Sex, Botany and Empire: The Story of Carl Linnaeus and Joseph Banks
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When the imperial explorer James Cook returned from his first voyage to Australia, scandal writers mercilessly satirised the amorous exploits of his botanist, Joseph Banks. Was the pursuit of scientific truth really what drove Enlightenment science? Patricia Fara reveals the existence, barely concealed under Banks' and Linnaeus' camouflage of noble Enlightenment, of the altogether more seedy drives to conquer, subdue and deflower in the name of the British Imperial state.
became the hub of an international scientific empire. Here Banks gathered together his countless natural history specimens, which later formed the basis of the British Museum’s collection, and invited colleagues like Solander to his famous breakfasts, where scientific men could discuss their latest acquisitions. He also corresponded with men all over the world: the 20,000 letters that survive (out of an estimated 100,000) are striking evidence of how hard Banks worked. Like Linnaeus, he evidently
for science and empire, Banks is virtually unknown in Britain, whereas in Australia he has been converted into a national hero. In contrast with this antipodean adulation, Banks’s 42 years as President gained him very little recognition in Britain. Keen to appear 68 progressive, the Royal Society tried to brush up its image in the 19th century by appearing more democratic. When Davy and his colleagues finally took over, they wanted to minimise the importance of a man they dismissed as an
creatures that he had never encountered before. Sustained by rum and roast vulture, he led his team on a disastrous overnight expedition in Tierra del 82 Fuego, when he only just survived a bitterly cold snow storm. To Cook’s astonishment, Banks and Solander went back later that day to collect some more shells and plants, but then they were obliged to sail onwards. Over 4,000 miles of uncharted waters lay between the Endeavour and Tahiti. Astronomy, not botany, was paying for this part of the
he transplanted plants and animals to places in the opposite hemisphere with a similar climate. For example, he shipped Mediterranean crops to be grown in New South Wales, and Cook took pigs to New Zealand (where they ran wild and are still called Cookers). As a consequence, regions of the world that lie far away across the oceans started to resemble Europe. In 1776, the influential Scottish economist Adam Smith suggested that: ‘The colony of a civilised nation which takes possession, either of
By the early 19th century, his garden at Uppsala was overgrown with weeds and the greenhouse stood in ruins. *** In Britain, upright botanists were appalled by the sexual implications of Linnaeus’s classification system. Taking advantage of the opportunity to make a feeble pun (another example of how fashions in humour have changed), they sneered at his ‘florid’ style. Linnaeus had clearly spelled out the analogies between the reproductive organs of flowers and people. ‘The calyx is the