Woke row over Captain Cook botanist who ‘founded’ Kew Gardens as he is branded ‘enabler of slavery’ by English Heritage
- 18th century scientist Sir Joseph Banks brought 30,000 plants to Kew Gardens
- An English Heritage blue plaque honours his birthplace in Soho Square, London
- Questions now raised about his links to slavery after Black Lives Matter protest
- English Heritage says the plaque will stay but have updated their notes on Banks
The eminent 18th century scientist credited with making Kew Gardens the world-leading centre of botany has been branded an ‘enabler of slavery’ by English Heritage in the latest ‘woke’ row.
Sir Joseph Banks brought 30,000 plants back to Kew where he advised King George III.
After travelling on Captain Cook’s pioneering Endeavour voyage to Australia, he introduced eucalyptus, acacia and the plant that bears his name, banksia, to the West.
But Sir Joseph, who has a plaque to commemorate his birthplace in Soho Square, London, has been reassessed by English Heritage as having been instrumental in the growth of slavery in British colonies.
The organisation updated its online notes about the memorial following the Black Lives Matter protests.
Explorer Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) has been reassessed by English Heritage as having been instrumental in the growth of slavery in British colonies: (Pictured here in a 1773 painting)
The entry said: ‘Banks was behind the infamous mission of the Bounty, captained by William Bligh, to transfer breadfruit plants from the South Seas to the West Indies, where they were intended to provide cheap food for enslaved workers.
‘He was, therefore, an enabler of slavery, though he believed that – for economic rather than moral reasons – it would not last.’
It added that Banks’ transplantation of specimens across the globe had ‘the ultimate aim of increasing the power and prosperity of the British Empire’.
The group said his ‘attitude to other races was typical of Europeans of his era’.
‘He believed that black people had less “mental vigour”, and considered the indigenous Australians ‘cowardly’ and therefore unlikely to pose a threat to setting up a penal colony at Botany Bay,’ it said.
Kew’s first unofficial director, Sir Joseph also led the Royal Society for 41 years. The society has counted Sir Christopher Wren and Sir Isaac Newton among its leading lights.
Sir David Attenborough has hailed Sir Joseph as a ‘very important figure in the history of science’.
Dr Zareer Masani, historian of British colonialism, labelled the reappraisal of a figure who died 200 years ago as a ‘historical farce’. He told the Daily Telegraph the review was ‘yet another instance of wokedom taking over our cultural institutions’.
English Heritage said there were ‘no plans to remove any of our blue plaques or to add any physical interpretation at the site of a plaque’.
Kew’s director, Richard Deverell, said ‘parts of Kew’s history shamefully draw from a legacy that has deep roots in colonialism and racism’.
It said it would replace display boards for specimens like sugar cane, historically harvested by slaves, to highlight the site’s ‘imperial legacy’.