Joseph Banks, an English botanist and explorer, was born Feb. 13, 1743. Banks had accompanied James Cook on his first voyage around the world, from 1768 to 1771, and had planned to be part of the second voyage, but the two had a falling out, and Banks in a huff headed instead for Iceland with a small party. On the way, they stopped in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, and Banks became the first Londoner to visit the isle of Staffa and the nearby islet of Booshala (now Am Buachaille) and to view the striking basalt formations there. Banks was particularly enthralled by a large basalt cavern that the locals called Fingal’s Cave. He had brought an artist along, who made drawings of the cave, of Staffa, and of Booshala.
Thomas Pennant made his own tour of the Hebrides at about the same time but did not get to Staffa, so for the published account of his travels, Banks allowed him to use five of his drawings. We see all five above, as engraved for Pennant’s A Tour in Scotland, and Voyage to the Hebrides (1774). It was fortunate than Pennant included Banks’ account, because Banks never did get around to publishing his own narrative of his voyage to Iceland (and the Hebrides). The images show, in order, Fingal’s Cave, Staffa from a distance, bending basalt columns on Staffa, and two views of Booshala.
We displayed Banks’ view of Fingal’s cave in our 2004 exhibition, Vulcan’s Forge and Fingal’s Cave.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City