Culture Buff

Banks, the new biography of Joseph Banks by Grantlee Kieza reviewed

16 January 2021

9:00 AM

16 January 2021

9:00 AM

One of the most eligible bachelors in England, he was strong, handsome, well-educated, adventurous and a fabulously rich young man. That was Joseph Banks at twenty-three. He is the subject of a new biography: Banks by Australian author, Grantlee Kieza. Descended from wealthy English landholders and politicians, Banks inherited land and houses when his father died at 42 and he was 18; he came into his fortune on reaching 21 in 1764.

Kieza is a prolific and successful biographer with the lives of Lachlan Macquarie, Banjo Paterson, John Monash and Bert Hinkler already published, along with a number of sportsmen. He has a fluid writing style in which he wears his research lightly, yet it is thoroughly annotated.


Naturally, the author finds Banks an attractive figure. Using the memorable description of him as a ‘bed-breaking ladies’ man’ during his time at Oxford, Kieza portrays him as a student uninterested in the classics but utterly absorbed in learning the science of botany from private tutors whom he engaged.

James Cook was 14 years senior to Banks but they made a successful partnership in the quest for knowledge: Cook the brilliant navigator commissioned to observe the Transit of Venus and the limits of Terra Australis; Banks with his money, his connections and his determination. Between them they changed the thinking of the whole world; Banks’ glorious Florilegium is but one of his legacies. Dying in 1820, he left the world a more enlightened place.

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