his Suite'. Probably the earl of Sandwich influenced agreement to the request, and Banks joined the ship with a staff of eight: Daniel Solander and H. D. Spöring, naturalists; Alexander Buchan and Sydney Parkinson, landscape and natural history artists; James Roberts and Peter Briscoe, tenants from Revesby; Thomas Richmond and George Dorlton (Dollin), negro servants. Only four of this party survived the voyage, Banks himself, Solander and the two Revesby men.

The Endeavour sailed from Plymouth in August 1768. They made collections and observations at Rio de Janeiro, Tierra del Fuego, Tahiti, and during the survey of New Zealand. They took full advantage of landings on the eastern coast of Australia, especially at Botany Bay (28 April–5 May 1770) and at Endeavour River (17 June–3 August), where, however, the beaching of the holed ship unfortunately caused water to flow sternwards, thereby destroying some of the plant specimens, which Banks had 'for safety stowed in the bread room'. By now the 'collection of Plants was … grown so immensely large that it was necessary that some extraordinary care should be taken of them least they should spoil in the books'. Banks recorded his general impressions of the Australian east coast, noting plants, insects, molluscs, reptiles, birds, fish, quadrupeds, etc. as well as Aboriginal customs. Further observations were made on the New Guinea coast and the island of Savu on the way to Batavia, where many members of the expedition, including Banks and Solander, fell victims to fever. Yet studies in natural history and ethnology were continued, vocabularies were compiled, and the journal was kept up to date. Further collections were made at the Cape and St Helena.

From the time he landed at Deal on 12 July 1771, Banks found himself the center of scientific inquiry. With Solander he was presented to George III in August, and in November Oxford honoured both naturalists with the degree of doctor of civil law. Meanwhile the huge collections of seeds, plants, shells, insects, bottled specimens, native implements and reams of notes and drawings were taken to Banks's London house, where Solander was soon installed as secretary and librarian. Linnaeus was delighted, but his attitude changed when he learned that Banks was determined to join Cook on another expedition in H.M.S. Resolution before the natural history results of the first voyage were fully assessed. Banks proposed to take a dozen or so assistants, but he fell out with the Navy Board over accommodation and withdrew, finding compensation in leading an expedition of his own in 1772 to the Isle of Wight, the western islands of Scotland and Iceland. More specimens and curiosities poured into the London house. The following year Banks visited Holland with Charles Greville and toured Wales with Solander. About this time his advice was sought by the King who wished to develop the Kew Gardens. Thus Banks began, under royal patronage, the establishment of a great collection of exotics from all over the world.

On 30 November 1778 he was elected to succeed Sir John Pringle as president of the Royal Society, a decision which widened the rift between the mathematicians and the naturalists and led to a crisis in the society in 1783-84. In 1779 Banks gave evidence, strangely at variance with his impressions of 1770, before a House of Commons committee and he strongly recommended Botany Bay as a suitable place for a penal settlement. He was created a baronet in 1781, appointed K.C.B. in 1795, and a member of the Privy Council in 1797.  Banks attracted an inner circle of accomplished collectors and botanists, of whom Solander, Jonas Dryander (1748-1810) and Robert Brown were in turn his botanist-librarians.

Collectors for King George and Sir Joseph Banks, often victualled by the one and paid by the other, went to the Cape, West Africa, the East Indies, South America, India, Australia, and on world voyages (e.g. David Nelson on Cook's third voyage and on Bligh's voyage to the South Seas, and Archibald Menzies on Captain George Vancouver's voyage). Masses of living plants, dried specimens, seeds, drawings and notes were sent to England for the King's gardens and Banks's herbarium, and it has been estimated that during George III's reign some 7000 new exotic plants were introduced into England, chiefly by Banks.

Banks published little. He proposed a grand botanical work on his Endeavour voyage, and accordingly had many fine copper plates prepared. Some of these were later published with Solander's Latin descriptions in Illustrations of Australian Plants Collected in 1770 During Captain Cook's Voyage Round the World in H.M.S. Endeavour … edited by James Britten (London, 1905). Banks did, however, publish short articles in Archaeologia, in the Transactions of the Horticultural and Linnean Societies and in Young's Annals of Agriculture.

L. A. Gilbert, 'Banks, Sir Joseph (1743 - 1820)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition, Copyright 2006, updated continuously, ISSN 1833-7538, published by Australian National University.
. March 8, 2011.

Sidney Parkinson

Parkinson, Sydney  (1745?-1771), natural history draughtsman, was born in Edinburgh, the younger of two sons of Joel Parkinson, a brewer and a Quaker. Although apprenticed to a wool draper, Parkinson's preference was for botanical drawing at which he showed great skill. About 1767 he went to London and was employed by Joseph Banks for whom he did some outstanding work; in 1768, when Banks formed his suite of 'scientific gentlemen' to accompany James Cook to the South Seas in the Endeavour, Parkinson went as botanical draughtsman. The death at Tahiti of Alexander Buchan, the topographical draughtsman, threw a heavy extra burden on Parkinson, but he bore it well and ably. During the voyage he made at least 1300 drawings or sketches, and compiled vocabularies of the natives of Tahiti and New Holland. On the way home, when the Endeavour called at Batavia for repairs, Parkinson was one of many who contracted dysentery, and he died at sea on 26 January 1771.

In England later that year a dispute arose between Banks and Parkinson's brother, Stanfield. Banks had paid the latter £500 for balance of salary due and for Parkinson's papers and drawings. The papers were later lent to Stanfield Parkinson, who contrary to agreement had them transcribed for publication and was restrained by an injunction from doing so until the official account of the voyage had appeared. His book was published later in the same year, 1773, entitled A Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas, with a second enlarged edition in 1784. A result of the squabble was that although Hawkesworth, who edited the official account of the voyage, used Parkinson's papers and drawings freely he did not acknowledge them. Only two of Parkinson's illustrations in these books are of Australian subjects. His own contains a study of the two Aboriginals who opposed Cook at Botany Bay, and Hawkesworth has a view of the Endeavour River (Cooktown, Queensland). A third of a kangaroo, formerly attributed to Parkinson, is now known to have been from a painting by George Stubbs.

Parkinson was the first artist to set foot on Australian soil, to draw an authentic Australian landscape, and to portray Aboriginals from direct observation. A great quantity of his work survives. The British Museum has eighteen volumes of his plant drawings, of which eight, comprising 243 drawings, are of Australian plants, three volumes of zoological subjects, of which a few sketches relate to Australia, and many of his landscape and other drawings, mainly of Tahitian and New Zealand subjects. Parkinson was gentle, able and conscientious, noted, according to his brother, for 'his singular simplicity of conduct, his sincere regard for truth [and] his ardent thirst after knowledge'. Two portraits are known: a small head in oils in the British Museum (Natural History) and the engraved frontispiece to his Voyage.

Rex Rienits, 'Parkinson, Sydney (1745? - 1771)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition, Copyright 2006, updated continuously, ISSN 1833-7538, published by Australian National University. March 8, 2011

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