Sir Joseph Banks: Biography & Plant Discoveries

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson will explore the life of the famous English botanist Sir Joseph Banks. You'll also learn about a few of the many different plants he (and his team) discovered and collected.

Sir Joseph Banks

Sir Joseph Banks was a naturalist, a botanist, and a big promoter of the sciences. When he was young, he received a sizeable inheritance. But he didn't sit around and admire his trust fund. No, he spent his money advancing the cause of science.


Sir Joseph Banks was born on February 13, 1743, in London, England, to William and Sarah Banks. From the time he was in school, Banks was interested in botany, the study of plants.

Banks went on to be educated at Harrow School, a prestigious educational institution, and Eton College, also a prestigious place of education. Banks studied at Christ Church, part of Oxford University, from 1760-1763 while simultaneously getting tutored at Cambridge. During this time, he inherited his fortune from his father.

Shortly after, Banks went to Newfoundland and Labrador (now part of Canada) to collect various plants. More excitingly, in 1768, he joined Captain James Cook for a voyage on the HMS Endeavour.

Banks would visit Australia, New Zealand, Java, Tahiti, and South America as a result. As you can imagine, he recorded, discovered, and collected numerous specimens during this journey. In 1772, Banks would journey to Iceland as well.

Sir Joseph Banks
Sir Joseph Banks

He eventually made his way back to England and, in 1778, became president of the Royal Society, an important scientific academy. Banks would become known as a tireless promoter of scientific advancement in general, but he always remained passionate about plant collection and identification.

Consequently, he encouraged many scientists and botanists to travel around the world to find new plants, especially those that were of economic value.

In 1781, Banks was made a baronet, a British honor of sorts, and then Knight Commander of the Bath in 1795, another honor.

During times of war and unrest, such as the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, Banks would try his best to help protect scientists from having their properties seized.

Banks died on June 19, 1820, in London, England.

Plant Discoveries

Metrosideros umbellata
Metrosideros umbellata

Throughout his journeys, Banks and his team members discovered and collected numerous plants, well over a 1,000 of which were new to science. Some of these plants included:

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