Specialist lodge: Australia link with Sir Joseph Banks

Monday, 01 October 2007

The man believed to have been the first Freemason to have set foot in Australia and who helped arrange the ill-fated expedition of Captain William Bligh which led to the famous mutiny on the Bounty, has had a Lincolnshire Lodge named after him. 

Sir Joseph Banks Daylight Lodge No. 9828, which meets at Horncastle, is named after a remarkable man with his family roots in Lincolnshire, who became a famous explorer and naturalist, sailing in 1768 with Captain James Cook on the famous Endeavour, exploring the uncharted south Pacific, circumnavigating the globe and visiting South America, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia and Java. 

Banks was born at Westminster on 13 February 1743, a wealthy young squire of Revesby in Lincolnshire, and his link with Horncastle is that he helped set up a local hospital in the town. He was also an active Mason in the Province. 

In Gould’s History of Freemasonry, Banks is mentioned as being a member of Old Horne Lodge No. 4 – now Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge No. 4, a time immemorial Lodge. 

Although the date of his initiation cannot be verified, it has been confirmed that it was prior to 1769. He was a member of Witham Lodge No. 297, which today is the oldest Lodge in Lincolnshire, and remained on its register until his death on 19 June 1820. 

It is fitting, therefore, that Witham Lodge should have been the sponsor of the new Lodge, which is actively seeking to link up with Sir Joseph Banks Lodge No. 300 in New South Wales, consecrated in September 1915, and which meets in Banks Town – another honour conferred on him. 

His passion for botany began at school, and from 1760 to 1763 he studied at Christ Church, Oxford, inheriting a considerable fortune from his father at this time. In 1766 he travelled to Newfoundland and Labrador, collecting plants and other specimens. He became a member of the Royal Society in the same year, later becoming its longest-serving President in its 347-year history – holding the office consecutively for 42 years. 

He was successful in obtaining a place on what was to become Cook’s first great voyage of discovery between 1768 and 1771, during which time the Endeavour proceeded up the east coast of Australia and through the Torres Strait, charting the area in the process. 

Banks was interested in plants that could be used for practical purposes and that could be introduced commercially into other countries. On his return from the Cook expedition, he brought with him an enormous number of specimens and his scientific account of that voyage and its discoveries aroused considerable interest across Europe. 

It was Banks who proposed that William Bligh should command two voyages for the transportation of bread fruit and plants – including the voyage of the Bounty – which led to the mutiny in April 1789 involving 12 crew members led by Christian Fletcher. 

Banks became an influential figure in New South Wales, founded in 1788 with the arrival of the first fleet, choosing the governors. He was to recommend Bligh for the governorship, which ended in the latter’s deposition from the post following what became known as the Rum Rebellion in 1808. 

Banks’s eminence as a leading botanist was honoured by having the genus banksias, comprising about 75 species in the protea family to be found in Australia, named after him. A distinguished scholar, he promoted the Linnaeus system of Latin classification of botanical specimens. 

In 1793 his name was given to a group of volcanic islands near Vanuatu in the Pacific, which were explored and named after him by Captain Bligh in gratitude for the earlier help he had given him. 

The inventor Robert Stevenson also honoured Banks by naming a schooner after him which accommodated the artificers during the building of the Bellrock lighthouse in the Firth of Forth off Scotland’s east coast, when Banks was vice-president of the Board of Trade during the passage of the Bill for the lighthouse through parliament. 

He was further honoured when the city of Lincoln provided a tropical plant house themed with plants reminiscent of his voyages. 

He was knighted in 1781, was appointed to the Order of the Bath in 1795 and became a Privy Counsellor in 1797. George III appointed Banks as honorary director to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Banks promoted the careers of many scientists, sending many of them abroad to find new plants and extend the collection at Kew Gardens. A truly remarkable man, it is fitting that he should be remembered by having a Lodge named after him in his home county.

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