Sir Joseph Banks. Mezzotint by S. W. Reynolds, 1834, after Sir J. Reynolds. Image: Wellcome Library, London
Seminars in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology
Harriet Mercer (University of Oxford)
How Joseph Banks made climate move
Joseph Banks looms large in histories of science. The British naturalist is best remembered for his role in the Endeavour voyage that brought the first Europeans to Australia’s east coast in 1770; for the botanical work he did on that voyage including the astonishing number of plants he took back to England; and for his longstanding leadership of the Royal Society and Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Yet, for all his fame, Banks is a missing figure in histories of climate. This paper presents a picture of Joseph Banks the climate knowledge maker and mover. Climate was a difficult feature of a place to capture and transport. Temperature, precipitation, and wind were more elusive and less palpable than the collection of plants that made Banks famous. This paper uses historians’ more traditional documentary archives as well as the archives of climate scientists to show how Banks made climate a portable phenomenon that could be moved from one side of the world to the other. It also explores what that portability can reveal about the relationship between climate and empire in the late eighteenth century.