prmlogo2Cook-Voyage Collections
at the Pitt Rivers Museum

The Collectors

Joseph Banks (1743-1820)

Portrait of Joseph BanksBenjamin West, Joseph Banks, painted 1771–1772, oil on canvas, 2340 x 1600 mm; © The Collection: Art and Archaeology in Lincolnshire (Usher Gallery, Lincoln).After attending Harrow and Eton, Joseph Banks went up to Christ Church, Oxford, where he matriculated on 16 December 1760. On the death of his father in September 1761 he inherited the family estates, which made him independently wealthy. While away from Oxford a good deal, Banks kept rooms at Christ Church until the late summer of 1765 when he left without taking a degree. He had, however, continued to pursue his interests in natural history, and had made many friends, in particular John Parsons (1742–85) with whom he went botanizing in the surrounding countryside.

After leaving Oxford, Banks travelled extensively in England, both to his newly inherited estates, but also farther afield. He also spent a good deal of time at the British Museum, where he got to know Dr Daniel Solander (1736–88), a Swedish student of the great naturalist Carl von Linné (Carolus Linnaeus; 1707–78), who was working there as an 'assistant-librarian'. At a time when it was customary for gentlemen of means to tour the more comfortable parts of Europe, Banks set off in April 1766 for Newfoundland and Labrador, botanizing and enquiring at every opportunity. He arrived back in England in January 1767 and continued his enquiring travels closer to home.

Within a year or so he formulated a plan to join the prospective voyage to the South Seas to observe the Transit of Venus. In November 1767 the Royal Society had petitioned the Government to provide a ship, with observers and the necessary equipment, and by early the following year Banks had resolved to join the expedition. In April 1768, James Cook was appointed to command of the Endeavour for the voyage, and no doubt Banks and Cook met soon afterwards. At his own expense, Banks took with him: Solander, as his companion and co-scholar; Herman Diedrich Spöring, as secretary; Sydney Parkinson, as botanical and natural history draughtsman; Alexander Buchan, as landscape and figure artist; as well as four assistants—Peter Briscoe, James Roberts, Thomas Richmond, and George Dorlton. Richmond and Dorlton died at Tierra del Fuego before the Endeavour reached the Pacific, Buchan died at Tahiti, and Spöring and Parkinson died on the voyage home, but each in their own way may be considered to have contributed to the collecting and recording that constituted so much of the success of the voyage.

After further study in London and Edinburgh, Banks's friend John Parsons had returned to Christ Church in 1767 to take up the newly established post of Lee's Reader, funded by a bequest from Dr Matthew Lee (1695–1755), as well as a University Lecturership in Anatomy. One of his tasks as Lee's Reader was to oversee the completion and running of the 'Anatomy School' at Christ Church, the centre for scientific teaching (anatomy, physics, botany, etc.) in the University until the creation of the University Museum in the mid nineteenth century. No doubt Banks and Parsons met again when Banks and Solander were given honorary degrees by the University on 21 November 1771. Both Parsons and the Anatomy School would have been well established at Christ Church by then, and it may thus have been as a result of this visit that Banks gave some curiosities from Tahiti and New Zealand to his old college. In later years, the collection was transferred on loan to the University Museum and then incorporated into the Pitt Rivers Collection. It is now cared for by the University's Pitt Rivers Museum.

Jeremy Coote and Jeremy Uden (November 2013)


Johann Reinhold Forster (1729-1798) and Johann George Adam Forster (1754-1794)

Reinhold and George ForsterJean François Rigaud, Reinhold and George Forster, oil on canvas, 1260 x 1010 mm, painted in London in 1780; courtesy and copyright, Hans-Jörg Rheinberger.Johann Reinhold Forster was born on 22 October 1729 in Prussia. After studying theology at the University of Halle, serving as a Lutheran pastor, and being employed by the Russian government, he decided to seek his fortune in England. With his son George, he arrived in England in October 1766. Johann George Adam Forster was born on 26 November 1754 in Prussia. He accompanied his father to Russia in 1765 at the age of ten and thence to England in 1766.

After teaching for three years in Warrington, Reinhold decided to make a living in London by writing and translating. In the next few years, he made a name for himself as a natural historian. When Joseph Banks withdrew at the last moment from participating in Cook's second voyage, Forster was chosen to fill the vacant position. On 12 June 1772 he and his son were appointed 'at the King's pleasure' naturalists to the expedition. On 13 July 1772 they set sail with Cook on the Resolution on a three-year voyage to the South Seas. They returned to England on 30 July 1775.

The voyage was the making of the reputations of both men. They made detailed observations of the natural history and cultures of the islands they visited and made extensive collections of both natural history specimens and ethnographic artefacts. On their return, they published books about the voyage, both men providing detailed accounts that are still used by scholars today.

After the voyage, Reinhold argued and fell out with many influential people in England, including Cook himself. Thanks to George's efforts, in November 1779 he was given a teaching position at the University of Halle, where he had been a student. George went on to achieve greater fame than his father, especially in Germany, though this was more for his political writings than for his science. He died in Paris in 10 January 1794 at the age of 39. Reinhold continued to teach, write, and translate until his death on 9 December 1798 at the age of 69.

Jeremy Coote and Jeremy Uden (November 2013)