Sex, Botany and Empire: Carl Linnaeus and Joseph Banks

Author(s): Patricia Fara

SECONDHAND BOOKS | SCIENCE

When the imperial explorer James Cook returned from his first voyage to Australia, the scandal writers mercilessly satirised the amorous exploits of his botanist, Joseph Banks, whose trousers were reportedly stolen while he was inside the tent of Queen Oberea of Tahiti.Enlightenment botany was fraught with sexual symbolism: Carl Linnaeus's controversial new system for classifying plants was based on their sexual characteristics, and the dangerously gendered language of flowers resonated with erotic allusions. In Sweden and Britain, both imperial powers, Linnaeus and Banks ruled over their own small scientific empires, promoting botanical exploration to justify exploiting territories, peoples and natural resources. Regarding native peoples with disdain, these two scientific emperors portrayed the Arctic North and the Pacific Ocean as uncorrupted Edens enjoying sexual freedom.More than any other single individual, the botanist Joseph Banks welded together the Three Ss - Sex, Science and the State - and the drive to conquer, subdue and deflower loomed large.

2004. A good copy.

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  • : Patricia Fara