Review of Endeavouring Banks

Endeavouring Banks: Exploring Collections from the Endeavour Voyage. Edited by Neil Chambers. Sydney: New South Publishing, 2016. Pp. $69.99 hardcover.

The catalogue to a major exhibition held in Lincoln, UK, this sumptuous publication about the Endeavour’s collections also serves as a valuable contribution to eighteenth-century Pacific history. The exhibition of the same title was held in 2014, getting the jump on the many productions expected in 2018 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Endeavour’s launch. The main objective of the exhibition, and catalogue, was to reassemble for the first time a large chunk of the hundreds of items collected during Cook’s first Pacific voyage—most of which were supervised or undertaken by the naturalist Joseph Banks. Upon arrival back in Britain in 1771, Banks had distributed his many findings and objects to various depositories. The greatest strength of this book is the way it recombines them, to convey the truly eclectic, curious, and momentous nature of both British natural history and the Pacific peoples it encountered.

The book contains several useful essays among its six key parts. The parts correspond to the regions as the Endeavour met them – from South America to the Indian Ocean – so each contains the same vast range of objects. In each there are maps, instructions, letters, paintings, sketches, animal and plant specimens, and indigenous tools, adornments, and instruments.  Notably absent is much material on the Endeavour ship itself (perhaps thankfully for specialists who hear too much about this). Notably present is the richness, detail, range, and sheer complexity of the representations of eighteenth-century Pacific culture. It was wonderful to see five of the ten precious remaining pictures drawn by Banks’s friend, the Raiatean Tupaia – though the lack of an index or illustrations list made them hard to find quickly. In all, this book is more useful to scholars than are most catalogues, especially to those seeking to find the full impact of British science and Pacific complexity in one hit.

Kate Fullagar. Published in Australian Historical Studies (2017).

9781742235004 copy


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