Banks' library

Publication and printing from copper plates

The results of the voyage were not published by Banks, although he intended to issue 14 folio volumes of his natural history discoveries at a total cost to himself of about £10,000. He employed five watercolourists from the winter of 1773 to complete 595 new artworks based on Parkinson's unfinished work. He then also employed 18 engravers until 1784, to cut copper printing plates, based on 743 artworks, in readiness for scientific publication in colour. He rejected the newly developing technique of aquatint in preference to the traditional black line methods, including some selective etching and mezzotint techniques. All but one illustration was engraved at the plant's life size. A total of 738 copper plates were subsequently engraved, with the intention of Banks publishing and suitably illustrating his scientific results from the voyage.

However, this did not happen, possibly because Banks began to prepare for his making a second voyage with Cook, which he eventually did not join, due to disagreements with the Admiralty about the ship. The death of Solander, his botanist and librarian, also must have affected his enthusiasm after them having shared the perils of the first voyage. Other reasons why the scientific publication never happened include Banks's other interests in public affairs, his work at Kew Gardens and beyond, and the American War of Independence, the French Revolution, and an economic depression which were all affecting England. Only proof prints were made from the copper plates in Banks's lifetime. Other scientists were allowed to study the materials collected at Banks' own home and library in London's Soho, and gradually they made known to the world the scientific results of the voyage.

Robert Brown, Banks's Librarian, had catalogued the engraved copper plates while they were stored in the British Museum at Bloomsbury in numbered wooden crates, since lost. Between 1900 and 1905, the British Museum (Natural History), as the South Kensington museum was then known, issued lithographic prints of just 315 of the plant engravings, under the title Illustrations of Australian Plants, which included three newly made lithographic images not represented by the copper plate engravings. High costs and a perceived lack of scientific need to print any of the other copper plates meant that only the Australian plant images were printed. Later, a selection of the copper plate engravings was published in 1973 in a bound volume entitled Captain Cook's Florilegium, but this was still not a full-colour printing project. Next page...