Cape jasmine (Gardenia florida), an engraving

Modern print drawn from the original copperplate, about 1768-1820

Natural historians travelled on many of the voyages of exploration of the eighteenth century in order to find and record plants and animals that were previously unknown in Europe. On Captain James Cook's first voyage to the Pacific (1768-71), for example, Joseph Banks (1743-1820) led a party of trained collectors, including the botanist Daniel Solander (1733-1782).

Banks also employed Sydney Parkinson (1745-71) and other artists to record their discoveries. Parkinson made nearly 1000 drawings of the people, landscapes, animals and plants they found there. In this period before the invention of photography, professional illustrations were the best way of accurately recording the newly discovered plants and their habitats.

Sadly, Parkinson died from fever on the voyage, as did several other members of the crew. He had only completed 238 watercolours, but Banks later employed eighteen engravers to produce 753 plates from Parkinson's drawings and sketches and from dried specimens. Banks intended to publish these in a Florilegium (anthology of flowers). It was never published, however, although he did send proofs to the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707-78), who was so impressed that he gave Banks' name to a new genus of plant - Banksia serata.

When Banks died in 1820, the copperplates and original drawings from the voyage, as well as his collections of plants and animals, passed to the British Museum. A full edition of the copperplate engravings was finally published in 1989.

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Cape jasmine (Gardenia florida), an engraving

© 2003 The Natural History Museum


More information


T. Rice, Voyages of discovery: three ce (London, Scriptum Editions and the Natural History Museum, 1999)

Joseph Banks, Banks Florilegium. The Plants (Alecto in association with the British Museum (Natural History), 1980-1990)

P. Fara, Sex, Botany and Empire: The St (Icon Books, 2003)


Museum number

On loan from the Natural History Museum 5i i/46 ?


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