The Naturalist. From the Australian National Maritime Museum.


The Naturalist | Australian National Maritime Museum

Visual: sailing ship bracing the oceans.

PROFESSOR PAUL TURNBULL– Professor of History & Digital Humanities, University of Tasmania

I think he's one of the greatest collectors of the 18th century, or certainly somebody who encourages people to collect Natural History. 

Visual: painting of Sir Joseph Banks, painted by Joshua Reynolds in 1773.

I think it's interesting that in Banks’ case, he is one of the great admirers of the Swedish naturalist Carl von Linne, who's commonly called by his Latin version of his name Linnaeus. 

He devises a way of actually trying to classify beings on this planet—plants, animals and minerals—in the expectation that we'll understand a lot more about why it is that certain animals are found in certain places, why it is that there are certain plants that are found in different parts of the world. 

Now, this is the kind of world that Banks is working in and from being a very young man, he's utterly fascinated by the sheer diversity of life on Earth and he wants to know more about it, he has an absolute passion for inquiry. 

He’s an avid collector during the Cook voyage. 

He goes to fund eight individuals for a sum of I think, about ten thousand pounds of his own money, among whom of course is Daniel Solander, who is one of Linnaeus's most talented students and of course Banks is very, very keen when Solander makes it very clear that he wants to be part of the voyage.

Visual: painting of Sir Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, painted by William Parry, c. 1775-1776.

The first Cook voyage is just an astonishing opportunity for him to engage in understanding much more about the diversity of life of Earth and sometimes that diversity can be very very strange.

It's new and it kind of raises all sorts of profound questions. 

If you think for example of what happens in North Queensland, the Endeavour hits the rock. 

I mean, it's almost a miracle that they managed to get it into the Endeavour River. 

Visual: drawing of kangaroo.

They're camped in the Endeavour River and of course, they’re there collecting still and at one stage Banks actually sees this animal and he wonders what it is, because it looks like a greyhound, it's got a big kind of mouse-like colour about it, it's got a tail like a greyhound, but it certainly doesn't run like a greyhound. 

Visual: from Bank's journal - 25th of June, 1770: "He was not only like a grey hound in size and running but had a long tail, as long as any grey hounds; what to liken him to I could not tell, nothing certainly that I have seen at all resembles him."

Visual: painting of kangaroo "The kongouro from New Holland" painted by George Stubbs, 1772.

It pops through the bush, and so of course they are absolutely fascinated, what is this thing? 

So there is this very, very strong scientific imperative, but at the same time there is also a fascination with not just the diversity of life but the sheer beauty of it and I suppose this is best exemplified by shells. 

I think it was a very important collection because it contains examples of molluscs, which had never been seen before and if anything else, it kind of led to almost a wave of collecting of shells. 

Visual: extensive collection of sea shells arranged in compartments.

In an attempt to try to understand what may well have been responsible for this diversity in the mollusc kingdom, why was it also that some of these shells are remarkably complex, and it just seems very strange I think, for people in the 18th century that when you think about it, molluscs aren't exactly complex creatures and yet when you actually have a look at some of the designs of the shells, when you actually have a look at how they're formed, they are quite remarkable. 

And Banks’ collection I think is the beginning of what will become a very, very strong area of scientific interest throughout the 18th and into the 19th century and indeed it continues to this very day. 

The remarkable thing about shells is that we're still finding out differences, we're still attempting to try to classify them, they still are things which are of profound curiosity to many scientists who go into the area of marine research. 

Interestingly there are similarities between certain species of plants, again that banks finds in the pacific and species of plants which will be found in the Americas, for example. 

Indeed, they're also kind of similarities between plants which are found in Europe and plants which are found as the Endeavour voyage continues to go back home. 

It goes through the Indonesian archipelago, stops in at Batavia, for example, and there's a kind of long fed curiosity during the voyage in an attempt to gather up as many plant specimens as possible to really try to again, understand this diversity that's there in the plant kingdom.

Visual: credit - thanks to Professor Paul Turnbull and Professor Hamish Maxwell Stewart.

Visual: Australian Government Logo, Australian National Maritime Museum logo.