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Sir Joseph Banks papers

Call Number: MS 58

Scope and Contents

The Joseph Banks papers reflect Banks' concern with the agricultural development of England rather than his better known botanical studies while accompanying Cook's expedition around the world on the Endeavor. Banks had inherited Revesby Abbey and other estates in Lincolnshire and Spring Grove in Heston Parish, Middlesex. The papers include over 1000 letters from his stewards and from landowners in Lincolnshire and elsewhere who, like Banks, were interested in sheep, deer, and cattle raising, the wool trade and industry, fen drainage and enclosures, forestry, fishing and hunting, county elections, and other public affairs.

There are a few papers relating to Banks' scientific interests such as Lincolnshire archaeology and the founding of the Royal Society of London. Many letters and papers deal with the estate of Banks' uncle, Robert Banks Hodgkinson, of which Sir Joseph Banks and Sir Henry Hawley were executors. This estate included Hodgkinson's town house on New Burlington Street, London, his county seat in Heston Parish, Middlesex, and securities in mines and turnpikes.

The core of the papers come to the Yale University Library in 1939 as the gift of Wilmarth S. Lewis. Additional papers were given by J. Marshall Osborn, 1966, and Harold B. Carter, 1978. Papers were also added by purchase in 1950-1955 and 1981. The Lewis gift consisted of twenty-one calf-bound volumes, chiefly containing correspondence (1763 - 1819) and over one hundred loose items. The original volumes were divided as follows:

1763-1773: volumes 1 & 2 1774-1776: volume 3 1777-1779: volume 4 1780-1782: volume 5 1783-1784: volume 6 1785-1786: volume 7 1787: volume 8 1788: volume 9 1789-1790: volume 10 1791-1792: volume 11 1793-1794: volume 13 1795-1796: volume 14 1797-1798: volumes 15 & 16 1799-1800: volume 17 1801-1802: volume 18 1803-1816: volume 19 1817: volume 20 1818: volume 21

The condition of the manuscripts necessitated removal of the bindings; specimens of the bindings will be found in folders 268 and 269. All letters are now in chronological order in boxes 1-13. The original volume twelve contained the letters from 1819; these letters are now filed in proper order in box 13.

The several subsequent additions to the papers are now in Series I: Select. These include letters to Lord Macartney on the state of Chinese technology, on the occasion of his departing on a special mission to China in 1792 (folder 257), letters to Lord Sheffield on sheep raising (folders 259-260) and a series of letters to Sir Charles Blagden, secretary of the Royal Society, on scientific matters (folders 253 -255). Also in the section is a bound volume of letters and manuscripts (folder 264) reflecting Banks' active interest in exploration and his membership in the Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior Parts of Africa. Included in this volume is a manuscript translation of part 1 of Friedrich Hornemann's journal of a trip from Cairo to Mourzouk (1797 - 1798). This journey was underwritten by the association, as was the second journey of Mungo Park in his search for the course of the Niger. Park's disappearance on this expedition in 1806 led Banks to make extensive inquiries and some of the correspondence reporting on the last sighting of Park and his murder are bound into this volume. Also included are letters and narratives by travelers to Abyssinia and other parts of Africa, Brazil, Newfoundland, Java, and Russia, an account of Indians and plants in America (1820), and a letter about a whaling voyage in the Davis Strait (1800).


  • 1763-1830


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

The entire collection is available on microfilm. Patrons must use FILM HM 37 instead of the originals.

Existence and Location of Copies

Entire collection also available on microfilm (5,750 frames on 6 reels, 35mm.) from Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University, at cost. Order no. HM37.

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Wilmarth S. Lewis, 1939; J. Marshall Osborn, 1966; Harold B. Carter, 1978; and by purchase, 1950-1955, 1981.


Arranged in two series: I. Correspondence, 1763-1819. II. Writings and Miscellanea, 1800-1830.

Related Materials

The Banks Papers at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, England are also on microfilm in the Microform Room of Sterling Memorial Library. (See FILM MISC 636).

Additional Banks material may be found in other repositories at Yale. Please consult the Union Catalog of Manuscripts in the Department of Manuscripts and Archives.


6 Linear Feet (15 boxes, 1 folio)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence, writings, notes, and other papers documenting the personal life and professional career of Sir Joseph Banks, a British naturalist and explorer. Correspondence with stewards and landowners in Lincolnshire and elsewhere detail Banks' interest in agriculture and farming. Other papers relate to family estates, to Banks' scientific investigations and to his interest in the exploration of Africa and other regions. A translation of Frederic Horneman's "Travels into the interior of Africa performed for the African Society," (circa 1800) and letters relating to the death of explorer Mungo Park are included.

Biographical / Historical

Sir Joseph Banks was born in London, England on February 13, 1743. He served on a scientific expedition to Newfoundland and Labrador (1766) and with Captain Cook's expedition to observe the transit of Venus in the Pacific Ocean. Banks also travelled to Iceland (1772). He served as president of the Royal Society from 1778 until his death in 1820.

Index to the Microfilm

The Banks Papers are available on microfilm on FILM HM 37. This film shows the papers in the order as they were in 1965.

Reel 1: 1763 Jun 23-1784 Aug 16 Reel 2: 1784 Sep 20-1788 Oct 31 Reel 3: 1788 Nov 3-1794 Feb 25 Reel 4: 1794 Feb 27-1800 Apr 1 Reel 5: 1800 Apr 2-1817 Feb 26 Reel 6: 1817 Feb 26-1819 Dec ALS to unidentified correspondent, 1818 Jul 18 27 ALS to Sir Charles Blagden with one fragment (signed), 1783 Jun 27 - 1819 Sep 24, n.d. ALS to M. de Wivelenchofen, 1787 Sep 10 Blagden, Sir Charles. Draft of an address to George III, sent to Sir Joseph Banks with a note, n.d. Blagden, Sir Charles, 1748-1820. AMS, on fiery meteors, 1783 Ms, "Some collections respecting the office and duties of the King's Exchanger", 81, after 1807 Ms notes on copper money, duties on imported goods. 10 leaves, 1800 6 ALS to Lord Macartney, 1792 Jan 22, 29, Mar 21, May 21, 22, Jun 17 1 ALS (copy) from Lord Macartney to Banks, 1792 Mar 17 AMS describing experiments in water-divining by Mr. Elkinter at Woburn Park, 1794, 1796 Bound volume of correspondence and accounts of travel in Africa, America, China, Europe and Java, 1768-1820

Guide to the Sir Joseph Banks Papers
Under Revision
compiled by William E. Brown, Jr. and Diane E. Kaplan
February 1985
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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