Joseph Banks (1743-1820), traveller, botanist, naturalist, and geographer, was born on 2 February 1743 in London, England, the only child of Sarah Bate and William Banks. On 23 March 1779, Banks married Dorothea Hugessen (1758-1828), daughter and heiress of William Western Hugessen; they had no children. Banks died on 19 June 1820 at Heston in London.
Banks was educated initially at home by a private tutor, and then at Harrow School (1752-55), Eton School (1755-60), and Christ Church College, Oxford University (1760-63). Unable to study botany at Oxford, Banks engaged Isaac Lyons, from Cambridge, as his private tutor. When his father died in 1761, Banks became a wealthy man in his own right at the age of 18. Five years later in 1766, the 23-year-old naturalist took part in a voyage to Newfoundland aboard the vessel Niger, which docked in St. John's and then Croque, a fishing settlement on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, en route to the coast of Labrador. Banks made many notes on local archaeology and natural history, especially ornithological observations.
Banks was one of the most influential men of science in the eighteenth century and as such received a large number of professional distinctions during his career. He was a Fellow both of the Society of Antiquities and the Royal Society. He served as President of the Royal Society from 1778 to 1820, the longest-serving President in the history of the society. As President of the Royal Society, he was involved in the Board of Longitude, the Greenwich Royal Observatory, the Board of Agriculture, and the African Association. He was appointed Special Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew (1773) and Trustee of the British Museum . Banks was appointed to the Privy Council in recognition of his role as a government advisor in 1797. In 1819, the House of Commons selected him as chair of two committees: the Committee to enquire into the prevention of banknote forgery and the the Committee to consider systems of weights and measures.
Banks had a role in most British voyages of discovery in his period. He sponsored William Bligh's doomed expedition from Tahiti to the West Indies on the Bounty in 1789. He organized Matthew Flinders' voyage on the Investigator (1801-3) to begin the mapping of Australia. He was involved in George McCartney's mission to China (1792-94) and with George Vancouver's voyage to the northwest coast of America (1791-95). Banks sent botanists all over the world, including New South Wales, the Cape of Good Hope, West Africa, the East Indies, South America, India, and Australia. Many times these voyages were at his own expense.
Banks established his scientific base at his London home in Soho Square in 1776 and housed his natural history collections there. He made his house and collections open to the wider scientific community. Banks did not differentiate between British and foreign scientists, and he even maintained scientific relations with France during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.
Banks was created a baronet in 1781 and was invested Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1795.