Historical collections

Insect collection of Sir Joseph Banks (1743 - 1820)

Sir Joseph Banks (1743 - 1820) insect collection of 4,000 insects, includes butterflies, flies, bugs and moths.

The Banks collection and Sloane collection are the two collections within the Entomology collections that are officially designated as historic by the Museum’s trustees.  


The two historical collections are approximately 300 years old, and are key to explaining the history of collecting, the science of taxonomy and the human desire to understand the natural world.

The collections have particular taxonomic significance because:

  • Carl Linnaeus refers to the Sloane collection in Systema Naturae
  • the Banks collection contains many types described by J. Fabricius

Sloane's collection

Sir Hans Sloane was a noted physician, scientist and collector. His collections would become the core of the British Museum, and later the Natural History Museum. 

Sloane (1660-1773) was primarily a botanist but also collected other natural history, archaeological and ethnographic specimens.

While the Sloane Herbarium is the major part of his collection, we also hold his remaining insect collection.

Sloane also acquired other collections to add to his own. A large part of the extant material comes from the James Petiver (1658-1716) and the Leonard Plukenet (1642-1706) collections. 

Any questions?

If you would like to use any specimens for research   


Looking for a specific specimen?

The historical collections are being digitised

Banks collection

Joseph Banks was a botanist but also a collector of other natural history specimens. His collection was originally left to the Linnaean Society but given to the British Museum by the society in 1863.

The collection is different to the Sloane in that all the specimens are pinned and in glass-topped drawers.

It also contains material collected during Cook’s circumnavigation of the globe, including specimens from pre-colonial Australia.


Accessing the collections

Scientists and collections management specialists can visit the collections and borrow specimens for research.

Collections management

Our duty is to provide a safe and secure environment for all of our collections.