Described by Sir David Attenborough as ‘The Great Panjandrum of Georgian Science’, Sir Joseph Banks OE (1743-1820) was one of the most influential and prolific botanists of his time. A new exhibition in the Tower Gallery at Eton College reflects on his life’s work and  explores Banks’s global impact using three main themes: Banks at Eton and his early botanising, Banks as plant hunter on James Cook’s voyage round the world on HMS Endeavour, and Banks the scientific entrepreneur and promoter of economic botany. 

Joseph Banks attended Harrow and Eton (1756-1760) before going on to revolutionise the western view of botany, documenting over 1400 new species. The exhibition of his life pulls together original manuscripts. drawings and letters as well as detailed engravings. Objects and artworks have been loaned from the Natural History Museum in London, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Linnean Society of London and displayed alongside items from Eton’s own collections, forming a wonderful display of his incredible work. 

Described by his tutor at Eton as having ‘great inattention’ and caring ‘mighty little for the book’, Banks was not a natural scholar. After Eton, Banks studied at Oxford, during which time he inherited his father’s estates, and developed a passion for botany which continued throughout his life. Over many years, he had great adventures, including joining James Cook’s Pacific expedition on HMS Endeavour. During the voyage, Banks and his protégés collected tens of thousands of specimens, from over 1,000 species. Many were immortalised in his Florilegium– an astonishing collection of 753 copper plate engravings. Detailed watercolours and drawings of each specimen were made by the artist Sydney Parkinson, whilst on board, one of which is on display in the exhibition alongside the specimen, original copperplate and final print.  

From illustrations of a Maori trading a crayfish with Banks, to a kangaroo skeleton, the exhibition is a stunning and inspiring look at botany as it was in an age of new scientific discovery. It is well worth a visit, especially for the biologically inclined. 

The exhibition, To Botany Bay and Back: The Worldwide Web of Sir Joseph Banks continues in the Tower Gallery until the 16 October 2022. Members of the public are welcome to visit on Sunday afternoons, 2:30-5pm, and, by appointment, Monday-Friday 10.00-16.00. Please contact  

Visit the College Collections website for more information about the exhibition and our opening times. 

All Welcome To Sir Joseph Banks Exhibition Lecture At Eton College On 3 October 2022   

Members of the public are invited to book their free place for a lecture and exhibition at Eton College on Monday 3 October 2022 to explore the work and life of Sir Joseph Banks.  

The lecture on 3 October runs from 18.30-20.00 in the Egerton Theatre in the Queen’s Schools at Eton College and is a free event organised in collaboration with the Windsor Festival and Heritage Open Days. Attendees must use the booking link to register their place prior to attendance at the lecture. 

Banks’ role as President of the Royal Society for 42 years, Privy Councillor and scientific adviser to King George III, and de facto director of the Royal Gardens at Kew will all be explored. The lecture will also consider the way in which his celebrity became the subject of ridicule and caricature.  

The lecture will be delivered by George Fussey, who is the Keeper of the Natural History Museum at Eton College and curator of the current exhibition on display in the Tower Gallery: To Botany Bay and Back: The Worldwide Web of Sir Joseph Banks.