In 1770, visiting Australia’s east coast aboard Captain Cook’s Endeavour, the botanist Joseph Banks thought the coastal soil north of Botany Bay barren. He tasted what he called Indian Kale or spinach, parsley, fruits including figs, and seeds and nuts from cabbage and other palms. On the Great Barrier Reef, Banks observed there were ‘plenty of turtle and so large that a single turtle always served the ship’.
Sir Joseph Banks was a well-to-do English gentleman who, despite never obtaining a formal degree, took a keen interest in natural history. He made several voyages to various part of the world collecting plants and observing the local wildlife and was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1766.
It was at the urging of the Royal Society that Joseph Banks joined Cook’s expedition to the South Seas, the purpose of which was to record the transit of Venus across the sun. He took with him a retinue of servants as well as two naturalists and two natural history artists who recorded, preserved and sketched the marine, animal and plant life they encountered on their voyage.
Although Banks never returned to Australia, he retained a keen interest in the colony and is commemorated in a number of place names, including Bankstown in Sydney. There are several Australian plant species named after him including: a red spider flower, Grevillea banksii; the seaweed known as ‘Neptune’s necklace’ or ‘Bubble-weed’, Hormosira banksii; a sundew, Drosera banksii; a wild pepper, Piper banksii; and a tree, the Tenterfield woollybutt, Eucalyptus banksii Maiden.