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Collection Summary

Creator: Banks, Joseph, Sir, 1743-1820
Title: Papers of Sir Joseph Banks
Date Range: 1745-1820
Collection number:MS 9
Extent: 48 cm



Scope and Content

The collection contains approximately 300 documents, comprising correspondence and other documents of Sir Joseph Banks. The documents originating with Banks include letters and copies of letters, speeches, notes and minutes of meetings. The remainder of the collection includes correspondence addressed to Banks from some 83 people, including Lord Bathurst (2), David Collins, W.B. Conyngham (5), Alexander Dalrymple (3), James Fleming, Georg Forster (20), J.R. Forster (5), John Hunter (4), Philip Gidley King (7), Lord Nelson, William Paterson (5), W.P. Perrin (11), William Perry (5), William Petrie (7), Arthur Phillip and Lord Radnor. Also contained in the collection are memoranda and journals of Sarah Banks.

In addition to matters of general botanical and zoological interest, the documents cover a wide range of topics, including descriptions of conditions in the colony of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, publication of the accounts of Cook's voyages, and correspondence with the Viceroy of Brazil while the Endeavour was held up in Rio de Janeiro.


This finding aid has been created to bring together in a single listing the Banks material which is held by the National Library in a number of different collections. The series listing is based on an original finding aid for the main collection, MS 9. The order and numbering of the original finding aid has been retained. Some items were listed in the original finding aid for MS 9 but also have their own collection number. In such cases, both numbers are supplied, with the MS 9 number given precedence.


The collection is available for research.


In a codicil to his will, dated 7th March 1820, Sir Joseph Banks left the care of his papers to Sir Edward Knatchbull, the nephew of Lady Banks. In 1828 Knatchbull passed over to the British Museum the bound volumes of foreign correspondence, but he retained the rest of the papers in the expectation that an official biography would be written. He died in 1849 and, following the death of Lady Knatchbull in 1882, the ownership of the papers passed to their son Edward Knatchbull Hugesson, 1st Baron Brabourne. In 1884 Lord Brabourne offered the papers for sale to the British Museum but, when no agreement could be reached on a price, he sold many of the Australian papers to the New South Wales Government. They are now held in the Mitchell Library at the State Library of New South Wales.

Most of the remaining Banks Papers were sold on behalf of Lord Brabourne by Sotheby's on 11 March and 14 April 1886. One of the successful bidders at the sale on 14 April was E.A. Petherick, the London agent of the Melbourne bookseller George Robertson. He bought 20 lots, including a number of drafts of Banks' letters, his thoughts on the manners of the women of Otaheite, the hints of the Earl of Morton, and the catalogue of drawings and portraits by John Webber. It was unfortunate that Banks' correspondence was divided into several lots on an alphabetical basis. Petherick bought the four lots comprising letters of writers whose names started with C, F, K and P.

In 1909 Petherick returned to Australia and later in the year he transferred title in his large collection of books, maps, manuscripts and pictures to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library. Most of the Banks Papers held in the National Library at MS 9 were originally in the Petherick Collection.

Banks was a prolific correspondent and throughout the twentieth century letters that he had written or received were sold at auctions in London and elsewhere or appeared in dealers' catalogues. The Library has bought a number of letters at different sales and assigned them distinct manuscript numbers. The collector Sir Rex Nan Kivell also bought several letters of Banks at London sales and gave them his own NK numbers. His collection was purchased by the Library in 1959. At a later date all the manuscripts in his collection were given manuscript numbers, as well as numbers within the MS 9 sequence. For instance, the letter of Mungo Park can be cited as MS 9/117 or MS 4004, while its original Nan Kivell number was NK 5837

On 23 July 1985 Sotheby's in London sold many of the papers of Banks' friend John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. Sandwich was First Lord of the Admiralty in 1771-82 and was closely associated with the second and third voyages of Cook. The National Library bought three lots at the sale and the collection was given the number MS 7218. It includes nine letters written by Banks to Sandwich in 1782-84.

Copying and Publishing

Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions. For such material, written permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s). Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.

Related Material

In addition to the main Banks collection, the National Library has a few smaller Banks manuscript collections which were received from various sources and other manuscript collections (including microfilm copies) which contain letters or other materials relating to Banks.

Banks, Joseph, Sir, 1743-1820. Letter to Edward King concerning his book on ancient castles. Soho Square, London, 13 January 1783. MS 3262

Banks, Joseph, Sir, 1743-1820. Some hints respecting the proper mode of inuring tender plants to our climate : read before the Royal Society, 3 December 1805. MS 692

Banks, Joseph, Sir, 1743-1820. Poem about the city of London. 26 December 1793 MS 5857

Banks, Joseph, Sir, 1743-1820. Letter to Samuel Tyson promising to visit him when he is in London, undated. MS 5907

Banks, Joseph, Sir, 1743-1820. Letter to an unnamed person concerning a curiosity displayed to his "geological friends", Soho Square, London, 24 November 1817. MS 5907

Gore, John, 1772-1836. Letter to Sir Joseph Banks concerning the proposed court martial of Captain Rowley and seeking assistance with a promotion. Soho Square, London, 8 November 1798. MS 1743

Waterson, Edward. Letter to Sir Joseph Banks concerning a medicine to treat gout, Sleeford, 3 April 1794. MS 6167

John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich, 1718-1792 Papers of Lord Sandwich, 1771-1784. MS 7218 Contains a series of letters written by Banks.

Preferred Citation

Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of item], Papers of Sir Joseph Banks, National Library of Australia, MS 9, [item number]'.


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