The Letters of Sir Joseph Banks

A Selection, 1768-1820

Neil Chambers

This selection is made from the surviving 6,000 letters which Banks wrote, and will introduce many readers to a deeply impressive figure, who is rapidly being recognized as one of the great men of his age.

978 1 86094 204 4
April 2000
248 x 152 mm
200 pp
Imperial College Press in association with the Natural History Museum


Sir Joseph Banks was a man of science, of affairs, and of letters. He circumnavigated the globe with Lieutenant James Cook on HMS Endeavour, 1768-1771, taking with him a team of naturalists, illustrators and assistants. Later, he settled in London, and assembled an enormous library and herbarium at 32 Soho Square. In 1778 he was elected President of the Royal Society, a position he held for over 41 years. 

He was at the scientific and social centre of Georgian life for more than five decades. As such he developed a global network of correspondence, using letters to further knowledge, and ultimately to shape events in the cause of empire. He suggested the possibility of establishing colonies on the east coast of Australia, and then he actively supported them for the remainder of his life. He has therefore been regarded by some as the 'Father of Australia'. 

Furthermore, in the Napoleonic Wars he acted to save the population of Iceland when its trade was seized by the British. His views could hardly be avoided on matters of botany or horticulture, drainage or agriculture, on coinage, exploration or science in general. Yet he was a warm, authoritative writer with a direct, flowing prose style. His letters make fascinating reading for their variety, as well as the insight they provide into his public and private life.

The Letters of Sir Joseph Banks - A Selection, 1768-1820 is available to order from our co-publisher Imperial College Press. For details of how to contact them, please visit Publishing partners.


Find out what others think of this book. 

"...the current volume should be warmly welcomed by Banks scholars and more general readers alike as early fruit of the Banks Archive Project. It is to be hoped that the Project will succeed in making the rich diversity of Banksian correspondence available to further promote understanding of the man, his exploits and his historical significance."

The British Journal for the History of Science

"Browsing through these letters gives a splendid indication of Banks's changing and comprehensive interests ... this will do much to establish Banks's reputation in his native country."

Notes and Records of The Royal Society

"This selection helps to restore to the map of late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century intellectual life a figure too long absent and a great master of the art of letter-writing. It offers a glimpse of the long-submerged epistolary riches that provide such insight into the character of a remarkable individual and his age."